I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island above and left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me. So go’n re-look at some posts you’ve enjoyed before and see how I’ve improved over time (!). It’s just as my friend Greg says: ‘The older we get, the better we were.’
Two delightful Scottish medical students arrived at Addington hospital. They were here to “do their elective” they said. We didn’t mind what they were doing, we were just happy they were in Darkest Africa and drank beer. Always a better chance if a lady will drink alcohol.
One of them asked me if I surf, which is a terribly unfair question to ask a Free Stater by the sea. It puts great pressure on us and reveals our secret fear of that-big-dam-that-you-cannot-see-the-other-side-of. Ask us when there’s no sea within miles and we can tell a good story, but the sea is right on Addington’s doorstep. “Even better,” I said casually, leaning against the bar in The Cock and Bottle on the first floor of Addington doctors’ quarters and gazing down her decolletage, “I paddle-ski.”
Ooh, will you show me? she asked, which put great pressure on me. “Come to my flat in Wakefield Court after work,” I ordered and she meekly nodded. Wakefield was part of doctors’ quarters, over the road from the hospital. Next day after work I hared off to Stephen Charles Reed’s flat in 10th Avenue and borrowed his Fat Boy paddle ski, threw it in my green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon OHS 5678 and hared back to Prince Street in time to casually say, “Hop in,” as she arrived. Addington beach was right there and I proceeded to give lessons in the surf. Little did she know it was like the drowning leading the drowned. I’d help her on, hold her steady, time the waves and say “Now! Paddle!” and she’d tumble over like a Scottish person in the warm Indian Ocean, time and again. One wave was better than the rest, nicely obliging and masculine, and it did something like this:
Marvelously, she didn’t notice for a while until I blurted out “God you’re gorgeous!” Following my grinning gaze, she giggled and hoicked her boob tube top up over her boobs from where it was sitting around her waist. *Sigh* I cherish wonderful mammaries of that day . .
You give some old bullets the internets, and what happens? – A bunch of unlikely and involuntary ‘soldiers’ turn to reminiscing . .
One fine day in October 2018 I walked into work and my practice manager Raksha said, ‘A lady wants you to phone her. She says she thinks you were in the army with her brother Derek Downey.’
That must be Avril! I said.
Well, that brought back a flood of memories and led to this garbled line of correspondence from a whole bunch of ancient friends who I’m very worried about. I think they’re all going senile. Seems I’m about the last sane one amongst us!
I wrote: Do you guys remember the Durban boys on the offisiers kursus back in ’79? – Derek Downey, Rheinie Fritsch and Paul (‘no KIDDING!?‘) Goupille? They all begged to be sent to Durban-On-Sea after the officers course, citing important sporting events, tragic family happenings, weeping needy girlfriends, Springbok surfing training, etc. I, on the other hand, asked to go to the Angolan border in South West Africa. ‘Die Grens’.
Well, all three of them were sent to Die Grens and I went to Durbs. To Natal Command, the famous ‘Hotel Command’ headquarters right on the beach on Marine Parade with the waves of the warm blue Indian Ocean lapping gently at the feet of the soldier on guard at the front gate. Who saluted me when I arrived! I was so astonished I missed the salute back. I forgot I was now a Loo-Attendant, no longer a Kakhuis Offisier (KO).
Inside, I was shown to my quarters and told to put my shoes outside the door – of my own private room! No more bunking with you smelly lot.
I thought the shoes thing must be some sort of ritual or tradition, or maybe a hygiene thing; But the next morning the blerrie things were brightly polished! ‘Twas like a miracle! I had a batman!
I also reported to this motley crew of kakhuis offisiers that our friend private* Graham Lewis – he who belonged to the wrong company at Loopspruit and then joined us – promotion – and promptly proceeded to fuck up our pristine floor in a misguided effort with dribrite polish and a rotary floor polisher – was alive and irrepressible.
brought them up to speed on the Private’s Progress:
He’s done some amazing things post-war that you will not believe and you will think I’m talking kak but I’m TELLING YOU. Our Private Graham Lewis:
married; Can you believe that? But more: To a lovely and very
good-looking lady! Who tolerates his foibles. It’s astonishing!
– got rich; Swear! And not from smousing spectacles. He became a landlord after being skopped out of a shopping centre; it’s a wonderful tale of success and couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. When I phone there now I ask for the Wicked Landlord and they put me straight through to him;
– started running; his mates used to run the 89km Comrades Marathon while he drank beer and they made the mistake of mocking him, so he pulled on an old pair of tennis tackies – unlaced – and entered the Comrades unbeknown to them and beat the lot of them!
– did the 120km Dusi Canoe Marathon; He got into a canoe and fell out; then got in again and fell out again, then entered a race and didn’t finish. So I said to him, come, Lewis! Lemme show you. I took him on a race on the Tugela near Colenso. We finished last, but we finished; Then he entered Dusi and finished and he did it quite a few times after that.
– decided running on KwaZulu Natal hills was too easy so he ran from the bottom of the Drakensberg to the top of Mt aux Sources up the chain ladder and then down the Gulley on a rugged track for about 55km on a balmy day; And the next year he did it again. Barmy day. He’s gone a bit mashugana I’m afraid.
* private? were we privates or riflemen? I can’t remember. If we were riflemen, can we become cannons one day, like dominees can?
Lunch Corporal (equal to a Texas General) Dhhhavid Cooper wrote:Luitenant – I’ve been meaning to reply for a while.
Firstly, luitenant Swaneveer – you’re a damn good writer and your blogs are hilarious. Why have you been hiding your talents under a bosvark?
Secondly, Makeerdiepas Les kept us smiling and “always looking on the bright side of life” with his voluminous aka “audible” mirth. **
Thirdly, I was most impressed with KO Lewis’ resurrection as a first rate floor officer to an even finer specimen of an officer in the running, so to speak. We should all be so lucky.
royalties, meagre as they were, were all blown in one night of wine,
women and song – at least I think they were. Maybe the ‘women’ part
is just wishful thinking. Memories at 63 are not what they used to
– I do remember one conversation with you KO Swaneveer that still
makes me pack up laughing when I think about it . . it related to “a
few polite thrusts” . .
I do remember the Durban boys – Les Chrich was filling me in on the ballesbak time you and he had fighting for the homeland at Hotel Command.
times – good memories.
** Les’ laugh led to a corporal once telling him “Hey, jy moet uit, uit, uit lag, nie in, in, in!”
I wrote again: That really cracked me up, Lunch Corporal Cooper! Whattasummary!!
My real talent lay in talking about hiding under bushels rather than
diving under same. Most ladies would watch wide-eyed as I
deteriorated until eventually I’d be on the floor, last drink on my
chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a
Ah well, it was a good contraceptive. I changed my first nappy at age 43. And even then I contracted out the actual pomping to Child Welfare.
You’re quite wrong about Hotel Command. It was rugged. We suffered. I was told to report for duty as adjutant at the medics HQ in the 25-story Metal Industries House, two blocks back from the beachfront. Tenth floor.
The first day was taken up in making sure I had a parking spot for my sleek grey and grey 1965 Opel Concord OHS 5678 and that my office was suitable, window overlooking a park, now the Durban City Lodge. Couldn’t even see the sea. Hardship.
The next day I checked my desk, covered in brown manila files. One said Lt X was to leave Osindisweni Hospital and report to Christ the King Hospital the next day! I phoned him to tell him. “Wow! Thanks!” he said, “Usually we don’t get any notice at all!”. The next said Lt Y was moving in a week, he was bowled over that someone had told him so far in advance. The files had been on the desk for ages; they were covered in stof. The previous adjutant was a PF – a career soldier – and he was damned if he going to spoil those blerrie civvie doctors, who did they think they were!? He was a funny oke dressed in white with a strange title, it’ll come to me now . . Petty Officer. That’s it, Petty Officer! What a weird name compared to me: LIEUTENANT! You could salute a lieutenant. Who’d salute a petty officer? OK, true, I was a 2nd Lt. Only one pip, but that oke at the gate did salute me.
Our OC – that’s Officer Commanding – was a dapper 5ft tall Captain dressed all in white, complete with white cap and white shoes. Hilarious! What koptoe soldier would dream of wearing white shoes at Loopspruit in Potchefstroom!? Just imagine what the Gotchefstroom stof would do to them! He was Captain Mervyn Jordan. Naval Captain, mind you, which – if you’d read your notes on offisiers kursus – was equal to two Commandants and a beer in a brown uniform.
Once I cleared my desk, Captain Jordan – a helluva cool oke, by the way – suggested I commandeer a jeep and reconnoitre the hospitals under my command (none of which words he used, I’m just feeling uncharacteristically military here). My battlefield / sphere of influence lay between the blue Indian Ocean in the east and the high Drakensberg and Lesotho in the west; and from the Mocambique border in the north to the old Transkei in the south, which was also another country, remember? Three foreign states and a deep ocean surrounded me. Besides Christ the King and Osindisweni my other hospitals were called Appelsbosch, Emmaus, Hlabisa, Madadeni, Manguzi, Mosvold, St Appolonaris, ens ens.
Luckily I’d read my notes on offisiers kursus unlike you lot, so I filled in a DD99 form for the Jeep and a DD45 form for petrol and a DD78 form for accommodation, and – who’m I kidding? I knew DDbuggerall. Some PF pen-pusher did it all for me.
then disaster struck!
Before I could leave on my grand tour, driving my OWN Landrover all over Natal, peering over the border into three foreign countries including Transkei, an order came through on a DD69 assigning 2nd Lieutenant me and 2nd Lieutenant Les Chrich to Addington Hospital as resident oogkundiges. Instead of driving around visiting the odd nun and some okes in uniform at Zululand hospitals, I was ordered to move into Addington DQ – doctors quarters – across the road from the nurses res.
Did you catch that? Are you paying attention? We soldiers were ordered to live next door to a NURSES RESIDENCE. In which six hundred – that’s 600 – nurses in white skirts, silly little white hats and pantihose waited for us to come and service them under the Definitely Desirable DD69 conditions. Their eyes. Focus, you ous!
What could we do? Orders are orders. Instead of peering across borders we had to peer down blouses. We served. We suffered. It was hell, but we were brave. We were barracked right next door to the DQ Pub, The Cock and Bottle. The Cock and Bottle was Mecca and Nirvana and Heaven. Every one of the superb six hundred – that’s 600 – knew The Cock and Bottle. Sure, some knew to avoid it, but others said Meet You There!
It was much like Alfred, Lord Tennyson had predicted:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into The smoke-filled Cock and Bottle
Rode the six hundred.
We were each given our own flat. Not a room, an apartment. Bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and entrance hall. High ceilings; Hot and cold running blondes. Seriaas. Ask Les. I shit you not.
Our first big bash was arranged by a New Zealand couple, two of the twenty-some housemen – these are practicing doctors in the literal sense of ‘practicing’ – they didn’t know WHAT they were doing, so they practiced. These two delightful Kiwi appy-quacks’ surname was actually Houseman, funnily enough. Lovely folk; they organised a raucous Priests and Prostitutes night in the Cock and Bottle.
The fishnet stockings! The see-through tops! The high heels! The micro skirts! I thought I’d died and gone to Mecca Nirvana Heaven! I wore a white dog collar (actually just a white shirt back-to-front) and a blue houndstooth holy Irish jacket made by a tailor in Dublin which I’d inherited from a drunk Irishman one FreeState night, which slayed the ladies. I think. They thought I was a catholic father. Much later that night I was on the floor, last drink on my chest, one finger held high, still trying to make a point but a touch incomprehensible.
But there was a big difference now: Nurses! Kind, nurturing souls moved to take up a caring profession. They didn’t step over you and walk out on you like a Jo’burg or Kimberley or Rustenburg chick at the New Devonshire Hotel or the New Doornfontein Hotel might. No! They would pick you up and sling your one arm over their shoulder and take you to bed, tuck you in saying Tut Tut. Or ‘Shine up, Chicken Legs’ if their name was Peppy. This is true! They were angels. Better than angels, as they had a devilish streak. If they diagnosed the need, they would sometimes even hop into the sickbed with you in order to apply pelvis-to-pelvis resuscitation. Swear! Dedicated! The prize for Best-Torn-Fishnet-Stockings-Of-The-Night went to Val the Admin Angel and guess who Val
took home that night? Quite a few party-goers. But guess who she sent home LAST? Sure, she’d had a few, but died-and-gone-to-heaven! Swear!
The weermag had actually posted us to fuckin’ heaven, I swear! Probably by mistake, but we were not complaining. Hey! you can ask 2nd Lt. Leslie LadyLover&Charmer Chrich; I shit you not, I’m not exaggerating! Tell them, Les. We did our duty.
This was brought back to mind recently when I was listening to my new favourite band Tuba Skinny. Sure you can listen, but MAINLY watch the fishnet stockings in the background! That’s Val, and that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
Meantime – decades later – a reunion took place in the Fairest Cape attended by old soldiers Stedall, Chrich, Miller and Cooper.
I wrote: Great, Rod! So at your reunion, were there a few tales of how we won the war? Like: ‘PW Botha: My Part In His Downfall’? You, Cooper, Chrich and Miller must have told a few lies about what a terribly hard time we had? I was a normal person before that 1979 weermag year. Also, what’s the name of that song we sang so well, and why didn’t it go platinum?
Rodney Stedall wrote: I think it was Piano Man
I wrote: That’s right! It was. How could I forget!? Here’s one version. not anything like as good as ours:
Which brings us to the second question, why are we not earning royalties from sales of our version? Who has the Master Tapes? Do you think that cunning corporal c.H.ooper filched the funds? Corruption is rampant and I think we should investigate.
Was there another song? Shouldn’t there be more royalties?
Also, what happened to that young female luitenant in her tight browns that Cooper and I used to eye? The only female on the base under half a ton? Do you think she’s wearing browns a few sizes larger these days? These are important questions and someone should demand answers . .
Dhavid Cooper wrote: Howzit Luitenant Swanefeer homse geweer! Would have been such a hoot to have you with us in the Cape!!
Regarding corruption (see The Early Years – my new upcoming book on corruption by Snyman and Verster) – money had to be made when it could – and the stage had to be set for the future of the country . . apparently we did too good a job . .
However, the most memorable event – besides the shapely looty you alluded to – was the well-serenaded, fine-looking lass who stole our hearts that one summer beer-filled night . . . Irene!! Do you remember . .?
We sang “Irene, Goodnight, Irene Goodnight, Goodnight Irene, Goodnight Irene . . . I’ll see you in my dreams” — and that’s exactly what happened . . we never saw her again except in our dreams!
you’re well pal… be lovely to catch up again sometime….Rod,
maybe a weermag reunion sometime.
Les Miller wrote: Pete – Thank you so much for this. I killed myself laughing while reading it. Brings back forgotten memories. Good ones!
MaakkeerdiePAS! Lick-yak, lick-yak, omkeeeeeer!
I wrote: Hey Les – What a good laugh! Carefree days. Give some testosterone-fueled youths guns, bullets and beers and what could possibly go wrong, huh?
offisiers kursus – learning how to gippo exams; or, officers course; the first of multiple steps leading to the rank of Admirable
Die Grens – the border; usually the border between Angola and South West Africa, where we shouldn’t have been in the first place; In Natal my borders were Mocambican, Transkeian, Lesotho-an – oh, and also Swazi-like, plus there was the boerewors curtain keeping us safe from the Transvaal; Border, by the way, not as in ‘south of the border’ as sung by Cooper which (I suspect, how would I know?) was a panty-line border;
kakhuis offisier – candidate officer; KO or CO; aspirational;
kak – bullshit; crap;
smousing – peddling; which is better, one or two? I’ll take the tortoise shell one;
lunch corporal – half a corporal; one stripe; lance corporal; an onder offisier;
onder offisier – under an officer; nice if she was under half a ton
pomping – the brief, active part of conception and procreation, preceding the long slow hatching part and longer, slower raising part; seldom immaculate;
koptoe – delusional;
luitenant – lieutenant; some of us became one-pip lieutenants, a massive promotion from KO; but still, it has to be confessed, only half a lieutenant;
bosvark – biblically, a bushel; otherwise an armoured vehicle; you wouldn’t want to hide under either;
makeerdiepas – mark time; march aimlessly in one spot, raising stof so all your shoe shining was vir fokol; going nowhere; mind you, all marching is aimless and going nowhere;
stof – dust
vir fokol – to no avail;
omkeer – you know where you thought you were going? turn around now and go back;
ballasbak – literally, sunbaking your balls; leaning back comfortably with your groin aimed at the sun and your legs spread; a frequent activity between brief, but recurring, sessions of ‘hurry up’ and long spells of ‘wait’; modern practitioners call it perineum sunning; Hey! Don’t laugh! Crazy delusionists say it ‘strengthens organs, improves ya libido, regulates circadian rhythm, boosts ya mental focus, and increases ya energy! So point ya ring at the sun, man! Ballasbak! It must, for health n safety reasons, be pointed out that the weermag way of doing it was usually with trousers on!
oogkundiges – uniformed personnel highly skilled in the gentle art of gazing deep into nurses’ eyes;
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’)
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.
(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)