Arthur Kennedy

Arthur Kennedy arrived in Harrismith like a dwarrelwind. Why we were so lucky as to get Arthur to our town I don’t know, but I think his wife Zita had family here. I think she was related to the Kerkenberg mountain van der Bosch’s? Someone who knows must help me here.

He opened a motel on the N3 on the south-east end of town – at the Jo’burg-Durban-Bloemfontein junction – or the Warden-Swinburne-Kestell junction you could say if you weren’t going to drive far.

The motel – Kennedy Motel – was going to have a restaurant suspended over the road so diners could watch the road as they munched their mixed grills. All the Durban-Joburg traffic – the busiest rural freeway in South Africa by far – would have to drive underneath them. But meantime the motel and petrol station had to be built, plus all the rooms – the chalets. A cable car to the top of Platberg was also in the pipeline, according to Arthur. Big plans!

The Kennedy family stayed right on-site in novel half-round semi-portable wooden bungalows above the building site and below the track that was an extension of Vowe Street, below the SE end of Hector Street. Arthur was very hands-on and was deeply involved in everything. He made the cardinal apartheid error of starting to pay his workers more than the “known” Harrismith wage which, according to Steph de Witt, got 5ft 6 inch Arthur a visit from 6ft 4 inch Koos de Witt, Steph’s Dad. Steph says Koos found Arthur in a foundation ditch. He jumped in next to him and “explained” to him in international language how he was not to bend the “local rules” of wage exploitation.

Later he built a triangular house of wood above Vowe Street – a huge novelty for the town. It was next door to the du Plessis home, and Pierre and I hopped the fence and inspected it while under construction. The bathroom had a novelty in it which we hadn’t seen before. We didn’t know it was called a bidet, but we spotted right away what it was for. HaHaHa! Our schoolboy humour kicked in. Arthur’s initials were AW (were they? or did we invent that?) and we proceeded to call him Arse Washer after that bathroom furniture that so tickled our crude funny bones. We weren’t always Methodist-polite, ’tis true.

He even became a town councillor, this foreign rooinek in the vrystaat! If America could have a President Kennedy at that time, why couldn’t we have a possible future mayor Kennedy? Quite a guy was our Arthur!

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The Cupboard Snake

For a while the Kennedys lived in the middle of town – in or near the house where Nick Duursema lived, near the circle in Warden street, just down from Arthur Grey’s corner store. That’s where the puff adder landed on top of the bedroom wardrobe.

The first and last puff adder I saw ‘in the wild’ was in Hector Street outside our house in about 1965 when – ware vrystater that she was – Mother Mary ran over the poor thing in the blue VW OHS 155. Doelbewus! Swear! The old man was called out from the pub. He came home, caught it and put it in a box which he gave to Zita Kennedy to give to Tommy van den Bosch. Maybe he’d first stunned it with a blast of cane spirits breath.

Tommy lived against the slopes of Kerkenberg and wore a cowboy hat and played the guitar. He’d sing you a mournful – or toe-tapping if that was your poison – cowboy song at the drop of a hat. His cowboy stetson hat. He collected snakes and took them to the Durban snake park who paid him by the foot. They estimated this puffy at five foot, though of course that length may have grown over time! SSSSS – Snake Stories Seldom Suffer Shrinkage.

That night in bed just before lights out Arthur Kennedy asked Zita “What’s that box up on the cupboard?” She hadn’t finished telling him and he was already out in Bester Street opposite the ou groot kerk near the traffic circle in his tiny pie-jarm shorts shouting “Get that thing out of there ! I am NEVER going into that house again until that thing is gone!” and other earnest entreaties.

Strange fear, as he was fearless in other ways: Who can forget Arthur Kennedy dressed only in a white Tarzan loincloth – which looked a bit like a nappy – swinging right across the hele stadsaal on a trapeze above the gob-smacked and ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense? And outdoors upside-down high on a thin pole above the skougronde? Fearless aerobatics and acrobatics.

But a snake on his cupboard? That was too much for him!

For a while he made Harrismith seem part of the wider world! A bit like this:

Trapeze.jpg

On the big day celebrating South Africa’s freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen, Arthur gave a stunning performance on his own equipment down at the President Brand Park in front of a full pawiljoen of ge-be-indrukte Harrismith mense! Dad filmed it:

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Arthur ran the mountain race and, further proving his commitment to Harrismith he married again – a second local girl – much, much younger than him.

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dwarrelwind – whirlwind, tornado, breath of fresh air

Doelbewus – on purpose; Swear! ‘Strue’s God! Gentle Mary did that. In those days you did. The only thing that made you think maybe you wouldn’t drive over it was the story that it would wind itself around your axle and then climb up into your engine, then under your dashboard and THEN pik you on the foot! Swear!

ware vrystater – genuine free stater; born and bred in the free state, as was her mother before her (who would not have been celebrating the 1961 demotion of QEII from monarch to foreign tannie)

tannie – auntie

ou groot kerk – the old Dutch Reformed Church, the Moederkerk

hele stadsaal – the full length of the town hall

ge-be-indrukte – highly impressed, awe-struck, yes, gob-smacked

mense – people, citizens; pale, of course

skougronde – agricultural show grounds

pawiljoen – pavilion; stadium, place of worship

rooinek – English-speaking; andersgesinde

freedom from the tyranny of Mrs British Queen – Republic Day 31 May 1961

Mom & Annie’s Durban Sanity Trips

Off they’d go in Mary’s pale blue VW Beetle OHS 155. Off to Durbs-by-the-Sea, the Lonsdale Hotel or the Four Seasons for a whole week!

Lonsdale Hotel Durban

Might that be Mary’s VW outside the Lonsdale in this picture? Three cars behind the Borgward?

Lonsdale Hotel Durban_2.jpg

Durban Four Seasons Flats

The cost of their stay: R2.95 each per day including meals. Mom thinks Randolph Stiller may have owned the Four Seasons. He certainly owned the Central Hotel in Harrismith where Annie stayed, one block away from her Caltex garage in Warden Street. Only the Deborah Retief gardens between her hotel room and her office, but she drove there in her great big old beige Chev Fleetline; one block up to the garage. Mom – ever kind – says her legs were too sore to walk.

In Durban Mom and Annie would visit Annie’s sister Jessie (Bain Bell) and her daughter Lesley (Malcolm-Smith ) in their flat in Finsbury Court in West Street. Lesley worked at Daytons – a supermarket, Mom thinks.

They would all hop into Mom’s car and head off on a drive – to the beach, to the Japanese Gardens; and – always – to visit Annie’s bridesmaid Maggie McPherson who lived in a ‘posh flat up on the Berea. Looked like a bit of Olde England’.

Maggie_McPherson
1922 wedding

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Many years later – 1980’s – we would go and listen to Joe Parker in the Lonsdale. Beer-soaked, we hosed ourselves, but I don’t think Mom and Annie would have approved!

While we’re getting nostalgic, some names to remember: Gillespie Street; The Italian restaurant Villa d’Este; The Four Seasons Hotel, with its Pink Panther steakhouse; Palm Beach Hotel; Millionaires’ Club; Lonsdale Hotel; The El Castilian nightclub (remember The Bats?); The Killarney Hotel, where the Monks Inn used to be (with the words “Steak, Eggs and Strips” posted prominently outside); Thatcher’s Bar at the former Parkview Hotel.

 

 

Pony with Pleasure

Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.

Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell.jpg

Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.

“Yes” he said, “but not with pleasure.”

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 – in ears and ideas;

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