This post was over at bewilderbeast.org, but it belongs here, in the Olden Daze blog.
I read Jock of the Bushveld again for the how-manieth time. I enjoy it every time. Percy Fitzpatrick wrote his classic tales of his days with trek oxen and wagons on the lowveld on the highveld: On his farm Buckland Downs in the Harrismith district.
Always gets me thinking of my wonderful dog Jock in high school:
We got Jock from Reg and Jo Jelliman. They farmed very near Buckland Downs out on the Meul river side of town, out Verkykerskop way. He was apparently a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with the formal name Copperdog-Something on his papers.
. . and then in Westville many years later our first dog in our first home was TC – to me she was a mini-Jock:
She lived to a ripe old thirteen years. I buried her at the bottom of that beautiful garden in River Drive, alongside Matt (above) and Bogart who both came after her but died before her.
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Anita van Wyk Henning, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more?
So far he has it as an eBook – you can get it now already.
Real paper hard copies to follow. I had the privilege and fun as one of his proof-readers, of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote.
UPDATE 10 Feb 2021: It’s he-ere! In my hand!
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here’:
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you. And this is only the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more!
Those of us who climbed Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drove to within an hour or two’s walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And way less oxygen!
I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hand . . Goddit now. Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get it on takealot.com – )
Was a time when surgeons would get someone to hold open the pages of a book and do their first-ever eye op, squinting at the pages through their monocle. And they’d get someone else to hold open the lids of the eye!
Often none of these assistants, and often not the surgeon, would wash their hands. What for?
In 1847, a young Hungarian obstetrician noticed the dramatically high maternal mortality following births assisted by doctors and medical students. However, those attended by midwives were relatively safe. Investigating further, he realized that these physicians had often come directly from autopsies. He decided that something was contagious, and that matter from autopsies was implicated. So he made doctors wash their hands with chlorinated lime water before examining pregnant women. He then documented a sudden reduction in the mortality rate in the next year from 18% to 2%.
So they thanked him, right? Never! Semmelweiss and his theories were rejected by most of the contemporary medical establishment. How dare a 29yr-old come up with new evidence when all the eminent old surgeons already KNEW everything!?
Fourteen years later, in 1861, he wrote about his theory and was ridiculed. Eminence triumphed over evidence. What caused those deaths was not cadaverous infection, for goodness sake! It was ‘conception and pregnancy, uremia, pressure exerted on adjacent organs by the shrinking uterus, emotional traumata, mistakes in diet, chilling, and atmospheric epidemic influences.’ Anything BUT what this unpopular man and his evidence suggested! We do NOT have to wash our hands, understand?
Semmelweis got depressed, started drinking and acting weirdly and was eventually tricked into visiting a mental institution where he was held captive. He tried to leave and was severely beaten by several guards, secured in a straitjacket, confined to a darkened cell, doused with cold water and administered laxatives. He died after two weeks, on August 13, 1865, aged 47.
We’re a whole lot luckier 144 years later!
But we still have to keep a wide-awake wary eye out for the ever-present danger of ’eminence over evidence!’
134yrs later it happened again. The so-called Semmelweis reflex—a metaphor for a certain type of human behaviour characterized by reflex-like rejection, ridicule, and rejection by contemporaries of new knowledge because it contradicts entrenched norms, beliefs, or paradigms—is named after Semmelweis. In 1981, in his third year of internal medicine training, Barry Marshal in Perth, Aussie realised bacteria caused ulcers. Well, he was ridiculed. Eminence over evidence again. Us important, established old bullets who haven’t done the research just KNOW you’re wrong. You’re 29yrs old, keep quiet! You’re threatening a $3bn industry! It took till 1993 before he was believed. At least this time, Barry Marshal eventually got recognised while he was still alive: Twenty four years later he got the Nobel Prize!
Yes, we could talk about germ theory denial and hand-washing avoidance in 2020 too . . .
A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!
Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.
I immediately launched into making sensible and well-thought out recommendations. But some of them were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!
Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is all very well. But it’s boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !
John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:
‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)
Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!
My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’
My attacking gambit was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:
‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’
I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.
Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.
A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.
Way back around 1968 a new book appeared at 95 Stuart Street Harrismith. I was fascinated. Nearly as fascinated as I’d been when cousin Jack read Valley Of The Dolls from the big wooden bookshelf in our long, dark, carpeted passage. That novel must have been good, as Mom actually physically took it from me, saying ‘You can’t read that’! Oh? Oh, well, back to the bird book:
I was fascinated by the orange Cock-of-the-Rock on the cover. Fifty years later the book was on my bookshelf in Westville and I was sad recently to discover other bookworms also liked it and had got into it in a big – and deep – way. It was riddled with holes. I copied the pages with the plates I remembered best before turfing it out. Hopefully a whole family of borer beetles went with it!
Valley of the Dolls – by Jacqueline Susann was about film stars, their raunchy pecadilloes and their use of ‘dolls’ – amphetamines and barbiturates. Time magazine called it the ‘Dirty Book of the Month,’ probably thinking ‘that’ll kill sales,’ but that and other anti-reviews made people think ‘that sounds interesting,’ and the book was a runaway commercial success, becoming the best selling novel of 1966. I mean, a review saying ‘Dirty Book of the Month’ might have made Mom Mary not buy it, but it likely had Dad head straight for the bookstore! So there it was: From one metropolis to another – New York to Harrismith – in no time.
By the time of Susann’s death in 1974, it was the best selling novel in publishing history, with more than 17 million copies sold. By 2016, the book had sold more than 31 million copies. In 1967, the book was adapted into a film. Like the book, the reviews were scathing, but it was an enormous box-office hit, becoming the sixth most popular film of the year, making $44 million at the box office. Author Jacqueline Susann had a cameo role in it as a news reporter, but she said she hated the film, telling director Robson that it was ‘a piece of shit.’ – wikipedia
Birds of the world: a survey of the twenty-seven orders and one hundred and fifty-five families, by Oliver L. Austin, (1961); Illustrated by Arthur Singer; Edited by Herbert S. Zim, New York, Golden Press; Many reprints were made and it was eventually published in seven languages over many years. I think ours was the 1968 edition published by Paul Hamlyn;
bookworms: The damage to books attributed to ‘bookworms’ is usually caused by the larvae of various types of insects including beetles, moths and cockroaches, which may bore or chew through books seeking food. Mine were little brown beetles. Buggers. I’m procrastinating about checking all my other books! Must do it . .
I just read a book (this was in 2014) The Traveling Rabbi by Moshe Silberhaft. It was loaned to me by Pauline Shapiro, Montclair character of note. We got chatting – instead of doing her eyeballs – about how Durban had lost most of its Jews and Harrismith had lost all of its Jews.
Rabbi Moshe went around the country from 1995 to small dorps where the ever-diminishing number of Jews allowed them to live in peace and eat whatever they wanted till he came to give them a skrik and some guilt feelings. He tells me in his book that Bethlehem comes from Beit Lechem, which means House of Bread. His book has three pages on Bethlehem and the main talk is about Rabbi Altshuler, who died in 1983, and the de-consecration of the synagogue, which was converted into offices by attorney Gerald Meyerowitz. Then converted again: car parts shop. That’s pretty hefty de-consecration! That’s like being smote!
With the closing down of the Bethlehem shul Rabbi Silberhaft did the rabbi stuff: “The three Sifrei Torah were removed from the Ark and carried out of the shul by Syd Goldberg, Saville Jankelowitz and Sam Jankelowitz, then aged 90, assisted by Dr Harold Tobias, who had a bad back, in a very solemn procession.”
Shockingly, Moshe didn’t mention my mate Steve Reed as an honorary Jew and extra son of Harold Tobias! Obviously he hadn’t heard Stefanus spin his yiddish. Even more shockingly, he leaves out my whole town! He writes of Parys, Brandfort, the metropolis of Phillipolis, Bloemfontein, Bothaville, the ‘Hem (ahem), Sasolburg, Marquard, Marseilles (Marseilles?!), Heilbron, Winburg, Senekal, Ficksburg, Kroonstad, and other no-name-brand towns, but no mention of that jewel of the Eastern Free State – Harrismith!
Amazing. He writes about all those flat dusty nothing-dorps and he omits the one shining-light green-oasis in the Vrystaat!
I suspect Harrismith “died” before the others? We grew up with the Woolf Chodos’, the Cohens, the Shadfords, Mrs Schwartz, Fanny Glick, the Longbottoms, Randolf & Bebe Stiller and others whose faces I can see but names . . my Mom and Dad, Barbara and Sheila will remember . .
But by 1972 we were dancing to Creedence Clearwater Revival at discos put on by Round Table in the already de-commissioned synagogue – at least fifteen years before Bethlehem’s was closed. So Harrismith’s shul got elevated in its deconsternation – unlike Beflehem’s descent into legal then commercial ignominy!
Sigh! But once again Harrismith got smoked by Bethlehem in the fame stakes. Something to remember: A possible cause for our C-rating in the progress stakes post-1948: Harrismith was a big verraaier-dorp in the Anglo-Boer War: Its citizens that did so well for themselves (my ancestors included) in an independent Republic, WELCOMED and aided and abetted the invaders!! Not good. One of my ancestors was principled, fought for the Boers and was sent to Ceylon as a POW. The others benefited even more after the war from money the British army spent in the town. ‘War is hell, I’m not to blame’ –
The book has plenty amusing snippets. As the last few Jews die in the dorps, Silberhaft buries them, sometimes in cemeteries that haven’t had burials in them for yonks and decades. “Gave the cemetery a new lease on life,” he says . . .
One oke’s Dad was scared of flying and specified: “Don’t you dare send me in a coffin in an airplane hold”, so his son rented a kombi and drove the body to West Park cemetery in Joburg. Silberhaft then buried him and wrote to the son “I know your Dad liked to jol, so I buried him near the fence in case he wants to get out and hit the town.”
Some okes had long given up the faith, so when he tried to visit them in their little dorp some skrikked and quickly – and maybe briefly? – became kosher again! Others were way past all that and “voetsekked” him! Sent him packing.
Seems Silberhaft had a big thing about strict kosher living and – especially – eating. He would make a big thing if people were kosher and a bigger scene if they had slipped off the strict and narrow – and slippery! – path. Even though to stay kosher meant you had to have your meat brought in from outside, or have a kosher slaughterer come to you to slit your animals! He would take kosher meat in his boot to give to people – which suggests that in between his visits they probably ate pragmatically? Hey! Bacon. Some things are forgivable. Pigs have no chance of amnesty cos of bacon; I even have a best man who will occasionally wobble off the straight and narrow and into a bacon sandwich and that’s what forgiveness is for.
Pictures of the Bethlehem shul by Jono David at jewishphotolibrary.wordpress.com. It’s now a car parts shop, but check the lovely pressed-steel ceiling and the chandelier.
Bethlehem cemetery picture is also Jono David’s. He’s also at
Steve Reed, Bethlehem Boy, wrote:
Thanks Koos, interesting stuff. We lived across the road from the Bethlehem shul. In a flat which was the subject of great intrigue to my school friends, all of whom had huge family homes in Oxford street and Cambridge street. The Tobias residence was in an even fancier part of town, along with the Meyerowitz residence, the Goldberg residence and others, high on the hill. Here you found swimming pools and things called “rumpus rooms.” I was an adopted member of the Tobias family, yes. From the wrong side of town, near Kraay’s Bakery. The Mann brothers, the paint magnates who lived even higher on the hill, referred to them as ‘Kraay the Beloved Baker.’ Once again, the bread connection!
Les Tobias’s bar mitzvah, I pitched up in my school (shul?) uniform
as there was no way we could afford a suit. Having been a St. Andrews
boy before moving to Bethlehem, this was an OK thing to do –
presumably with the Saints fees, it was understood there was no money
for suits. Must have got a few tongues wagging. Surprised we didn’t
start getting food parcels from the Jewish community after that.
Brauer wrote: The travelling rabbi’s old man is my mom’s neighbour in JAFFA – the Pretoria Jewish old age home.
skrik – frighten them; put the fear of G_d into them; see that? I wrote the Jewish god G_d
dorp – village; dusty; not Harrismith
voetsek – bugger off; voetsak’d – sent packing
verraaier – traitor
Me: Wrote a little blog post about that book on Bethlehem where they battled to find three wise men.
Brauer: So the shul is a car parts shop? They probably sold the shofar as a much sought-after retro hooter (or horn).
Me: Couldn’t there be a market for a mobile Jewish wedding car – with removable roof and twin shofars, with a floor to dance and smash things on? I have to think of something to make cash post-optometry. Could I be the rabbi, or would I have to use a rent-a-rabbi?
Brauer: Conditional. We’ll let you be the rabbi if you have the snip.
Me: Eish!! It just shrank and retreated to only eleven inches in the shade at the very thought. What the rabbis don’t know is my definition of minor surgery: Minor surgery is Surgery On Someone Else.
I’ll have to stick to driving the mobile wedding car – you could say, ‘being the shofar . . ‘
Here’s a lovely old picture taken inside the Harrismith synagogue!
Dec 2020: I learnt today from big sis Barbara that the occasion above was Ivan Katz’s bar mitzvah. He turned 80 this year and has spent most of the year COVID-trapped in New York (state or city, I don’t know) with his daughter. He was matric 1957 in Harrismith. His Dad owned a bakery next door to my gran Annie Bland’s Caltex garage. Barbara found more old Jewish friends and wrote to them – an extract here.
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;