I have written about our lonely little, short-lived Boy Scout troop in the vrystaat and how wonderful it was, how much we learned and how much fun we had, but as I find more and more material in my Big Garage Cleanup, here’s the thing that strikes me most: How incredibly dedicated our troop leaders were and how selflessly they gave of their time and resources. Take this one incident, a memorable hike to test our map-reading and navigating skills:
Father Sam van Muschenbroek was the Scout leader (what’s that called?) and we met at his house at 6:30 on a Friday evening, got into his car and he drove us off. He stopped for petrol and while his car was being filled he blindfolded us – me and Greg Seibert, Rotary exchange student and American Boy Scout, as we were not to know where our hike started, nor did we know the end-point yet. All of that we were to work out from maps and compass readings.
Greg wrote: ‘We were hopelessly lost after a few tricky turns by Father Sam. After a bit of rough and out-of-the-way driving, we arrived’ at our campsite at 7:50pm. We cooked for Father Sam, his son Sam and ourselves and finished eating (spaghetti followed by a can of pears) at 9:35pm, wherupon the Sams drove off without lights (‘tricky, tricky’ wrote Greg).
All this in his own time and on – I would guess – not a huge salary as a rooinek dominee of a tiny little Anglican parish in a vrystaat dorp! I salute people like Father Sam, Dick Clarke and Charlie Ryder! They enriched and enhanced our growing up in Harrismith, going out of their way to ensure we had adventures and fun and did good stuff. Many, many men, far richer and much more influential than these three did WAY less for the kids in their town.
Oh: So what happened?
The next morning we rose at 6:20am – Greg sure watched the clock, he even said we fell asleep at 10:45pm the night before! – he took a picture of this sunrise on Saturday 29 April 1972, and I made a fire and attempted and failed to bake some bread over the coals. Then at 7:20am PAUL GOT UP! Who the hell was Paul?
We ate coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. The wind was whistling, and it musta blown page 3 away, so on page 4 the weather was still cold but warming. Still very windy from the WNW. At point C on the map we were obviously following ‘we were only 25 yards off of our calculations!’ We calculated and read the compass and left for point D at 10:15am.
Point E at 11:30am after detouring around a vlei and throwing my pack across a stream (!). Point F was some half-dead trees and some ruins and we rested there for ten minutes to 12:20pm.
Point G was a willow tree, a stone pillar and a little dam. We found it after a longish detour to find a place where we could cross the stream which was 4ft deep and 20ft wide. There we had lunch and a rest till 1:30pm. No mention of what we had for lunch but my guess would be coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. We ate in the shade while the mysterious Paul slept in the sun. Point H was an empty house and barn down a farm road. After a tricky crossing of a stream we were looking for a windmill. A glint of sun reflected off it revealed it and we headed up a rough hill, stopping halfway up for a rest and a drink. We reached the windmill, point I at 4:15pm and ate an apple.
When we weren’t sure of our position, we would seat Paul under a tree and Greg and I would go and check and then come back, so the mystery Paul wouldn’t get too tired, I suppose?
We were now headed for a Mr Blom’s farm. On the way we got our first glimpse of Platberg in the distance, so that was heartening. We reached Mr Blom’s house at 4:45pm and he invited us in for tea! We chatted till ‘about 5:30pm’ – HA! Greg was less accurate over tea! – when it started to rain.
We moved to camp, Mr Blom having kindly given us milk, apples, grapes and water! We cooked and ate supper at 9:30pm – spaghetti! But also beef stroganoff and oxtail soup. Paul went to sleep at 9pm! So, hike scribe Greg notes, ‘Pete and I gorged ourselves on the beef strog.’
‘We finally climbed in at 9:45pm. We we asleep ‘
It ends like that.
Greg called the adventure Operation Headache – and it occurs to me: Father Sam must have spent hours beforehand setting up the course! Taking compass readings, probably meeting Mnr Blom and getting his co-operation, probably other farmers whose land we crossed, too. What an absolute star! We loved those three days and spoke about the hike in years – decades – to follow.
As proof that We Wuz There, we got Mr Blom’s signature:
Greg’s notes in his unmistakable spidery handwriting:
. . . and I found half of page 3: It said we stopped at a spring and drank. We saw ‘several freshwater crabs, insect larvae and a frog.’
A map I drew of our first campsite:
Accuracy check: What does a satellite pic of the area look like fifty years later? Hmmm . . . good thing I wrote ‘approx’ where I pointed NORTH! And that wind was SW wasn’t it?
Here’s another map, another hike. Maybe my 50 miler hike near Normandien Pass.
Drawings on a hike – in the Drakensberg on the Vrystaat / Natal border again – our usual place; may be same hike, I don’t know:
My four-stage 1973 road trip started in Apache Oklahoma. In Stage One Katie Patterson drove us down in her Ford LTD to stay with her folks, Mama and Papa Hays, in Shreveport, Louisiana. There we ‘visited’ as Oklahomans say; We were spoiled – I was a third, honorary grandchild! We played golf – I recall smacking the ball into one inch ‘rough’ under big old trees draped in lichen, or old man’s beard; And we ate superbly.
Papa Hays gave me a beautiful old book:
Larry and his sister Ginny joined us, having driven down from Cobleskill NY and we got ready for Stage Two of my Great North American Road Trip: Heading north-east in a light greenish-grey Volkswagen Bug.
Larry and Ginny had packed their camping kit on the back seat; One more passenger meant we now needed a U-Haul carrier on the roof.
I remember surprisingly little about this trip north-east! We left the Red River and crossed the Arkansas River near Little Rock; I remember camping:
I remember crossing the mighty Mississippi River in or near St Louis, where the Missouri joins it;
The only thing I remember clearly is hoping my ID would be checked at the door when we went for my very first legal beer at a TGIF bar in Missouri. I had drank in Oklahoma, aged seventeen in a 21 state, I had drank in Louisiana and Arkansas, but now at last I was eighteen in an 18 state! Legal at last!
I held my SA passport ready . . I now know it was a Sunday; Richard Nixon was the President; We were listening to Killing Me Softly With His Song, and Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree; and NOW, at last, I would be checked and blessed for the first time . .
But the man at the door just waved me through. ** sigh! ** why have I always looked much older than I am? Nowadays people think I’m a hundred in the shade. Next they’ll be wanting to take away my drivers licence . . .
Oh, well, at least some other world-firsts happened that week: The first cellphone call; The World Trade Center twin towers opened; the first international rugby sevens tournament took place; the last American soldier ignominiously left Vietnam; and Pablo Picasso died.
I also remember getting to Larry’s hometown Cobleskill, a beautiful little town in upstate New York, and meeting his parents. I’d heard about Cobleskill since 1969 when Larry breezed into Harrismith and we spent a fun year making memories and amok; early experiments mixing beer and petrol – which he called gas. Well, we had a gas! Fun times!
That’s a really vague and sketchy recollection of a magic route! Larry doesn’t remember much more. In fact he confidently remembered the VW Bug as being red! ‘Tis not only my memory glands that are dodgy, I’m relieved to tell.
He’s going to ask his sister Virginia. She’ll know more. I know we went here, cos my trusty Olympus trip 35 camera recorded it, but where is it?
A few days later, another VW Bug arrived, full of gorgeous Oklahomans; and one less-than-glamorous Aussie . . and this Bug was red.
Here’s our my correspondence to Larry in 2017 went:
Subject: Lost in the USA. Hey Larry – Help a lost Vrystater who can’t remember where he has been! I know we left Shreveport in your lil greyish-greenish VW Bug and headed up to Little Rock (I guess on highways 49 and then 30) but after that I’ve hit a blank. And I know you took us to some interesting places. Do you remember the route you took? I’d love to hear it. Sort of a trip down Forgettery Lane. Cheers – Koos
Larry: Forgettery Lane? You’re talking to someone who’s pretty much strolling down Alzheimer’s Avenue! (at least where 40+-year-old memories are concerned). BTW, if we traveled in a VW Beetle, it must have been red.
Fortunately for us both, Ginny tends to be much better in the recall department than I am. I believe we started the trip as a way for me to check out some law schools (which I was sort of seriously considering at the time, but — fortunately — never pursued). She was good enough to volunteer to come along as a companion/navigator, though I’m afraid I was a bit tough on her in that latter capacity, especially when I got freaked out driving in Washington, D.C., where the traffic was a bit intense for a kid from the country and the city center is famously laid out like the spokes of a wheel, as opposed to the more traditional grid pattern. Not what I’d call intuitive.
Thankfully we’re still on speaking terms, which I fear I put in jeopardy there for a while, so I’ll ask her (by means of CC-ing her on this e-mail) for any details she may recall. Unless I traumatized her so badly that she’s repressed the entire experience! Or perhaps it had the opposite effect and seared it into her memory — let’s hope for that. We were just together (in Roanoke) over the Easter holiday; wish I could have asked her about it directly.
That’s a very long way of saying no, I don’t really remember our route — sorry. I’m still hopeful Ginny may be able to save my bacon.
But to do it I needed a henchman. You can hike alone, but I’d really rather not, so I persuaded Stefaans Reed, The Big Weed, resident son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) and fellow optometry student in Jo’burg to nogschlep along.
We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Piet Uys Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams, into the ‘Government forest’. The pine plantation. ‘Die dennebos.’ We could discern two types of pines. The type we liked had the long soft needles and made a good bed. We walked next to the concrete furrow that led water down the mountain into town. Often broken and dry but sometimes full of clear water, it made finding the way easy.
Halfway up we made camp, clearing a big area of the soft pine needles down to bare earth so we could safely light a fire.
Learning from our primate cousins we piled all those leaves and more into a thick gorilla mattress and lay down on it to gaze at the stars through the treetops. This was 1974, we were eerstejaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein, Jo’burg. We had learnt to drink more beer, sing bawdy songs, throw a mean dart in a smoke-filled pub, hang out of friends car windows as they drove home thinking ‘Whoa! better get these hooligans home!’ and generally honed our urban skills. Now we were honing our rural skills. Wilderness ‘n all.
As we lay in our sleeping bags, burping boerewors and gazing through the pine fronds at the stars, we heard a loud, startling, beautiful sound.
I was wide-eyed wide-awake! WHAT on EARTH was that!? I knew it had to be a night bird, but what? Which one?
In the dark I scribbled down a picture of the sound. This is what it sounded like to me and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget it:
I didn’t know I was drawing a ‘sonogram’ – I’d never heard of that.
When I got back home I looked through my ‘Birds of South Africa – Austin Roberts’ by G.R. McLachlan and R. Liversidge, 1970 – and found there was a nightjar that said “Good Lord Deliver Us” and I knew that was it. The Fiery-Necked Nightjar – some call it the Litany Bird. I loved it, I love it, I’ll never forget it and it’s still a favourite bird.
Next morning we hiked on, past the beautiful eastern tip of Platberg – some call it ‘Bobbejaankop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back home and a cold beer. See more pics of Platberg.
Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy. Still an invasive pest, though.
A ‘litany’ is a tedious recital or repetitive series; ‘a litany of complaints’; ‘a series of invocations and supplications‘;
The Catholics can really rev it up – Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us. God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us. God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us. – and this is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more! Holy shit!!
Nêrens – nowhere, or Clarens in the Free State, named after Clarens, Switzerland to which that coward Paul Kruger fled cowardly after accusing my brave great-great Oom of cowardice. Ha! Who actually stayed and fought the war, huh?
nogschlep – kom saam; accompany
boerewors – raw beef wurst; just add fire
dennebos – pine plantation; plantations are not forests!
We were camping in the Estcourt caravan park on the banks of the Bushman’s River when we heard there had recently been a beauty pageant in the dorp. The crown had been awarded. A Miss Estcourt had been chosen, and she was in town.
But where!? Our source of this local knowledge was Doug the Thief, who had heard it from a local.
This was her lucky weekend! She could choose from four handsome, willing and able bachelor paddlers. Well, willing, anyway:
She could choose from Bernie & The Jets’ yellow helmet, Swanie’s white helmet or Lang Dawid’s blue helmet. A quick shower in the communal ablution block and we were ready to hit the dorp.
Doug the Thief had disappeared, nowhere to be found. Oh, well. His helmet’s loss.
We focused on preparation for the search, gaining bottled IQ points and suave wit before setting out in the Jet’s white Ford Escort which we thought the best vehicle with which to impress Miss Estcourt Sausages. Look! Miss Estcourt Sausages, we’d say. We came courting you in an Escort! HaHaHa! She’d collapse laughing.
We eventually tracked down her flat on the top floor of Estcourt’s only highrise building. It was also the third floor. And knocked on her door, calling out seductively and probably irresistibly for Miss Estcourt Sausages – expecting at any moment for her to open the door in a negligee and say Hello Boys!
Instead the door opened to reveal a horrible sight: Doug the Thief, who hissed FUCK OFF! at us and closed the door! The Swine.
Disconsolately we had to schlep back to the caravan park and more beer. We consoled ourselves by braaing a few of these till they were overdone.
Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!
– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s
– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca.1970
– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair, Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca.1968
– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche se Hoer Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca.1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!
– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. EVER! The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca.1983
With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca.1996
With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca.1996
Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca.1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?
With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca.1993
Was I “sent to” leadership school? I don’t think so, but I just thought of that. Hmm . . .
Veld & Vlei at Greystone on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or ‘senior’ – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said. Harrismith Rotary Club decided to send me there. Younger sister Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dick Venning, Durban anaesthetist turned Harrismith character and pig farmer.
Memories of a busy first week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!
Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs. Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief naked immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning after a 2,5km run; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader of Uys Patrol; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.
But then I found a website – www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast, now in England or Holland, I forget which. He had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also has his course report and certificate. I wonder what they said on them, as our course was cut short. His images are very blurry but you can read the word PASS – so they must have decided we’d done enough to get certificates? I now only have the felt badge.
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! We drove by bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.
We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source.
It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!” Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early! Sheila’s diary records my folks were phoned on 12 July and asked to fetch me. We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.
But . . our rucksacks were packed . . and our wanderlust aroused, so I’m afraid I headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut. I think Rotary exchange student Greg Seibert from Ohio accompanied me. I forget who else.
That’s what I remembered. Today, however, 48yrs later, Sheila has given me the letters I wrote home, so I also know this: So much for vivid memories!
My first letter was two days into the course and the main concern was ‘PLEEZ send my rucksack! The rucksack I have been issued with is absolutely messed up!’ I was fit, as shown by my maximums. I had done 63 step-ups with weights. The camp record was 64. ‘The assault course instructor is a sadist.’ Please send the rucksack! They have arranged for parcel deliveries.
Mom’s letter back said she had sent the rucksack – and ‘look inside.’ When it arrived, Wow! Sweets and dried fruit! Moms are great! Thanks, Ma!
The next letter was Monday 3rd July 1972 – Early morning run and naked dip in the dam; sailing and canoeing. Our patrol won both canoe races (‘natch!’ I wrote, being very keen on canoeing at the time) and we won Best Patrol of the Day. ‘Today Monday was much tougher: The assault course consists of eleven obstacles and we only completed five! Only one of the six patrols completed the course. They took one hour and seventeen minutes. The course record is twelve minutes and fifty seconds! PT was based on maximums. My first round took 10 mins 42 seconds, then a run. I did the second round in 10 mins dead. Dead’s the word! I met Stephen Middlemost. A good chap.’
The last letter was on day 9: Our first free morning. On day 7 they had given us twenty minutes to get ready and leave on a two day expedition. Find your way by map to various waypoints. There was ‘not much discipline’ in our patrol,according to poor little ole me: ‘Leaders had been chosen who were not leaders’ (according to yours truly!) and not much hard hiking was done. I saw we were way behind schedule so ‘I tried to push them, but they just got mad and rested often and long.’ I did all the map and compass work and ‘they would argue like mad as to our direction without ever looking at the map!’ By nightfall we were about halfway to our intended destination. We camped and ‘the boys just wanted to turn around and go back. I refused and eventually they agreed to try and finish the course! In the morning we only set off at 9am! I worked out shortcuts for them while one of the guys and I walked to the beacons and took bearings; we would then catch up to them again. We walked along to ‘a chorus of moaning and swearing, mainly at me for ‘rushing them.’ Anyway, eventually we crossed the Bushmans River in the dark and arrived back at camp at 7.30pm. At least we did finish the course! And luckily there was a good supper waiting.’
On the evening of that ninth day we chose patrol leaders; seventy two boys, six patrols; I was chosen to lead Uys Patrol. ‘My deputy is Reg Wilkins, a very good chap: funny, determined, stubborn, etc. but we’ll go great. Our quartermaster is Neville Slade, also a great guy, very conscientious.’
Our full patrol is Eric Cohen, Arthur Lees-Rolfe, John Peterson, Nev Slade, Clyde Nunn, Reg Wilkins, Rusty du Plessis, Bud Marouchos, and me. We lost Rob Hohls abseiling when a big rock fell on his head.
In a letter home: I lost or mislaid my boots; I should find them. Cuthberts made a lousy job of fixing them. R3!! On the first hike I lost half of both heels; on the two-day expedition the other halves came off and the whole sole is coming off, starting at the toe.’
I was so looking forward to the high ‘Berg hike. That was MY territory! None of these city slickers, beach bums and polo-crosse players knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .
More odds and sods I found, scanned and tossed. Warning: Boring! – only those who were there will be interested:
July 2020 – Found a diary I kept on the course.
Later that year I got a hilarious raunchy letter from my cool-dude side-kick Nev Slade:
Excerpts: He moans about swotting for matric; He says ‘now listen you Free State Fuckup’ (‘that’s the best I have thought up for a long time’) and invites me to a post-matric party – a good thrash! He reports getting as ‘canned as a coot’ at a disco; he says he’ll set me up with a sexy partner; threatens, if I don’t pitch at his thrash, to come to the Free State and castrate you myself!
Signs himself off: ‘Great Poet and the man who lived through Veld & Vlei’ – Nev Slade, Bridgewood, Dargle Rail
Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.
So Hofland could not have been on the July 1972 course, I guess. Still, thanks for the photos, Willem! ( I see his course certificate says G14, so he was winter 1973).
I gave a talk to Harrismith Rotary club afterwards, telling them all about it, expressing my disappointment on not doing the high Berg hike; and thanking them for sponsoring me on this lovely adventure.
Another postscript: I now know, from another hilarious and rude letter from Nev Slade, something about our hike up Mt aux Sources. Nev had been to a polocrosse tournament in Greytown where he almost broke his arm due to rough treatment from Transvalers who were “the dirtiest, wildest pigs you’ve ever come across,” – in fact they were “just like Freestaters in the wild Swanepoel tradition.” He couldn’t think of a worse insult! What a lekker oke! Anyway, obviously replying to my letter he says “Wow, you’re lucky to have seen a lammergeier so close up! Lend me some of your luck sometime won’t you?”
I hope Slade has become a preacher and stumbles across this and blushes when he reads how cruelly he treated his good mate, me!
A letter! Sheila found a letter written to me by Mom while I was on camp. She filled me in on happenings in the metropolis of Harrismith in my absence:
1. Two heart attacks – Jonathan McCloy’s Dad and Ds Ras. Lulu was at home with her Dad, but De Wet was away playing Craven Week rugby. He hastened home; Dominee in hospital under heavy sedation.
2. When Eastern Free State won a game at Craven Week rugby, our captain Rudolph Gabba Coetzee had to speak on the radio! Big news for one who did not do much public speaking! (Joan du Plessis coined that affliction ‘verbal constipation’ – opposite of verbal diarrhoea).
3. I had an interview straight after my course in Estcourt to apply for a Rotary Exchange Student posting. It was also at Greystone near Estcourt, so Mom said I should stay with my cousin Marlene – ‘and try and get a haircut in Estcourt before the interview’ – Yeah, like that was going to happen!! A voluntary haircut in matric!
4. They had stayed at a caravan park with Sheila. It was lousy, no lights, no hot water and a long list of other things wrong.
And now lastly: When she was about to send me the rucksack I had requested, Mom bumped into her friend and Harrismith character Harriet vd Merwe. She told Harriett she was urgently sending me a rucksack. Harriet looked into it and exclaimed, No Mary! You can’t send it empty! Put some goodies in it! So Mom included the sweets and dried fruit that were such a hit when they arrived in camp! Thank you Harriet!
The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.
It was 1969 and we were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had launched a seuns toer and then discovered they didn’t actually have enough seuns in Kestel to toer. So they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School’s seuns: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes, and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?
We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: A fine Hotel on the main street of the small metropolis of Karasburg. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.
We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. His relaxed response had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.
Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner or manager, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.
He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting the peaceful liberal ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.
But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!
Early next morning we hightailed it out of the metropolis of Karasburg and headed for the nearby Finger of God. Was it going to wag at us sternly for our little alcoholic misdemeanour?
seuns – boys
toer – tour
kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’
vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?
Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!