Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Wildlife, Game Reserves

Today Fifty Years Ago

Today fifty years ago was also a Sunday. I know cos sister Sheila kept a diary in high school and every now and then she pops out with an entry that brings back a flood of memories. Even everyday entries like ‘had lunch at (place) with (people)’ can trigger memories and start some lovely reminiscing.

On the 5th April 1970 she wrote:

Climbed Mt aux Sources, had lunch at the waterfall and climbed down again.

“My descriptive writing was still under development” she now says! She was thirteen at the time. I had just turned fifteen. Mother Mary was forty one.

Leading us were Mother Mary, Uncle Cappy and Auntie Joyce Joubert. Making up the party were two older boys, Etienne Joubert and Whitey Fourie; myself, Sheila and Deon Joubert, in descending age order.

– Mother Mary on that 1970 hike – looking at the Eastern Buttress, Devil’s Tooth and Mt Amery –

Mom always knew all the peak names – from the Sentinel to Giants Castle.

– the chain ladder around that era –

The feature pic of the chain ladder is more recent – to show the surroundings – the second chain ladder on the right in that pic was added long after 1970. For wimps. Like airbags in cars, we didn’t have spare ladders back in our day (!!!).

– Sheila The Diarist on the edge of the amphitheatre near the lip of the Tugela Falls – Sept 1972 –
– myself, Sheila The Diarist and Bets Key (nearest) on the edge – on a more recent trip –
– this was ca.1998 – I think –
– the view of where we had lunch at the lip of the falls – taken from further east – internet pic –
– a 1973 pic of the starting point of the hike – Sheila in matric here – wearing the white jacket –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Around April 1970:

Rhodesia under Ian Smith had just become a Republic, severing their last ties with Britain;

The 27 Club started, with Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all dying at the age of 27 between 1969 and 1971.

Jumbo jet 747’s had been flying for about a year;

Apollo 13 was in space, having gone to the moon but not landed, after an oxygen tank had malfunctioned; The first moon landing had been eight months earlier;

We were singing 1969 and 1970 hits like – All Kinds Of Everything; Mama Told Me Not To Come; Build Me Up Buttercup; Crimson and Clover; Proud Mary; Come Together; and many MANY more! In the Summertime; A Boy Named Sue; My Baby Loves Lovin’; Ma Belle Amie; Yellow River; Beatles hits; Elvis hits; Creedence hits – a long list, seared into our memories, never to be forgotten.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I’ve never forgotten “kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer . . “

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood –
– shrubs beside a cascading stream –

I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:

– spot on!! – an image locked in my brain for maybe thirty / forty years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge near Walton farm? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family Wildlife, Game Reserves

Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek Pass

I asked Leanne Hilkovitz Williamson about Poccolan / Robinson’s Bush and this brought a flood of memories:

She takes up the story:

I was born on the farm De Nook which belonged to my grandfather Elias Hilkovitz and was inherited by my father Leo Hilkovitz after the 2nd World War probably round about 1945, two years before I was born.

Dad built Little Switzerland Hotel on the farm and we made pathways through the forest called Robinson’s Bush for guests to hike to various spots: The Wishing Well, Protea Plateau, etc. I named most of the spots, and one that meandered in and out of the forest edge I named Hilky’s Way after my grandfather who was affectionately known as Hilky.

We sold the hotel when I was in my early twenties but the various owners over the years have kept the use of the forest and the guests continue to enjoy its wonderful beauty – it is wonderfully exhilarating to either clamber down Breakneck Pass from the Wishing Well or climb up to it from the road below. The path twists and turns in amongst indigenous trees, true and mock yellowwoods, and lianas and ferns along the side of a stream full of huge beautiful boulders in all shades of grey & lichen & dappled shade. So one experiences the mountain air, the refreshing sound of the steam  and always the melodious bird song. I particularly loved calling up the Mocking Chats and Natal Robins that mimic other birds and have a whole repartee of calls, copying them and they’d call back. A wonderful game that Dad taught me.

According to my father, Robinson’s Bush is the biggest natural forest in the Drakensberg. I wouldn’t take that as gospel. I’ve come to be a bit circumspect about those sorts of claims that locals all over the world tend to lay claim to!

Robinson’s Bush abuts on De Nook and we treated it as part of our farm. Dad looked after it although it is part of government nature conservation; at one stage in my late teenage years there were  two nature conservation officers who lived in a hut on the edge of the forest and tended it but that did not last.

I was there for my 70th birthday in 2017 with my two sons and their families and we climbed up Breakneck Pass through the forest and I showed it to my granddaughters and taught them the things my Dad had taught me.

Some of my earliest memories are of picnics in the forest on the side of the stream with our neighbours Udo and Margo Zunkle of Cathkin Hotel fame when they lived on Windmill farm. Udo would put small pieces of raw steak on the river rocks and we’d be fascinated by the crabs that came from all sides to feast on it.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Leanne again later:

Hi Again

I put together a Power Point family history together for the family and we had an evening when I showed it to them. It started with the great grandparents on both sides and their cars and the farm in the very early days and the beginnings of the hotel and its growth as I grew up & went to HS Volkschool & then boarding school, varsity, etc. and then our children growing up and then finally the grandchildren from babies to present. I can never leave the farm & the berg for long & return there often – even if it is just up and down in a day – and I climb a mountain, drink in the soul food and return home refreshed, invigorated and together. The families also love it and visit but we have never all been there together at the same time & so  took advantage of my 70th to ask this favour. So we stayed in the timeshare from 24-28 Dec & had a wonderful Christmas & my birthday on 27th. We had a wonderful time and I was able to share some of my favourite places & stories with them just this once as you know how short attention spans are when kids are having fun. Didn’t want to bore them!

Pic of me on my birthday in my most favourite place in all the world.

Hilkovitz Leanne Little Switzerland

——-ooo000ooo——-

Famous shenanigans: South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, Trust Bank robber Derek Whitehead, was arrested at Little Switzerland in 1971 at 3am on Friday morning the 14th of May. They had arrived at 4.30pm the previous day. A team of CID detectives from Johannesburg, the Orange Free State and Natal were involved in the swoop. After the arrest, the Whiteheads were taken to Bloemfontein for questioning

——-ooo000ooo——-

Drunken shenanigans: Omigoodness; You don’t want to know . .

——-ooo000ooo——-

Genealogy: Our Bruno the doberman was a Hilkowitz! Dad Pieter Swanepoel told me Leo came to town one day, called in at the Caltex garage and said ‘Come and look!’  On the back of his bakkie he had a bunch of little black pups in a box. Dobermans.

Dad chose one – he says he gave Leo a pocket of potatoes! – and we grew up with ‘Bruno’ – I only now found out he was a citizen of Little Switzerland! He grew up to be a handsome lad!

1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal travel

Up Sani Pass in Redfoot

scan0033

Three modern bakkies and a 1979 Series II Landrover LWB with a Ford V6 3litre engine shoved in – and hand-painted flat white with bright red wheels – ventured up Sani Pass one day. The three very capable bakkies sailed up with ease, while Redfoot had to pause for a breather on a stream crossing and have its radiator topped up and let its heart rate subside.

Yet at photo op time everyone posed on old Redfoot the Landie! Hit it!

The three more capable - but less photogenic - bakkies
The three more capable – but less photogenic – bakkies

Redfoot Sani crop
And on which vehicle did everyone pose for their “Conquered the Mountain” picture?

sani_1
Beautiful rockjumpers on the rocks

Aitch found Redfoot. One of her PMB doctors was ‘doing up’ an old Landie, putting a new engine in and it ‘would be like new’ he said. He was a fibbing car salesman but my Need-A-4X4-O-Meter was up and he could have sold me a – Wait! He DID sell me a Landrover! Never thought I’d fall for one of those.

‘Only one previous owner’ he said and that was true: Besides him, only one previous owner – The KwaZulu bantustan homeland Police Force. I only found that out too late but anyway he’d have re-assured me that they treated it with kid gloves and as if it was their own, sticking to the speed limit, never over-loading it and staying on the tar.

I bought it for R12000 in partnership with my three business partners, 25% each. I assured them they would thank me. I don’t think Lello and Stoute ever used it. Yoell did once. And Prem Singh used it once to take a wedding party to Ladysmith. Maybe Soutar used it a few times.

I spent a further R13000 on two more Ford engines and sold it with relief for R5000. This Sani trip was the only worthwhile exercise it ever undertook. Come to think of it, I don’t think my ungrateful partners ever did thank me! I don’t know why. It was a real conversation stopper. You had to say what you wanted before you left, cos on the journey there was no way you could even yourself speak. There was a hole in the aluminium between your knees and the engine compartment and a hole in the aluminium between your heels and the road, so lots of noise rushed in.

 

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia school

And Now Greg Seibert Has Died

Greg came to Harrismith from Ohio in 1972. We lost touch then thanks to Sheila picked up as though no time had passed! Greg was helping Sheila research ancient family history and was also sending lovely pics of his schooldays in Harrismith.

He was planning to come and visit and, among other places, visit Steph de Witt’s game farm near Tshipise with Steph.

Then Steph died.

Now Greg’s gone, suddenly, out of the blue.

R.I.P Greg! Dammit!!

** I’ll find a pic of Greg. Meantime that’s one of his pics above **

=======ooo000ooo=======

Wonderful memories of walking down Normandien pass in the Drakensberg with Greg, just me and him along lonely dirt roads and railway tracks, through these tunnels and ending up near Van Reenen – at Moorddraai where we were fetched – I think by Father Sam van Muschenbroek? I had to keep telling Greg to slow down! He was a fast walker and I was in no hurry!

Near van Reenen where Greg Seibert & I hiked thru tunnels
– one of those tunnels, but not Greg’s pic –

I don’t have a pic of Greg yet. The top pic is one he took in our physics class back in 1972.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Greg’s last message on 28 April 2016:

On Apr 28, 2016, Sheila had written:

Gregor! Where the hell have you been? Are you okay?

You just dried up and went away! A bit like our money is doing right now! All’s well here – am having fun putting old pics on FB – am loving the responses. I hope you’re okay.

Lots of love, Sheila

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Greg replied same day:

SHEILA!

I'm doing just fine. Been a bit of work finishing up the estates of 
mom and dad. Was quite ready for mom to go, but dad went kinda suddenly. 
Such is life. What brought about this great burst of picture activity?  
I'll have to get back to posting more of mine again.

My brother is probably going back to Port Elizabeth later this year. 
I might try to come with him this time since my last trip got all 
messed up. 
Glad you are doing well!
Grego

Sent from my iPad
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
So Greg's poor kids lost their Grandma, their Granpa and their Dad 
in quick succession!
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Greg's brother Jeff did come to SA in 2014. I took him to Hluhluwe game reserve. Greg did not accompany him. He should have. He never did make it back to SA to visit. Damn!
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Coldest Nights

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 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

Cold!
– Silver fox, Kalahari Gemsbok Park –
Kalahari Gemsbok (1)

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

This is why Sheila made us camp in THE most exposed spot!
Wasn't hot. Aitch still huddling in the tent!
– not warm –

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

Nyika plateau
– cozy after a while –
Nyika plateau; Spoiling Aitch again with luxury lodgings . . .
– romantic dinner for two – in luxury accommodation –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Ladies of Stone

Way back in high school we spent a night in an old sparsely furnished Drakensberg farmhouse with no ceilings and a tin roof.

We accompanied Klein Kerneels Retief to his Dad’s winter grazing farm Sungubala below Oliviershoek Pass and were left on our own overnight. Adventure! The skies were overcast and soon there were deep rumblings and flashes of lightning. A heavy rain started falling followed by hailstones. The Drakensberg storm built up until it was a roar and we couldn’t hear each other at all – not even shouting into your ear from an inch away was audible above the tinroof fandango. We jumped a foot high when a massive crack of thunder clapped half an inch above the roof. The loudest bang I’d ever heard.

The next day we explored the soaked veld and ouhout thickets above the house and came across a well-endowed woman lying naked on a huge stone in the woods! Stunning! She sported huge shapely boobs and was a wonder for the eyes of lustful teenagers. She was gorgeous! OK, she was made of stone, but hey, what else did we have?

I have often thought of her over the years and started thinking I may have imagined her but then I read of the stone carvings of the Drakensberg and determined to go and find her.

I took the kids and we stayed at The Cavern, lovely old-style ‘Berg hotel.

The Cavern-001
Beautiful things in the grounds

Asking around, one of their guides said he knew where my statue was and he’d take me there. I packed a rucksack, he packed lunch and off we went for the day, leaving the kids behind. They could not WAIT for me to GO! DAD! as they had discovered an amazing secret: If you gave any hotel employee your room number he or she would give you anything you wanted under the sun. They had discovered the key to endless riches.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One movie – Dad will pay. Room 15

When my guide and I got to the little valley in the foothills where he said the statue was it didn’t look right. It didn’t feel like the place I remembered from – uh, 40yrs ago. But there she was: A maiden with luscious boobs carved in stone.

Cavern upright Statue (small)
But this lady was standing up, not lying down on a rock in a seductive pose. There is another statue, I told him. This is not the statue I saw. Its beautiful, and thank you, but she is not the lady of my dreams. Ah! He knew where the other one was. It was on private property and he couldn’t take me there. Back at the hotel I asked around and they showed me a picture.

And there she was, exactly as I remembered her:

Cavern reclining Statue (small)
Well, almost exactly. Um, I must confess I did NOT notice that she had wings back then, nor that she had clothing. I was remembering naked bunnytail more than dressed wings. Hey, Testosterone! Vrystaat! 1970! No internet! Very few Playboy magazines! Cut me some slack here!

~~~oo0oo~~~

The Story of the Stone Ladies – a tale was told of a reclusive sculptor who fell in love with a trader’s daughter and sculpted these rocks in homage to her. She was a Coventry. We had Coventry twins Glenda & Glynis in Harrismith who came from a Drakensberg trading family. And I think I see a resemblance . . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later I found this in a book by Rowan Philp, Rediscovering South Africa: A Wayward Guide.
“There are two boulders hidden deep in a Drakensberg forest which tell a near-Shakespearean tale of obsession, genius, and revenge. Completely unsign-posted, they feature magnificent, life-size sculptures of the same nude, full-breasted woman, painstakingly carved by her lover fifty years ago. The story begins when Willie Chalmers, a wandering artist with a wildly unkempt beard, came to the area from the Kalahari in the 1930’s to learn more about Bushman paintings from a farmer’s daughter, Doreen Coventry. He fell in love with her and spent fourteen months carving her likeness into a flat sandstone rock on her farm, adding a halo and the face of a child alongside. He called it Spirit of the Woods.

But some of his younger in-laws saw him as a con man and a parasite at the family homestead, and at the height of the row, Coventry’s nephew hiked up to the sculpture in a rage and smashed off the nose. So, some say, Chalmers began a second Spirit of the Woods, this time in a secret location almost completely enclosed by other boulders, sometimes working for weeks without a break.”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
7_Confessions

Getting Around in the 70’s

School holidays. We have to DO something or we’ll go crazy!
Ma, we want to go and climb Mt aux Sources.
How are you going to get there?
We’ll hitch-hike.
Over my dead body! or words to that effect. NO, I think she meant.

So two days later we get home – me, Claudio Bellato and Carlos da Silva – drenched, muddy and weary, having reached Witsieshoek, but not the mountain, as the heavens had opened up, torrential rain turning the roads into quagmires. So the mountaineering goal of the expedition had been thwarted, but the main goal – having fun – had not!

Where have you been?!
To Mt aux Sources, like I said.
How did you get there?
We hitch-hiked, like I said.

One of our lifts was with one of the Trading Greys, dunno who exactly.
The rain bucketed down and I learnt a lot about driving in slick mud by watching him continuously turn into the skid on the muddy Witsieshoek road.

As always, Mother Mary couldn’t stay cross with me for long.
My companions on this adventure, Claudio and Carlos, loved it as much as I did.

The images show that same road in sunny weather years later. Then it was wet and gravel, not dry and tarred.

witsieshoek

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Veld and Vlei

Veld & Vlei at Greystones 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. Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dr Dick Venning.

– Veld & Vlei leadership course July 1972 at Greystone near Estcourt – middle left – Wagendrift dam on the upper middle right –

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!

– cosy comfy luxury tents –

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!

..

– that wall –

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 – http://www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast. 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 were on the plateau on the right of this near valley –

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.

– chain ladder –

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. Greg Seibert may have accompanied me. I forget who else.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!’ (Mom did send it and thanks to Harriet vdMerwe she put sweets and dried fruit inside!). 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.’ Moms are great!

– my favourite, long-term frame rucksack – here seen on Sheila’s back –

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.’

– everybody 1972 winter course at Greystones – I’m sitting on the ground third from left – on either side were good mates – I think that’s Nev Slade second from left –

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. ‘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 and beach bums knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

More odds and sods I found, scanned and tossed. Warning: Boring!! – only for those who were there:

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:

– letter from henchman Nev Slade, quartermaster, Uys Patrol! Veld & Vlei, winter 1972 –

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 me! Signs himself off ‘Great Poet and man who survived Veld & Vlei’ – Nev Slade, Bridgewood, Dargle Rail

~~~oo0oo~~~

Ah, a mystery solved: We did NOT get completion certificates.

Veld & Vlei after-letter

So Hofland could not have been on the July 1972 course, I guess. Still, thanks for the photos!

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 lovely adventure.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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?”

~~~oo0oo~~~

– meningitis tablets –
– Uys Patrol preparations for hike –

~~~oo0oo~~~