A Day At The Races

We were talking of our younger days when we occasionally, perhaps, got up to some light mischief which pedants might have regarded as slightly illegal. Such as hopping fences without having purchased tickets to see international sporting events at Ellis Park Joburg – rugby tests and tennis internationals. One of my fellow culprits named Stephen Charles Reed mentioned that we even ended up getting good seats. And that reminded me:

Talking of good seats: Do you remember when you took me – new in Debbin (Durban) and you an old hand, having emigrated down there a year or two before – to my first Durban July! The Rothmans Durban July Handicap?

Here’s the way I remember it:

We dressed up in the best we had and stood in a long queue to place a bet on the first race. Took forever. Then we rushed to the fence to watch the race and our horse was running in reverse and eventually had to be picked up and carried off half an hour after the race finished or it would still have been running.

Durban July horse race

Everyone then went back to the betting windows to queue again to place bets for the next race, determined to throw away their money.

This left the fence, crowded as hell a minute before, quite empty and we spotted a bench at the finish post. We scurried over and occupied it and made a very intelligent decision on the spur of the moment: We would not place any more bets, we would not move from that bench and we would spend all our money on champagne.

Best decision in the world! We saw everything, we didn’t waste our money, we got a liquid return on every cent we spent; we got delightfully pickled and awfully clever and we started making confident predictions on which nags would win. We had a system, based, I think on the deep bubbly-inspired insight “Usually It’s A Brown Horse.”

Soon people were coming up to us to inquire who they should bet on! They thought what with all the champagne and merriment that we were obviously winning and therefore knowledgeable. We freely advised them on how to invest their hard-earned cash by consulting the racing form guide – Give Beau Geste a bash! we’d say; or Sea Cottage looks good! What? Not running? Oh, try (check book): Lady Godiva! We took turns fetching more champagne.

A wonderful day at the races. ca1980. Edu-me-cational it was.

I seem to remember Steve had also convinced some lovely lass to tart herself up and accompany us in high heels? Wishful thinking?

The Legal Has Landed!

I was working with Serge in the UBS building in Field Street.

Bending over someone with my eye one centimetre from their eye gazing deep through their pupil with my ophthalmoscope when the building trembled and I heard a loud, dull thud. WTF? I thought; ‘Hmm’ I said, ‘Sounds like the UBS sign fell off the building!’ I was about to change eyes when next minute my door flew open and Serge darted in “Excuse Me”, flung up my window and hopped out nimble as a cricket, as old and grey as he was. WTF again?

I stuck my head out and there was Serge bending  over a man in a grey suit lying face-down on the tarry-stuff covering the roof over the street-level shops below me.

Turns out he was a lawyer. Partner in the firm on the fifth floor, who took to plummeting. We were on the second floor so he only fell three stories and survived. Came back to work a few months later limping with a stick.

I dunno. Haven’t a clue.

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pic of downtown durban from thegreengallery.co.za

Serge = Serge de Marigny, longstanding venerable catholic optometrist

Eyewitness Account

Thanks to coincidence, luck and connections, I have an eyewitness account to the time my good friend Tuffy fell out of a helicopter!

Chris Greeff is one of the most connected people I know. He mentioned that John Lee is a parabat. I said: My two schoolmates did parabats in 1971 (Pierre du Plessis) and around 1975 I’d guess (Tuffy Joubert). He asked: Tuffy Joubert – that became a Recce – and raced Rubber Ducks with Maddies?

I said Yep. He’s a Harrismith boykie. So Chris sent me a pdf file: Read page 10, he said.

Interview – Major Peter Schofield by Mike Cadman 21 August 2007

Reconnaissance Regiment – Project Missing Voices

Schofield on arrival at Recce base on the Bluff in Durban:

Then I had lunch and went looking for the climbing course. Now, it wasn’t a very long walk but I walked along the length of the camp where there was a helicopter hovering at about a hundred feet. And I stopped on the edge of the hockey field where this was taking place and watched this, and out came a couple of ropes and a couple of guys came whizzing down in sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more came whizzing down sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more.

Then one came out, and came into free fall. And he literally, he got hold of the rope a little bit, but he just fell a hundred feet flat on his back wearing a rucksack and a rifle. And I didn’t even bother to walk over to him, I thought, He’s Dead. He can’t fall that far and not be.

And obviously the ropes were cast off and the chopper landed. They whipped him into the chopper and flew away. I didn’t know where to, but it was in fact to Addington Hospital, which is about three minutes flight away. And, I thought well this must be quite something of a unit, because basically they carried on with the rest of the course as though nothing had happened.

I thought, Well, I better introduce myself to the senior people here and see what’s going on. So I walked over and met the senior members of the course, and it was being run by a bunch of senior NCOs and I was impressed by the lack of concern that anybody showed for the fact that the guy had just fallen a hundred feet from a helicopter. A guy called (Tuffie?) Joubert. And Tuffie is still alive and kicking and serving in Baghdad right now.

And I said, What the hell are you doing? How did he fall over there? They said, Well nobody’s ever done it before. I said, OK, show me what you’re doing. And they were actually tying the abseil ropes direct to the gearbox of the rotor box in the roof, I think it was, in the Puma. Which gets to about a thousand degrees in no time flat. So if they had gone on long enough, they’d have broken at least one if not all four of the ropes with people on them. I said, Well let’s change that. And anyway you’re not abseiling properly so let’s send the helicopter away and let’s do some theory on abseiling and then we’ll go and do it off a building or something that stands still for a while before we progress to helicopters.

Then I went back to report to the commanding officer, John Moore, that I wasn’t really terribly satisfied with the way things were proceeding on this climbing course. He said, Oh well, have you done it before? I said Yes, I’ve done a hell of a lot of it, I was a rock climbing instructor apart from anything else. And he said, OK, well take over, run the climbing course. So I did just that. And again I was so impressed with the fairly laid back attitude of everything.

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me & Tuffy Joubert in his Durban recce days
Tuffy Joubert (right) with me in his Durban recce days

I told Tuffy and he replied in his laid-back Recce way:

Good morning Koos,

Trust to find you well; This side of the coast we are all well and we think we have everything under control.

Maj Peter Schofield was a Brit, he was part of the Red Devils if I recall correctly; came to South Africa and joined the Recces. His first day at work on the Bluff he had to take over the Mountaineering Course that included abseiling. As he walked out to see what was going on, “Yes, I fell out of the helicopter”. He was not impressed.

He lived in Harrismith for a few years after retiring, Pierre knew him. He passed away a few years ago here in Cape Town.

No I have not heard or seen his talk.

Lekker dag verder, enjoy and go for gold – Groetnis – Tuffy.

 

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.

 

 

Uh, Correction, Mrs Bedford!

** recycled post ** updated **

In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be his last game.

Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford, – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith English teacher and the captain’s Mom – hence our feeling like special guests! – up in the stands. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.

Tommy Bedford Springbok

Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”

We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.

jane-bedford-portrait

Mrs Bedford taught English as second language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!

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After:

In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.

So I didn’t.

It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.

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Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’

Durbs in 1962

We went to Durban around this time and stayed in the Impala Holiday Flats, self-catering. Free Staters on the loose in Durbs-by-the-Sea!

We probably drove down in OHS 154, a beige Morris Isis – or in OHS 155, a pale blue VW 1200 Beetle, along the narrow national road between Joburg and Durban.
I remember talk of dreading the infamous “Colenso Heights” – apparently the most challenging section of the route.

The high-rise we stayed in was in Gillespie Street one street back from the Golden Mile, or Esplanade. If you took all Harrismith’s houses and stacked them, you’d have a building like this. I remember the lifts and I remember getting back tired and full of sand from the beach. I don’t seem to recall the beach – weird.

Impala Holiday Flats_2

 

 

Reassuring Words – and Famous Patients

In 1980 the army relieved me of my post as adjutant for the Natal Medical Corps and sent me to work for the provincial ophthalmology department in Durban run by the Nelson R Mandela school of medicine based at King Edward Hospital. This meant I worked at the three racially-segregated hospitals.

King Edward VIII in Umbilo (for the healthily pigmented):

RK Khan Hospital  in Chatsworth (medium pigmentally blessed):

Addington on the beachfront (pale, pigmentally deficient):

At KE VIII we had our own building, at RK Khan and Addington we shared. Addington OPDB (Out Patients Department B) was for legs and eyes. My mate Bob Ilsley in orthopaedics would say “I’ll get them to walk straight, you get them to see straight”.

Resident ophthalmologist Pat Bean was a character. Surfer dude at heart. And heart of gold. “You got cat tracks, mummy”, he’d say at RK Khan. “Cat tracks. Terrible things those cat tracks. Must give you ‘PRATION. Not sore ‘pration. Over one time, you go home next day no pain see nicely” he would reassure.

(‘cataracts’ – ‘operation’)

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The nurse in charge of the clinic most days at KE VIII was Staff Nurse Anita Lekalakala, another character of note. One day she picked up a card for me, glanced at the name, grinned and called out loudly to the packed waiting room:

Miss Grace Kelly! Calling Princess Grace Kelly!

And in shuffled old Mrs Grace Cele, leaning on her walking stick.

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(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)

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