I was working with Serge in the UBS building in Field Street.
Bending over someone with my right eye one centimetre from their right eye, I was 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 my door flew open and Serge darted in “Excuse Me” he panted, flung open 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 us.
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.
pic of downtown durban from thegreengallery.co.za
Serge = Serge de Marigny, longstanding venerable catholic optometrist; venerated the archbishop, who came to us for his multifocals. Brought them back once, “I have to lift my chin to read.” I made him new lenses, a millimetre higher. Brought them back again, “Now I have to lower my chin to drive.” I scurried about, muttering three hail marys and re-made them again, half a millimetre lower. “One low, one high and this one smack in the middle” he announced and swept out triumphant. Very sure of himself was old Denis.
When checking his eyes I had asked him what a sinner like me should call him. “Your Grace” he boomed, thought about it – about me being un-catholic maybe? – and said “or just Archbishop.” I called him neither. Maybe that’s why he wound me up with his new specs!
I see when they made a graven image of him to worship after he’d keeled over, they left off my specs, the buggers. See how he has to peer without them!
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.
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.
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!
Might that be Mary’s VW outside the Lonsdale in this picture? Three cars behind the Borgward?
The cost of their stay: R2.95 each per day including meals. Mom thinks Randolph Stiller may have owned the Four Seasons. He and Bebe 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’.
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.
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 one of his last games.
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’s English-as-second-language teacher. Also: Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.
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.
“corrections of corrections of corrections”
Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the 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!
Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda has kept this for nigh-on fifty years! (this is in 2020)
Tommy’s last game for the Boks came in 1971 against the French – again in Durban.
Two or three years later:
In matric the 1972 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 politely 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 any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.
ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why
Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’ – Not.
Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world, and in Durban colonial circles. Sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.
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.
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’)
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.
(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)