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.
Mom always knew all the peak names – from the Sentinel to Giants Castle.
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 (!!!).
Around April 1970:
Rhodesia under Ian Smith had just become a Republic, severing their last ties with Britain;
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.
I’ve never forgotten “kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer . . “
Uncle Cappy was a mentor to his three sons and to many others around him. He was a huge influence in my life. He taught me how to play cricket, how to rough-and-tumble, how to BE THERE for your family; how to do the right thing.
As Mobiloil’s representative in the district he had new cars every now and then, which were cause for great excitement. His winged green Zephyr 6 Mark III (made 1962-1966), then his stompgat gold Zephyr 6 Mk IV are the ones I remember best.
His job with Mobil took him all over the countryside, visiting farmers and the depots, so he knew the back roads around Harrismith – and sometimes he’d take us along.
He was always available to help: With sport, with Sunday school, with church, with lifts to sporting events, being Father Christmas, arranging picnics, umpiring cricket, playing cricket, coaching cricket;
I was raised by my Mom and her Mom Annie, so was in danger of being pieperig, as they were gentle, quiet ladies. Thank goodness for frequest visits to the Jouberts, with rugged Uncle Cappy, three tough boys and – the toughest of them all – Aunty Joyce! Cappy would show you exactly how to hold a cricket bat; he would warn the boys and if they didn’t listen, physically wrestle them to the ground and donner them. I remember Etienne wrestling back, squirming, protesting and not giving up, and Cappy holding him in a vice grip on the grass until he conceded! When Etienne went one step too far for Joyce in trading chirps and talkback, Joyce would finally get to the point where she’d lean forward from the waist and jeer, ‘Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr!’ LIVELY action at the Jouberts!
Typical older brother, Etienne would try and get youngest of us all, Deon to do stuff, pushing the little one into taking the risk for our reward. Once when Deon refused, he said, “Chicken!” and Deon instantly and heatedly responded “I aren’t a blerrie chicken cos I aren’t got fevvers!”
Full of jokes and ‘streke,’ I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Aunty Joyce with her Cape accent – she pronounced the Afrikaans ‘so’ as sue, not sewah as we did – that put Tuffy up to this prank.
I wrote to his eldest son Etienne one fine morning, soon after Uncle Cappy had died peacefully in his sleep on his ninetieth birthday:
I was lying in bed this morning listening to the birds and de-fragmenting the hard drive in my head when this popped up on some old grey cells:
Knyptang innie broeksak
Dinamiet innie gatsak
VOORWAARTS die Ossewa Brandwag!
Also then, of course you have to remember his song on a moonlit night:
O, die maan skyn so helder . . . op my POEPHOL !
He was a huge influence in my life. A very good ‘normalising’ influence to go along with the more conventional, narrow influences!
I’m sure you can remember much more.
Yes, he did rather have many funny little sayings.
Hou die blink kant bo was another favourite.
The “knyptang’ one he’d say aloud in the yard so that Eben Louw could hear.
“C’mon guys, let’s play the game.” That would be when us children were arguing.
He based a lot of his life’s philosophy on Cricket & the fairness & unfairness thereof.
When he drove me to Pretoria to start in the bank he reminded me:
Never over dress or under dress.
Do not drink on your own.
A gentleman leaves the club before seven.
I miss him often in sticky situations.
Have a great day Koos.
Uncle Cappy widened our horizons where school tried to narrow them down. He showed us how you can be thoroughly decent -and also naughty! So many skynheilige people who weren’t a patch on him would NEVER swear in front of us boys, but Cappy did – with a twinkle in his eyes. Now, mind, he never swore in front of us in front of Auntie Joyce! That’s for sure! That mischief was for boys-only gatherings.
As he was Mobil and Annie – my gran – was Caltex, those were the ONLY fuels we would even THINK of using in our cars. Our non-existent cars. We would NEVER use Shell or BP!
So when one day we were in his car at the fuel depot and we saw a Caltex tanker filling up from the BP tank we were MORTIFIED!! What!!?
Cappy calmly set our minds at rest, ‘All fuels are the same basically,’ he said – to our loyal mystification. ‘It’s the additives we add afterwards that make them different,’ he explained.
We were half-mollified.
stompgat – short tail
pieperig – a softie
‘Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr!’ – ‘Etienne bigmouth’
streke – waggery; jokes; pranks
knyptang, etc – the Ossewa Brandwag was a racist, anti-semitic, anti-British and pro-German organisation in South Africa during World War II. Justifiably angry at what Britain had done to them in the Anglo-Boer war, they over-reacted churlishly. Cappy had volunteered for the war and gone off to battle; on his return his church spurned him for wearing his uniform, so he joined the Methodists – the Methodists’ gain.
O, die maan skyn so helder – romantic: the moon shines so brightly
. . . op my POEPHOL ! – on my arsehole ! The sting in the tail of his mischievous ‘romantic’ song!
Hou die blink kant bo – keep smiling; look on the bright side
Mom went to this school, as did all three of us kids. Annie, Mom’s Mom, would not have, as it seems it was established 1915, see below, and Annie was 22yrs old by then.
Before us, Etienne Joubert went, and he remembers: Playing ‘Hasie’ under the Bluegums near the old Golf club house; Playing ‘Bok-bok’ behind the bottom class rooms; Eating ‘Manna’ under the Bluegums; Playing marbles in the main playground.
Also he remembers the woodwork teacher Giel du Toit – his mother Joyce had a hilarious ‘heilige’ nickname for Onse Giel – & the smell of the old fashioned wood glue; And the vice where ‘we tied a guy’s tie in & walloped his behind. I’ve forgotten his name, but not his face … I can see it now! – I do not remember much about plays & music . . .’
Sister Barbara was a year or two later – she finished Std 5 in 1965. She definitely remembers about plays and music, you Philistine, Etienne! She remembers that year was the school’s Golden Jubilee year – so established 1915, I guess? – and an exciting concert was planned and held on the 28th and 29th of October 1965, with all the classes in the Kleinspanskool and Volkskool participating.
How could she remember in such detail? Well, she had her program carefully stored away in a shoe-box! She remembers the play her class put on: ‘TO BE OR NOT TO BE’ – by B.J.J. (Bruce) Humphries with Pierre du Plessis and Llewellyn Mileham – or was it Kevin Crawley? – as the smart guys, and Timothy Brockett as Mr. van Snoggery-Boggery, the drunk guy – Pierre remembered this name – and herself – Barbara Swanepoel – as the unnamed lady on the railway station platform.
Interludes between plays were filled by music by the ‘Harrismith Volkskool Orkes / Primary School Band.’ Band members were Rina Minny en Estelle Meyer on trekklaviere – pull pianos – piano accordions; Sylvia Doman on piano; Barbara Swanepoel on melodica; Pierre du Plessis on drums; Willie du Plessis on electric guitar; So much of du Plessis!; Theuns Bam en Bertus Hattingh on acoustic guitars; Almost like The Village People – it was Die Dorps Mense:
Then came the Primary School Boys Choir – Die Seunskoor. Under the charming direction of Miss L. Fourie and that delectable redhead Miss Ethel Cronje. I was a soprano in this lot, warbling away merrily before my balls dropped. We sang (according to that program which won’t lie) Wiegeliedjie van Mozart; Drummer Boy; and Dominique; I still remember, and can still sing majestically – though my kids dispute this fact – the second and third of these.
Barbara asks: ‘Now wasn’t there a record produced for this choir? I think so – our own famous ‘Platberg Boys Choir.’ Indeed there were two records cut. Vinyl. The Vienna Boys Sausages were nervous. Especially when we toured Zululand. If it wasn’t for rugby and puberty, we’d have usurped those Austrian suckers. We’d have parum pu pum pum’d them out of business . .
Around 1965 or thereabouts, I got an early morning phone call filled with excitement and urgency: “Koos! Come quickly! Come see! There’s a snake in the hoona hock!”
Well, I was thrilled! This I had to see. You can live in a dorp and hike in the veld often and very seldom see snakes, so I hopped onto my dikwiel fiets and pedaled furiously. It was about a mile to the Joubert’s house. Down Hector Street, west along Stuart Street past Scotty’s house, past the MOTH Hall, then downhill in Piet Uys Street to their house on the spruit that ran between them and the meisieskoshuis.
As I pulled up the whole family was there to meet me, Aunty Joyce, Uncle Cappy, Etienne, Tuffy and Deon, laughing and shouting “Happy Birthday!”
There was no snake. I’d not realised it was the 1st of April.
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.
I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.
Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:
The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!
Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.
It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees
Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter
The best part: On top, heading for Zig-Zag pass
Run to A then to B and back (who added three km of tar road!?)
Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.
Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:
The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about a wonderful day with Wally).
It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.
The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.
During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top. In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).
The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.
Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, Koos de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.
Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.
Booze opened wonderful opportunities for us as kids in the olden days. As our hawk-eyed parents became bleary-eyed and witty and hilarious, so their surveillance levels dropped and we could get on with doing more interesting things than we could when they were sober.
So it was at the MOTH picnic one year on the far bank of the mighty Vulgar river down in the President Brand park where, after a lekker braai and quite a few pots the folks were suitably shickered and plans could go afoot.
The older boys formed a syndicate which consisted of them hiding and the younger boys being sent in to do the dangerous stuff. See if you can get us some beer from the pub, was the thinking. So (some of or all of) Pierre, Fluffy, Tuffy and I approached the MOTH barman Ray Taylor – as always alone at the bar, teetotal. The other old WW2 servicemen and their wives a little way off making a lot of noise. Uncle Ray, quiet as ever, was easily distracted by my accomplices and as he was being his kind and obliging self to them, I slid a full case of dumpy beers off the makeshift bar counter and turned round, hugging it vertically straight in front of me against my chest. I walked straight away with my back to Uncle Ray into the darkness of the poplar and oak trees towards the river.
Under the suspension bridge the receivers of stolen goods waited. Etienne Joubert, a Brockett and a Putterill, I seem to recall. They took the loot and told us to move along then. We were too young to be allowed to partake; we were simply a small part of the supply chain!
Etienne remembers: “I remember this incident well. We drank them on the river bank upstream. We had female company as well, but best we do not dwell on that subject. There was also unhappiness about the brand that was procured………
Dear old Uncle Ray with his Alsatians . . Twice I went on walks with him up our beloved Platberg!! He was an interesting man, who behind a façade of dullness was very wise!!
Stories like this bring back a thousand other memories……!! Cheers vir eers, Et
Another memory of The Far Side – of the river: Roaring around the dirt roads between those big trees in Dr Dick Venning’s light blue Triumph and in his Land Rover, Tim Venning at the helm. Hell for leather, running commentary all the way, huge grin on his face.
Uncle Ray was attacked by baboons on one of his Platberg walks. Not sure if his dog/s were with him, but he said he fought off the babs with his walking stick. We were told he had suffered “shell shock” in the war.