Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school

I Must Go Down To The Seas Again . .

. . to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking

Maybe Steph was thinking of Masefield’s poem when he suggested we’d done enough short jaunts with our parents’ cars late at night while the dorp was sleeping and good kids were in bed dreaming of homework well done.

Been to Kestell? Tick;

Been to Swinburne? Tick;

Been to Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Had a head-on collision with a hill on Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Drifting laps around the atletiekbaan in Pres Brand Park? Tick;

Donuts on the high school netball courts? Tick;

What was there left to do? Maybe this was the first sign of his lifelong love of the sea – in time to come he would sail a huge ocean-going catamaran and go deep-sea fishing on his skiboat off Sordwana. In those far-off days of our youth, all that was yet to come.

Whatever – (let’s face it, more likely Steph was just thinking ADVENTURE! REBELLION! ADRENALIN!) – he started us plotting a biggie.
It was certainly him who came up with the bold idea:
I know. Have we been to the sea? Does the Vrystaat even have a sea? NO!! Let’s go to Durbs, dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and bring back a bottle of sea water, and – as always – be back before sonop.

RIGHT!!

Ford Corsair
– Ford Corsair –

We must plan:
– We need the white Corsair, not the black Saab; It’s faster.
Here’s what it looked like except Gerrie’s was white. And four-door. Otherwise like this.

We must leave much earlier. We can’t wait for our parents to fall asleep; We need longer.

But not too much planning:

– I don’t remember discussing fuel or mileage or consumption. Those weren’t really fashionable topics in those days.

So Steph strolls into his Mom Alet’s bedroom, the one nearest the long getaway driveway, to talk to her as she lies reading in bed in their lovely sandstone home The Pines. At a given signal we start wheeling the Corsair out of the open garage and down the long driveway to Stuart Street. The driveway is downhill – that helps – and made of two long concrete strips – that doesn’t help: the wheels fall off the edge GghgGghgGghg! SHHH! shhh!

And they’re off!
There’s no beer this trip. This is more serious. It’s a journey, not a jaunt. We have a mission.

We roar past Swinburne; We roar past van Reenen; We leave the Orange Free State; We enter Natal; We zoom down van Reenen’s Pass; Past Ladysmith and on into unknown territory.

Suddenly: Flashing Blue Lights! Oh Shit! They’re after us. We slow down a little bit. Just to the speed limit. We sit straight in the car, no slouching. We practice ‘innocent face.’ We rehearse our story: Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer. The flashing blue light fills the car – then overtakes us and whizzes past and shrinks into the distance.

We slow down. We think. We reconsider. Wordlessly, we make a U-turn and head back to the big HY, City of Sin and Laughter.

Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted. And anyway, that story about the bottled sea water is just a myth.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

R.I.P Steph – Our histories are forever entwined. You are part of who I am. My sense of self would be poorer without those short-lived mad crazy daze!

Your long trick’s over and I have no doubt there’s a quiet sleep and a sweet dream for you. Whattalife. MANY a merry yarn we got from you, our laughing fellow-rover!

~~~oo0oo~~~

dorp – our village, The City of Sin and Laughter

atletiekbaan – athletic track; our oval, cinder track

sonop – sunrise, when swimming training started

Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer – Yes Sir, No Sir

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school sport

Chariots of Beer

It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships, and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime. Well, so far . . we would get better at some things as time went on.

Here’s the line-up!!

In the triple jump we had Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal. The driesprong.

In the pole vault we had Richter Hoender Kok, Std 9. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from Bethlehem Voortrekker school are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback (hoender, geddit?). The paalspring.

In the javelin we had Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it. Unknown factor, only frown wif a spear once before – at the recent Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms, where I had won the Victor Ludorum very unexpectedly. The spiesgooi.

The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced – to drink OR drive – so one of the guys who worked for his Mom Alet at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.

Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York and keen athletic spectator. That day.

The white Ford Corsair’s engine roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – and horror. Tiekiedraai songs, probly. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside likely the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner, who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that – if he’d please keep our beers. ‘MY FRIEN’! Of course I keep your beers cold for you!’ Stuck them under the eskimo pies, he did.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of Black Label Mansize cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales, Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy. Also known as “the law.”

Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any stimulant or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? And anyway those mansize cans were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers.

Let the games begin!

Steph’s event was first and we watched, moedig’d him aan and coached him. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and to us that = Gold Medal.

A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the quickening run, the cross-step, the full-strength launch, the perfect flight of me – and of the javelin – and my landing, right spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, second stage booster firing halfway, soaring past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem and pegging perfectly. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue, even though the skies were grey (which significant fact would come into play later that day).

Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff aluminium pole vs a bunch of long whippy fibreglass poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a newfangled pole but he declined. They take some getting used to.

Then it started to drizzle. The grey sky got wet. Suddenly everything changed! The langgatte with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep! The trifecta!

– Eerste Plek – – Eerste Plek – – Eerste Plek –

The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo. Sure, the movie was 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT.

We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked in the drizzle under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp for Hoender.

bluegum-trees
– Senekal under-bloekom parking looked like this –

We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from under the eskimo pies and away we went “with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off in the twilight, heading east, the setting sun behind us, slightly pickled after glugging the 450ml of contraband nectar, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.

with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”!
– our HS Hoerskool pavement star –

AND: We got our name up in lights and our handprints pressed in to concrete next to a big star on the pavement.

Well, the Harrismith Hoerskool equivalent: On the Monday morning we were mentioned in dispatches by Johan Steyl at assembly in the skoolsaal. He sounded rather amazed.

~~~oo0oo~~~

kranige – excellent; and handsome

hoender – his nickname; he looked a bit like a scrawny old rooster, I guess?

Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms – renowned school athletics meet, widely known in the district, like famous

tiekiedraai – Like, lame dancing that adults approve of; you were allowed to tiekiedraai, so who would want to

nê? – y’unnerstand?

moedig’d him aan – told him ‘C’mon, Move Your Arse! JUMP!’ Also coached him by saying the same thing

driesprong – triple jump; hop, skip, n jump

langgatte – long arses, tall chaps

spiesgooi – spear chuck, javelin; Seems all that practice frowing fings wif a stone of our youth translated well into frowing wif a spear.

gly’d – slipped

paalspring – pole vault; see how we pole-vaulted in the tough old days, with stiff poles and the ground ploughed over and a sprinkling of wood shavings and sawdust to act as a “soft” landing;

skoolsaal – hall where you assembled

~~~oo0oo~~~

Years later a nocturnal visit to Senekal involving beer would not be as much fun; more dark hillbilly horror than daylight athletic fun!