4 Hillside Road, Parktown Joburg

I was looking thru Dan Palatnik’s Digital Garage (well worth a visit) and an old Willys Jeep reminded me of Leibs and Achim lying under their old Jeeps in the backyard of our communal home at 4 Hillside Road, Parktown. Mainly they were banging out rust and stuffing V8’s under the bonnets.

Willys Jeep 1947.jpg
Somehow, theirs never looked this complete

Achim went on to do a lot of off-road rallying in Brits, where he ran his optometric practice with his bream, wife and former lecturer Eva the  dispensing optician. On the side he ran a garage to tjoon up his racing 4X4’s and fit divorce pipes, one of which eventually got him. Maybe she kicked him out for getting grease on the contact lenses?

Inmates of 4 Hillside I remember are:

– Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire. As students we fitted Leibs with silicon permawear contact lenses! He drove an Alfa Romeo;

– Granger Grey. Grey VW Beetle;

– Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins. (“You take off your clothes, I’m just having a shit . . ” to part-time girlfriend ‘Vaalwater’);

– Mike Doyle, girlfriend Michaela or ‘Shale’. Old blue LandRover;

– Clive ‘Nel’ Nel. A book could and should be written. “Dee dee dee BARKER!! baap”. Endured by the wonderful and long-suffering Sandy Norts. White Mazda RX2;

– Glen ‘Barks’ Barker. Another book. Green Toyota Corona;

– Gerald ‘Gelard’ the Malawian butler with ambitions of becoming a tycoon. Hurt that we thought mowing the lawn was in his portfolio. He called Coolsie Boss Donut.

Friends-of-4-Hillside included: – Jos, another teacher who lived nearby. Not tall, with high-plus specs, an Alfa and a lovely girlfriend; – ‘Norbs’ Norbury. Yet another educator. Big black beard. Norbs imitated Charles Fortune to perfection at the Wanderers cricket ground, entertaining the inebriated crowds on the grassy banks as he waxed lyrical about the clouds and the birds while blissfully ignoring the fall of a wicket. Would sing loud John Denver: “You Philip My Dentures . . . “;

Other memories: Sitting in the crowded little TV lounge watching the news and Dorianne Berry came on to read the news wearing a strapless top, the camera only showing above it. “Ooh, maybe we’ll get to see Dorianne’s berries”, was the call. Disappointed.

Dorianne Berry

Lying under the grey-and-grey Opel fixing the drum brakes before going to Port Shepstone. Now, who the hell would drive 700km in a car whose brakes I had fiddled with!? Turns out a few students, including the delightful Cheryl Forsdick;

Brauer irresponsibly dancing on the roof of that same Opel at the late-night farewell end-of-term party held at 4 Hillside.

The delightful SSS Featherbed Fotherby was a welcome visitor to 4 Hillside in one of the few lucky – and brief – periods I ‘had a girlfriend’!

Steve Reed wrote: Granger – never forgotten. Mostly for his height-enhancing shoe-stuffing for weight watchers meetings; I’d forgotten that! Granger flopped into one of our overstuffed, undersprung TV room chairs one night and wheezed as he reached down and removed his shoes, removing a fat wad of newsprint from each shoe. ‘And now, Grange?’, we asked. ‘No, we had a weigh-in tonight and I didn’t want them to give me a low target weight‘, he said, quite seriously, matter of fact. We collapsed when we realised what that entailed! He was cheating the system – and himself!

Pete Brauer wrote: More vivid nostalgic memories of Granger Grey shoving quarts of Black Label down his throat;

I remember Granger Grey (6ft 4 high, 4ft 6 wide) getting home late one night, well-oiled with a placid beam on his face. He joined us students braaiing on the lawn next to the pool and started eyeing the sizzling meat. Borrowing one ale after the other he got progressively more glass-eyed and we watched in awe as he swayed, Obelix-like, WAY past a normal centre of gravity then slowed to a halt, jutting chin way forward, eyes on the tjops n boerie and then SLO-OWLY swayed back to upright, then way back, with his beer resting on his boep till he was leaning 450 backwards  and HAD to see his arse but halted, hovered and started the slow sway forward again. Musta been the size eleventeen shoes that held him upright!

We had to hurriedly clear the braai and endure his hurt look. Imperative to be tough and take evasive action when Granger got near food though: Gerard the Malawian butler on steak days would cook the veggies and spuds and put the seven big steaks on the wall above the fridge in the 4 Hillside kitchen. Strict house rule: Whoever cracked first had to divide the veg into seven equal portions and only then could he cook his own steak and eat.

Granger got home early one day and did just that. Then he had just ONE more steak ‘cos, hey! maybe someone wouldn’t be coming home and that would be a waste. Then he had another . . . .

As he finished the seventh and last steak he was overcome by remorse and panic. He hopped in to his long-suffering grey VW Beetle and hared off to Fontana in Hillbrow and bought two roast chickens off their rotisserie to replace the looted steaks. Alas, on the way home one of the chickens clucked seductively and persuasively and he ate most of that before finally plonking one lonely fowl on the wall for us to share.

Granger Fontana chicken

Granger. Heart of gold. He had bigger brothers, one called Tiny. He read Ayn Rand and thought she was on to something.

Steve Reed again: The legend that I subscribe to is that the famous Vespa scooter that ended up on the bottom of the 4 Hillside Road pool originally belonged to a bird called Terry  who later married Keith Taylor. Keith’s brother Ian Taylor [who became a Doctor] had apparently commandeered Terry’s scooter and somehow it had ended up at 4 Hillside where it met its famous fate. Of course, the story may be the result of the effects on Terry of the third bottle of  pinot noir  on a cold Auckland night.

Vespa scooter reminds me of Keith Ballin zipping along, specs and moustache peering out from under his helmet, scarf trailing behind him in the breeze!

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I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.

(Lou Reed)

Nostalgia: A device that removes the potholes from memory lane.

(Doug Larson)

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Vaalwater – name of young lass from the distant metropolis of Vaalwater

tjoon – tune-up in this case; sometimes ‘explain’

braai – barbecue

tjops n boerie – red meat sacrificed over an open flame

boep – stomach

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‘Twas at 4 Hillside that a knock came at the front door. We knew it was a stranger as no-one knocked at the front door. Actually, no one knocked, you just walked into the kitchen door.

It was a pink-faced balding chap and he asked for Peter Swanepoel.

We found out later from Madeleine what had transpired: A pink-faced balding chap walked into the School of Optometry and enquired at reception: Who’s your BEST optometrist? When Madeleine asked Um, Why? he said I want to employ your best final year optom student. Stifling a grin Madeleine said, Actually most of them already have jobs, they’re nearly finished their exams. Oh, said the pink-faced balding chap, So who hasn’t got a job yet?

The rumour that he then went on to ask OK, then who’s your WORST student? is just that: A vicious rumour.

Where Have You Been!?

The Kleinspan schooltime ended around twelve noon or one o’ clock I guess and we lived about a mile east along Stuart Street and so one bleak and chilly winter day Donald Coleman and I set off for home in our grey shirts, grey shorts and grey socks.

We had lots to talk about and so we walked along on the pavement under the big old plain trees, mostly bereft of leaves, many of which were lying in the deep sandstone gutters.

Harrismith sandstone gutter

It was really cold and Donald had a box of matches in his pocket and a plan. We raked together a pile of the dry leaves and started a nice fire and sat down to warm our hands and shins as the fire crackled away.

It soon burnt out and we meandered on and a block or two later made another blazing but short-lived fire to sit and chat and warm up by.

Then we reached Hector Street and Donald turned down toward his home and I turned up to mine. Mine on the corner and his a block or two closer to the mountain.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?” greeted me. The tone of the question surprised me and ruined the quiet, gentle ambience of our leisurely journey home. At his home Donald was being asked the same unreasonable question. We’d been to school. Everyone knew that, why were they asking?

“IT’S FIVE O’ CLOCK! SCHOOL ENDED OVER FOUR HOURS AGO!” We weren’t arguing. We didn’t say it didn’t. What was their point? “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” Uh, we were talking . . .

We were told off and left to ponder the mysteries of the adult world. They obviously marched to a different drum. We sauntered to ours.

plane-tree-platanus
Plane tree with itchy balls

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Huge thanks to Sandra of Harrismith’s best blog DeDoudeHuizeYard for the pictures – exactly right! That is the SAME gutter we sat in. You can even see a few of the plane leaves, great-great-great descendants of the ones we burned! Um, (surely it can’t be!) fifty six years ago.

P Addled Brains

That Pretoria restaurant probably spiked our drinks with omega fish oil because when they finally asked us to leave we were brilliant.
We wisely allowed Terry to drive my white Ford Cortina 2-litre deluxe GL while Pierre and Old Pete and I gave directions, instructions, comments, witticisms and dropped pearls of wisdom.

‘Twas a balmy night and the breeze was slight. The canoe on the roofrack seemed to Brauer to be a better bet for catching that breeze, so he nimbly hopped out of the window and sat in the cockpit of my Dusi boat. A white Limfy with red deck it was. I was on an army camp and brought the boat to get some time off as I was “training for Dusi” on Roodeplaat dam.

First Duzi. Dad seconds in my Cortina 2,0l GL

Terry thought ‘Uh! Oh! HKK’* and pressed on the accelerator to get us home quicker, which meant the breeze inside the car was now adequate. With Brauer’s departure the average IQ in the car had also risen appreciably.
Outside meantime, Brauer started undoing the paddle possibly thinking he could speed up matters if he also paddled through the air. My warnings that the rope tying the paddle on was also the rope holding the boat on just spurred him to loosen it more. You know how he is.
Which caused Terry to press harder on the accelerator thinking if I go really fast maybe the cops won’t notice there’s a carbuncle on my roof and now we were FLYING! This was not good . . .
Brauer’s ass was saved by a red light where we managed to haul him down and explain gravity, wind resistance, speed, impact, abrasions, contusions and broken bones to him.

He did seem to understand, as he poured some stiff drinks when we got home to the Gramadoelas in Tshwane (ancestral home of the original Tshwanepoels – to which we have land claim rights, but that’s a story for another barmy evening).


*HKK = Hier Kom Kak = Here Comes Trouble

Hello Cock goes missing

Uncle Jack Kemp had a big dilemma. He loved a party and there were two parties on, one at our house and the other at Ronnie from Threeburgh’s place. To get from the one brandy bottle to the other he had to walk down our front steps, down our little-used front path and out the gate onto Stuart Street. He then had to cross the road and walk northwest to the other corner where Ronnie and Martie were whooping it up – and they could whoop it up!

Then he had to retrace his steps in case there was something more exciting going on where he had just come from.

After a few such sorties he went missing and Isabel Necessary asked her Koosie (pr: coosie) to go and look for him please my love, throwing back her head to let out a peal of loud cackling laughter, drink in one hand and ciggie in the other.

I found him under the willow, flat on his back with the unspilt brandy glass balanced on his big boep.
Hello Cock, he rasped. Hello Cock he’d say to everyone. Saved him remembering names.

Uncle Jack was fine, he had just run out of steam and vertical-ness and was thinking about his next move.

95 Stuart St

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In the map the four dots mark our yard. Just above the top dot is the van Tubbergh home, showing the short route Uncle Jack had to negotiate. In the house pic there’s a willow tree on the left. Just out of picture on the right is the willow tree under which he came unstuck.

Call the Engine, Call the Engine . .

Farnie, is that a box of matches in your pocket? asked stern Uncle Louis. No Dad, its just a block of wood.

We were having lunch on their smallholding east of Harrismith and father Louis knew enough to ask, but not enough to check. After lunch we were off into the veld and once out of sight Farnie bent down, struck a match and set fire to the grass, watched it in fascination for a few seconds, then beat the flames out with his hands. My turn. Then his turn again.

Who knows whose turn it was – doesn’t matter – but we let it grow too big. Both of us tried to beat it out, stomp it out, but the flames spread and ran away from us.

OH! SH*T!! We ran back to the farm house and phoned the fire engine in town. When Louis found out he phoned again and told them not to come. He had already phoned the neighbours and alerted all hands on deck.

My most vivid memory was herding cattle out of a paddock and having a cow refuse to go, charging straight back at us and forcing her way back in. Her calf was in there and she only left once it was with her.

Nine farms burnt, we were told. And calling the fire engine costs money we were told. And we learnt some other lessons, too. You can tell: Both of us are fine upstanding citizens today (telling our kids to BEHAVE themselves, dammit).

Bakerskop Platberg 2

A fire in 2014 in the exact same spot (click on the pic). Our fire was ca 1960.

NB: As memories are notoriously fickle, read older sister Barbara’s (probably more accurate!) recollection of this day:
Let’s go back to the Schoeman’s farm. The three little Swanepoels were spending a week-end on the farm with the three little Schoemans.
BarbsKoosSheila ca1960 Three Swanies ca 1960
After breakfast the six of us went for a walk in the veld. Unbeknown to me, two little sh*ts had lied about having matches in their pockets. Not far from the house they crouched down and I thought they had seen something on the ground. On inspection I now knew that it was matches that they were playing with. They lit a few little fires and quickly with their bare hands (brave boys!) killed the flames. Until then it was all fun for them but I felt very uneasy.
Suddenly the next little flame became a “grand-daddy” of a flame and within no time the two little sh*ts could not longer use their brave little hands. Guess who ran away first? Yes, the two little sh*ts! Something made me look back at the roaring fire and that’s when I saw little Louie – who was 3 – standing in a circle of flames with his arm raised and covering his face – he was frozen stiff. I turned around, ran through the flames, picked him up and ‘sent it’ back to the farmhouse.
With no grown-ups at home, I phoned my mother at the Platberg Bottle Store and through lots of “snot and trane” told her what had happened. She ran across the road to the Town Hall corner and “hit” the fire alarm for the Harrismith Fire Brigade to come and save the day. Needless to say they saw no fire in town so must have just gone home.
The fire did burn through about 3 farms – the damage was extensive. Uncle Louie and Aunty Cathy, on coming home that afternoon, apparently stopped the car on the main road, got out and just stared – could not believe what they was seeing.
Well, we were supposed to spend the week-end there but all the grown-ups had had enough. We were packed up, bundled up into the car and taken home.
Years later (before they left SA) I bumped into Louie and Gaylyn and told them the story. I could not believe it when Louie told me he had always known that I had saved his life – and I thought that that memory had gone up in flames!
Lots of love to you all
Yours “Firewoman” Barbara

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Later I wrote (thinking that nothing had really happened to us after the fire):
Dammitall, we really had amazingly tolerant parents back in the sixties, come to think of it!

To which Farn Schoeman replied:
Koos, small correction: YOU had amazingly tolerant parents!

An Old Mystery: Whose fault?

There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: 1. If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and 2. We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3) a moving car is a safe place to drink beer in.

Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy. Tuffy finished his before we hit third gear . . .

A quick routine stop to bash the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.

We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel. This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the petrol pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose.

In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?

Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .

A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.

Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months!

I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!
A great big fault runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.

I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!

 

 Queen's Hill - Annotated

I’m fifteen?

The mighty Vulgar river had risen! It was flowing way higher than usual, and had overflown its banks. We needed to get onto it!
So Pierre and I dusted off the open blue and red fibreglass canoe the old man had bought us and headed off downstream early one summer morning from below the weir in the park.

By the time we started the river had dropped a lot. Still flowing well, but below the heights of the previous days. This left a muddy verge metres high where the banks were vertical, and up to 100m wide where the banks were sloped and the river was wide.

When we got to Swiss Valley past the confluence of the Nuwejaar spruit, we had a wide wet floodplain to slip and slide across before we reached dry land, leaving us muddy from head to toe. Dragging the boat along we headed for the farmhouse where Lel Venning looked at us in astonishment. I don’t think she even recognised us.

No, You haven’t! You can’t fool me! APRIL FOOL! she exclaimed when we said we’d paddled out from town.

Pierre and I looked at each other and he said “Happy birthday!”