Good Lord, Deliver us!

I really needed to take a hike, I really did.

But to do it I needed a henchman. You can hike alone, but I’d really rather not, so I persuaded Stefaans Reed, The Big Weed, son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) to accompany me. Sucker, he agreed.

We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Hector Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams into the ‘Government forest’. Pine forest. We could discern two types of pines, I’m sure there are more, but the type we liked had long soft needles and made a good bed. We walked next to the concrete furrow that led water down the mountain into town. Often broken and dry but sometimes full of clear water, it made finding the way easy.

Gibson Dam furrow
The furrow on top

Halfway up we made camp, clearing a big area of the soft pine needles down to bare earth so we could safely light a fire.

Learning from our primate cousins we raked together a huge pile for a gorilla mattress and lay down to gaze at the stars through the trees. This was 1974, we were eerste jaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein Joburg. We had learnt to drink more beer, sing bawdy songs, throw a mean dart in a smoke-filled pub, hang out of friends car windows as they drove home thinking ‘Whoa! better get these hooligans home!’ and generally honed our urban skills. Now we were honing our rural skills. Wilderness n all.

As we lay in our sleeping bags, burping boerewors and gazing through the pine fronds at the stars, we heard a loud, startling, beautiful sound.

I was wide-eyed wide-awake! WHAT on EARTH was that!? I knew it had to be a night bird, but what? Which one?

In the dark I scribbled down a picture of the sound. This is what it sounded like to me and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget it:


I didn’t know I was drawing a “sonogram” – I’d never heard of that.

When I got back home I looked through my ‘Birds of South Africa – Austin Roberts’ by  G.R. McLachlan and R. Liversidge, 1970 – and found there was a nightjar that said “Good Lord Deliver Us” and I knew that was it. The Fiery-Necked Nightjar – some call it the Litany Bird*. I loved it, I love it, I’ll never forget it and it’s still a favourite bird.

Here you can hear it as we heard it that night.

Fiery-necked nightjar_2.jpg

Next morning we hiked on, past the beautiful eastern tip of Platberg – ‘Bobbejaanskop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back into Hector Street and cold beer.

Sheila in the cosmos
Dense thicket in foreground


  • Thanks for sharing birdsounds from around the world.
  • Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy, but still an invasive pest, though.
  • *A ‘litany’ is “a tedious recital or repetitive series. ‘a litany of complaints’ – a series of invocations and supplications – “Good Lord, Deliver us!”

The Catholics can really rev it up:

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.

– This is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more!

Holy shit!!

Nêrens – nowhere, or Clarens in the Free State, named after Clarens, Switzerland to which that coward Paul Kruger fled cowardly after accusing my brave great-great Oom of cowardice. Ha!

Scotty of Harrismith

What a lovely surprise! A story about ‘Scotty’ of 71 Stuart Street Harrismith on Harrismith’s best blog,

We grew up at 95 Stuart Street. 1961 to 1973. About a kilometre west of us was Scotty’s sandstone cottage, set forward, almost on the pavement. Miss Helen M Scott she was. I seem to remember she gave extra lessons in her cottage. English.

71 Stuart St Scotty's House

She and Mom were very fond of each  other and we all loved Scotty as she was always friendly and kind – and she baked her famous butterfly cupcakes and was generous with them! Like these, just better, of course! We called her ‘Scotty’ – like we called our gran ‘Annie’. Just Scotty. Just Annie. Lovely people.

Scotty butterfly cakes.jpg

She retired from teaching but went back for one year in 1966 when she taught sister Barbara English at the Hoer Skool.


Do go and have a look at what Sandra and Hennie of deoudehuizeyard are doing for Harrismith tourism and heritage.


Harrismithian Sayings

Collected by Sheila Swanepoel:

Louis Schoeman, (Farnie and Little Louis’ father) when he heard that a whole Portuguese family was living behind the Fruit & Veg shop in Warden Street, remarked: “Hmph – that’ll ripen the bananas.”

Maybe the same family, when they arrived in Harrismith, decided to join the Anglican Church. On the first day, the church warden politely inquired of the head of this large, obviously foreign family: “Are you Greek Orthodox?” “No”, came the reply, “Portuguese Fruit & Veg.”

Elsa du Plessis at Aberfeldy Primary School in the 1960s – the teacher asked for a translation into Afrikaans of “horseshoe”. Elsa came back quick as a flash – “drankwinkel”. Old Harrismith people will remember the Scott’s Horseshoe Bottle Store just up the road from Mary and Pieter Swanepoel’s Platberg Bottle Store, both in Warden Street.

When Annie Bland used to ask her old mate, Dr Nel (Petronella) van Heerden, how she was, the stock phrase was “Oh, fair to bloody!”

The Lotsoff Flats in Stuart Street were owned by Basil Lotsoff, who was enormously fat. Inevitably, he was called Lots of Basil.

Jaap van Reenen (Rina’s grandfather) had a very loud voice and you could hear him coming long before you saw him, so he was called Jaap Aeroplane.

Roy Kool was a traveling salesman, selling fertiliser to farmers. The first time he called on Mr Blom, the farmer stuck his hand out and in the time-honoured brusque manner of old Free State farmers, said “Blom”. Roy said “Kool” (Afrikaans pronunciation) and the story was Blom thought he was taking the mickey! (‘Blomkool’ means cauliflower).

Roy Cartwright, who owned the Tattersalls, called Barney and Louis Green, brothers who owned a little shop in Warden Street where we used to buy our school shoes, Barmy and Looney.

The Green brothers’ stock was always coming in on “Vensday Veek”. Whatever you were after, they didn’t have it, but it would be there by “Vensday Veek”.

Roy also christened Martha McDonald and Carrie Friday, as they cruised around in a beautiful bottle-green Buick “Martha and My Man Friday”.

Michael Hastings to Mary Swanepoel as they were leaving Harrismith in 1964: “There’s been a Hastings in Harrismith since 1066 and now we’re leaving.”

Dr Hoenigsburger, great friend of my great grandfather, Stewart Bain was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor (district surgeon?). Annie always called him Dr ‘Henningsberg’.

One day, driving back to town from the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in the spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsburger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max: “No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”

Aunty Hester Schreiber was a much loved friend of our family and had a wonderful sense of humour. She was walking along the pavement one day outside their home opposite the big Dutch Reformed Church right in the middle of town. Suddenly she felt faint and sank to the ground. But help was at hand. Gerrie Coetzee, Harrismith’s own Maurice Chevalier, happened along. Always impeccably attired, in tweed coat, deerstalker and kierie – with beautiful manners to match, he gallantly bent down and tried to help Aunt Hessie up. Her response? “Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?”

The same Aunt Hessie walked into her lounge one say, slipped on the “springbok velletjie” rug and slid right under the narrow coffee table. And there she lay, completely trapped by the legs of the table and screaming with laughter. Oh, how we loved her and her sense of humour.

So many of Mum and Dad’s stories are about good times they had with Steve & Hester Schreiber, Joe and Griet Geyser, Bert & Margie Badenhorst, Jannie & Joan du Plessis, Frank & Harriet van der Merwe, Cappie & Joyce Joubert, Manie & Mary Wessels, Hector & Stella Fyvie, Geoff & Billy Leslie, Dick & Barbara Venning.

The last time Mary saw Jannie du Plessis, he said to her: “I’ve got to take so many pills I can never remember if I have to take two at 10 o’clock or ten at 2 o’clock.”



Stan Mosley worked for the Woollen Mills in Harrismith back in the ‘fifties. Born in England, he had a colourful turn of phrase. Mom used to tell us of things he said over the years, but I forget them, so I’ve been trying to get her to remember them.

Here are some Mom remembers and one Pierre du Plessis recalled:

  • A journey in a pickup along a rough road “We rattled along like a tin of sardines”;
  • Harsh justice: “The judge sentenced him to be hanged by the neck until death us do part”;
  • On the golf course: “The ball was rolling towards the pin, gathering memorandum”;

HS Golf course

  • The lights went out at the factory, so Stan phoned up Ben Priest in the municipality: “Mr Priest! Is there any lights?” To which Mr Priest answered “No, there isn’t none at present now”;
  • On Platberg: “On the mountain the only living thing we saw was a dead baboon”;


Lovely old pic of the golf course (so clear!) from deoudehuizeyard blog.

“Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?” – Abandon me to my fate, gallant knight! We can’t afford to be seen together in the gutter by the local guardian of the dorp‘s morals!

dorp – village;


95 Stuart Street was home from 1961 to 1973:


Some stiff poses in the garden in 1970:

Kids at home - fishpond, Jock's kennel, grapevine, tree-tables, big hedge

Inside, in the dining room and the lounge:

Twelve years at 95 Stuart Street. Funny how that felt like forever, yet we stayed in our first home for fifteen years, 7 River Drive:

Home - River Drive

and have now been in our second home for twelve, 10 Elston Place:

Home 10 Elston Place

10 Elston Place



21st on Kenroy

Sheila saw to it I had a party! As so often, Sheila saved the day.

Des Glutz threw open his palatial bachelor home on Kenroy to an invasion of students from JHB and PMB. That’s because as a lonely horny bachelor farmer he had his eye on some of those student teachers from PMB!

“Kindness of his heart” you thought? Ha! Anyway, he owed me for managing his farm brilliantly when he went to Zimbabwe.

Eskom had not yet bedevilled Kenroy so lamps and candles gave light. Music pomped out from car batteries. Noreen, Jo and Ski danced their Broadway routine The Gaslamp Revue with Redge Jelliman holding the silver tray footlight staring in open-mouthed wonder at their skill. And legsnboobs – another lonely horny bachelor farmer, y’know.

There was also Liz and Mops and Jenny and Mandy and Jill, hell, we bachelors were in awe at being outnumbered – a rare event.

Des’ poor personal butler, valet and chef Gilbert bore the brunt of the extra work! He cooked and cooked, including a big leg of lamb which didn’t make the main table, getting scoffed by ravenous would-be teachers under the kitchen table. Pity the poor kids who would have to grow up being taught all the wrong things by this lot in Natal in the eighties.

They were wild n topless:

Koos' 21st.jpg_cr

Tabbo wore a tie so he could make a speech:

Koos' 21st Tabs Koos

After the weekend I roared back to Joburg in a two-tone grey and grey Opel Rekord Concorde deluxe sedan four-door, 1700cc straight-four, three-on-the column chick magnet motorcar. My first!

21st birthday present!! An Opel Concorde DeLuxe 1700 in sophisticated tones of grey and grey. Note my reflection in the gleaming bonnet!

Thanks Mom & Dad! And thanks for the party, Sheils!



Abe Sparks

I thought of Abe Sparks as the “Lord Mayor of Swinburne”.

Ever since he went to Texas he wore a stetson, cowboy boots and a string tie with a polished stone clasp. He was a larger than life character, colourful. He and Lulu were always very friendly to me. He drove an old Rolls Royce which he’d converted into a pickup truck. It looked something like the one in this pic.

I have a clear childhood memory of it parked in Stuart Street near the corner of Retief Street, opposite the Post Office.

He and Lulu would throw big parties and the story goes – yes, the old story goes – that one night they decided to cook the mushrooms they had gathered in the veld that day. To be safe they fed some to the dog and asked the kitchen staff to keep an eye on it for the next hour or so. They continued partying up a storm with the grog flowing and then ate supper and carried on until one of the staff came in to say “Baas die hond is dood” (Sir the dog has died).

Panic ensued as they all bundled into cars and rushed off to the Harrismith Hospital twelve miles away, had their stomachs pumped out and returned much later to the farm looking chastened, wan and sober.

Next morning they asked to see the dog and were shown where it lay dead and mangled. It had been run over by a passing car.


This guy reminded me of Uncle Abe:

Abe Sparks Tailor


The Grand Old Man of Harrismith

Janet & Stewart Bain – Royal Hotel Harrismith
  • Stewart Bain came to Harrismith in 18__
  • Became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith’
  • Pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it “Bain’s Folly” (shades of our Moses Mabida stadium in Durban for 2010 – “Do we need such a fancy stadium!?”).

He died in 1939 and the town pulled out the stops for his funeral:

Stewart Bain 1939.jpg

I thought I remembered that, despite the fact that every dorp has a Royal Hotel, the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sheila has confirmed that I have a flawless memory (well, something along those lines):

Royal Hotel article

Here you have Platberg mountain & Town Hall seen from the Royal Hotel:

Oupa's bible and Grandpa Bain's funeral
Oupa Bain’s funeral from the Royal Hotel balcony