1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia

Mexican Mayoral Meal

Mom and Dad’s big mates Hester and Steve Schreiber became Mr & Mrs Mayor and Burgemeester of the City of Song and Laughter, Harrismith OFS. A celebration was called for and hizzoner your worship Oom Steve decided to go big.

A banquet! Here, in Bain’s Folly!

Not only would they use the huge and impressive stadsaal, they would get the new Holiday Inn to cater! They chose as their theme: Mexican! Edelagbare Mexican.

That may have been a continent too far for the dorp as, although they had a wonderful time thanks to the liquid refreshments, it was generally agreed the food was terrible. Much grumbling was heard, but the irrepressible Jack Shannon brought light relief when he said solemnly to his wife Joan: “Ma, next time we go on our around the world tour we must remember to give Mexico a miss!”

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burgemeester – mayor

stadsaal – city hall; we always called it the town hall, though

edelagbare – like hizzonner, your worship, all the OTT shit politicians add to their names; it should be mercilessly mocked

dorp – town

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, 9_KZN, sport

Harrismith’s Gold Cup

Harrismith had a Gold Cup winner!

First run in 1921 – or in 1926 ? – over 3200m for a stake of 2000 pounds sterling, the Gold Cup is Africa’s premier marathon for long-distance runners. It boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination. The race starts at the 400m mark in the short Greyville straight; there’s much jockeying for position as the runners pass the winning post for the first time before turning sharply right and heading towards the Drill Hall; normally many runners are under pressure before they turn into the home straight; the race is known to suffer no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina, and it takes a special type of horse and jockey to win the event.

And away they go!

Usually the final big race meeting of the South African racing season, the Gold Cup is often decisive in determining the Equus Award winners for the season. Initially a Grade 1 race, the Gold Cup was downgraded to Grade 2 in 2016 and to Grade 3 in 2017. Nevertheless, it is still the most important horse-racing marathon in the country.

1985 - Occult
1985 – Occult

The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levelers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one, with less-fancied runners carrying less weight often winning.

Sun Lad won the first running in 1926. He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey. The Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad during the season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.

The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935.

And so to us:

Harrismith’s winner was the horse Rinmaher (pronounced ‘Rinmahar’) owned by the George Shannons of Glen Gariff (or Kindrochart?). What year? Probably 1932 or 1934?

Mom and Dad both tell the story of raucous parties on the Shannon farm where at a suitably ‘sensible’ stage the Gold Cup would be taken off the mantelpiece, filled with champagne or whatever hooch was going and passed around to the ritual comments from the more sober of “Here we go! We’re drinking moths and mosquitoes again!” At least it had lovely handles to give an imbiber a good grip!

– that Grog n Mozzie Cup –

Here’s a nephew (son?) of the winning owner on a slower horse:

– Jack Shannon on his Shetland pony ‘Suzanne’ on Kindrochart –

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Later: Sheila rousted Colleen Walker, granddaughter of George Shannon, who straightened me out on some Gold Cup details. She even had an earlier pic of Jack and Suzanne. Is that Kindrochart? Is that George?

Mom tells me that after I had me tonsils out at about age two or three, she took me to Kindrochart for recovery for the poor little tender chap. I clung to her skirts and wouldn’t go to anyone, but once when lovely friendly Betty Stephens – a huge fan of us kids – offered to carry me up a hill after I’d run out of poof I condescended. Also that I told on Ma Shannon! She had appeared on the stoep in her nightie and I hastened to tell Mom that she’d ‘None clothes on!’

On the way back to the big smoke Mom was telling Betty about a book she’d read about some nuns. I had the book in my hands on the back seat and was disappointed in it. I said ‘Well, it’s got nun pictures.’

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

Two Grand Pianos

Mom Mary Bland learnt to play the piano on her Granny Mary Bland’s upright Otto Bach at 13 Stuart Street. Her sister Pat didn’t play, but when Granny died the piano had to go to the older granddaughter. But how to get it there?

Jack Shannon had a bakkie and he volunteered to schlep it to Blyvooruitzicht, or as the Cowies called it, ‘Blayfore’. It got dropped at some stage in the loading or offloading and had to be repaired when it got there. All was well.

Years later Pat died and Bill decided it should go to Barbara as she played, and his daughters Frankie and Gemma did not. So another farmer with a bakkie was roped in to schlep it back from Blayfore – this time long-suffering husband Jeff Tarr carted it to PMB or Howick or Greytown (must ask Barbara). Barbara still has the piano – now in Linda’s home on their farm Umvoti Villa.

Meantime Mom had bought another: an upright Bentley. Marie Bain had bought her daughter Lynn the Bentley hoping she’d learn to play ‘like Mary’. Well, Lynn never took to playing, so Mom bought it from Marie for the same £100 she had paid for it years before. This was the piano we were so privileged to grow up with at 95 Stuart Street, listening to Mom playing Hymns, Classical and Popular music. Who could forget the late night drinking songs when the Goor Koor gang would gather round her and bellow out their alcohol fumes, cigarette ash and varying levels of talent with gay abandon.

Mom still has the Bentley in PMB and still plays it beautifully. They’re upright pianos, not ‘grand’ pianos, but they certainly have been a grand part of our lives from about 1920-something – Mary was born in 1928 – to 2019. And more to come.

Here Mary at 90 plays someone else’s piano. Her classical pieces she always played with the music score in front of her. She can no longer see well enough to read it, so mainly plays her popular pieces by memory now.

We grew up to these sounds in the background. How lucky can you get!? These next few classical pieces are played by some wonderful pianists who are almost as good as Mom in her prime!

also this:

I remember a few times getting so overcome by the music – melancholy or something? – I’d run down the passage and get Mom to stop playing! weird.

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

Pony with Pleasure

Sister Sheila sent this lovely old photo – she thinks ca 1920 – of Jack Shannon and our Mom Mary’s cousin Peter Bell on their ponies on Kindrochart, the Shannon farm on the Oliviershoek road and near Mom’s parents Frank and Annie Bland’s farm Nuwejaarspruit, on the Witzieshoek road. Sterkfontein Dam now lies between the two farms – in fact, the Nuwejaarspruit homestead is now submerged under the clear waters of the dam.

Peter Bell was Mary’s first cousin – his Mom Jessie Hastings-Bell (neé Bain of the Royal Bains) was Annie’s sister. Peter joined the Rhodesian Air Force in WW2 and went MIA – missing in action – his body was never found.

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell.jpg

Mom tells the story of how Jack was urged to give his Shetland pony to “the Bland girls”, Mary and her sister Pat, once he’d outgrown it. He was reluctant but his folks urged him to be generous and asked again if he would be so kind.

“Yes” he said, “but not with pleasure.”

2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia

Mary Bland Grew Up On A Farm

This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district, 18 miles out on the road to Witsieshoek. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. The solid sandstone stables (‘five loose boxes’) were more stable (!) than the house, which was a long thin prefabricated structure bought from the British army on Kings Hill when they left town in 1913, eleven years after the end of the Boer War. Frank bred race horses. For a while . . .

Frank had the prefab carted out to the farm, then cut off a portion of the long house so they only lived in four rooms: A lounge, a kitchen and two bedrooms. They bathed in a zinc bath in the kitchen while Frank showered with cold water in a reed enclosure outside. Bath water was heated in paraffin tins on the coal stove. Lighting was by lamplight. The toilet was a long-drop outside under trees along a path of white-washed stones leading from the kitchen door.

Here’s older sis Pat pushing Mother Mary in the pram in the farmyard. See the stables in the background.

pat-mary-nuwejaarsvlei

Frank started to build a big stone house from sandstone quarried on the farm. Built on a slope it was level with the ground at the back, but ended in a high drop in front, which never did get the steps that were to lead up to the big veranda. The walls went up and the kids would roam around the big house, four bedrooms, big rooms, big kitchen but Mom says “no bathroom.” The roof never went on. The builder wanted many sheep (Mom thinks 200!) to do the roof and Frank balked at that / couldn’t afford it.

Other buildings on the farm were a workshop, Frank’s office and a garage for his yellow ‘Erskine’ tourer. It had open sides; when it rained you put up side flaps.

Erskine_Touring_1927

Later Frank bought a 1936 Chev Standard – perhaps like this one, but ‘light brown’:

Mom Mary remembers cousin Janet leaving the door open after she and older sister Pat had jumped out just before Frank drove into the garage. The door, she says, was “damaged forever.”

The Nuwejaarspruit runs from Nuwejaarsvlei down to the Wilge river downstream of Harrismith and then into the Vaal Dam. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water pumped up from KwaZulu Natal. You would now have to scuba dive in the clear water to see the farmhouse. The pictures are taken from roughly above the farm looking back towards Harrismith’s long Platberg mountain with Baker’s Kop on the left:

sterkfontein-dam

They called the hills on the farm ‘Sugar Loaf’ and ‘Horseshoe’. Mom loved the walks they would undertake with Dad Frank.

Annie also always drove. Frank said she always drove too fast. Years later the younger crowd John Taylor and Mike ___y said she should speed up – “to the speed limit”!!

Annie in old car
Annie & dog in a _____

Then the Blands moved into town – the metropolis of Harrismith – ca1939 to start a petrol station and garage, having lost the farms. In September 1943 had a colosistectomy for gallstones’ performed by GP Dr Frank Reitz. Mom went to visit him in hospital on her fifteenth birthday, 18 September. He died two months later, aged fifty. The next year when Annie needed an op she sent Mary off with Granny Bland to stay with Mrs Jim Caskie – ‘a huge fat lady’ – in the Echoes Hotel in Durban.

Durban Echoes Hotel Mom Granny Bland

While in Durban they saw a movie “This Is The Army.”

Luckily Annie came through the ordeal intact.

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Nearby farm neighbours on Kindrochart were the Shannons, George and Belle, with son Jack, a few years older than Pat and Mary. The Shannons also bred racehorses and achieved forever fame when they won the Gold Cup with their horse Rinmaher.

When Jack had outgrown his Shetland Pony his parents suggested to him that he give it to the Bland girls on Nuwejaarsvlei. He looked dubious but his parents encouraged him.

“Will you do that?” they prodded him.

“Yes, but not with pleasure” said Jack.

Recently Sheila found a pic of Jack – probably on that very pony!

1920 Jack Shannon & Peter Bell
Jack and Peter Bell

Peter Bell (or Hastings-Bell) became a pilot in the Rhodesian airforce and tragically went missing in action in WW2.

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1930 Bland group at NJV
Jessie & Annie sitting with Janet & Mary between them – (then two unnamed guests) – Frank lying with Pat

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Decades later, here’s Mary in 1990 cruising above Nuwejaarsvlei in a boat the ole man built, with her old family home somewhere underwater below her:

1990 April Sterkfontein 50003

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The Erskine was an American Automobile built by The Studebaker Corp. in South Bend, Indiana from 1926 to 1930.