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

His Uncle Hec’s Funeral

Des is a mensch. He’s a gentleman and he has good intentions.

He’s in a serious marriage and under strict starter’s orders. The thing is Des has a bit of a dodgy handbrake. Even when pulled up tight it can occasionally slip and he can lurch forward a few steps and then all hell can break loose and you don’t know if he’ll be able to stop.

So Hector Fyvie being a legend and him being a nephew, Des got written permission to go to Uncle Hec’s funeral and straight back. Promise. It was a lovely funeral and lots of people were there celebrating the life of a very special man. Now it was time to go home, and Des was definitely going to leave as he had clearly undertaken to do. Honour bright. And he would have . .

But there were Vennings and Fyvies and Leslies and other people there and a strong case was put forward for Des to stay for the wake. The after-gathering was naturally well-catered with sustenance and libations – Aunt Stella, Gail, Ian, Skig and Tabbo always do things right. Still, Des refused to relax and partake, which made the exhortations stronger. With friends like this . .

He raised himself up, closed his eyes in that way he does and made a small speech, one of many we have heard from Des:

“You guys”, he said. “Jy weet: Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min” and he agreed to have Just One. Just. The. One.

So we knew he was staying for the duration.

Hec Fyvie funeral_2
– unlike the hooligans, Des kept his jacket on, ready to depart in the getaway car at any moment –

Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min – “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and Three are not enough” – James Thurber

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Mona’s Wake

A gathering of a flock of du Plessis is always a very special occasion. Not an orderly occasion. Not a quiet occasion. Just very special. Mignon, Jean-Prieur and Jacques-Herman celebrated their Mom Mona’s wonderful ninety years of Mom, Music and Magic at a wonderful venue outside Harrismith – where I forgot to take any pictures! If anyone has any, please share a few – especially one of that magnificent pub of Rob’s! – but also of the people, of course!

People poured out of the woodwork from far and wide. Austin, Texas; Vancouver, Canada – even Marquard, Free State!

We almost didn’t get there:

– this could have been unforgettable in a bad way –

. . but we did.

Later we found out we – me, sister Sheila and old Harrismith friend Zelda Grobbelaar – were stuck there – the Ford needed big repairs – so Bess put us up in her lovely home:

– I had teddy bears in my bedroom –

When we didn’t show up at the du Plessis gathering that evening, I texted them:

My car got locked up in a ballet studio among the tutus.

– that part was true, check it out:

Ranger in
        ballet studio

. . and I got plied with strong liquor by three gorgeous chicks and clean forgot about any other friends I might have.

Oh, that part was partly true as well.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Thank goodness the Ford went vrot. It was diagnosed with terminal head gasket, whatever that means. I thought it was premature after only 300 000kms, but the upside was this meant we got an extra twenty four hours in the dorp the metropolis. We visited all and sundry, had supper with Bess; had breakfast and bought rusks at Something Lekker owned by a local lass; and then we lunched with the du Plessis clan while they ran around organising that Mona be laid to rest next to her husband and their Dad Pollie, who has been waiting patiently in the Harrismith cemetery for Mona to join him for decades. Patiently? Maybe.

I can just hear Oom Pollie. After he’d got over his joy he would comment on the very smart coffin, worried about the price. He’d relax when he heard it was made by Oom Jan, gratis and for niet. Then he’d harumph that it took Mona joining him for the grass to be mowed round his grave. Then he’d sing Hello Dolly!

To get back to KwaZulu Natal, we hired a brand new Toyota Corolla at Harrismith Avis – of course our dorp has an Avis! Not only that, look at this: They’re the reigning champions!

We visited Georgie Russell; and Mariette Mandy at The Harrismith Chronicle where she had already written about the gathering for her wonderful hundred-and-plenty-year-old local newspaper. I’ll post that when I get it. I’ll also link to any other reports of the day I can find. And add pictures.

~~~oo0oo~~~

. . . after a suitably polite interval I think Oom Pollie would also murmur hopefully, ‘Did you bring any cigarettes?’

~~~oo0oo~~~

Late Monday afternoon, after we’d left, the family carried out Mona’s wishes

– JP – Mona & Pollie – Platberg – mowed grass –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Driving home in a brand new car where all the knobs work was a novel experience – and hey! it had six forward gears! That brought back memories of another Toyota thirty two years earlier . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Two weeks later I was joined by good friend Allister Peter to drive back to the dorp in the rental to go and fetch my Ford Ranger from Riaan who had fixed it up like new! We bumped into John Venning at the coffee shop – and it turns out these two old bullets are fishing n drinking chinas from way back – apparently there’s a thing called The Grunter Hunt down in the Eastern Cape and they have indulged.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Conquering of the Boers, 2018

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

See this report – reproduced below – of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament last year.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Conquering of the Boers

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace

London, England

4th June 2018

Our dearest and beloved Queen,

After the marriage of Prince Harry to Ms Megan Markle, I wish to convey further good news to you, and to the rest of your Royal family.

As your military attaché in Africa, it gives me great pleasure to advise that the Boers have been conquered at the battle of Harrismith which took place on the 2nd & 3rd June 2018. The white flag of surrender was raised by General Hamman, at 13h00 on this historical day for your universal British Empire.

During my lengthy military career I have never witnessed a display of such loyalty and courage, as shown by your troops in this bloody battle. Your forces received only a few minor scratches and bruises, while the Boer field hospital has called for additional nursing staff, surgeons and even psychiatrists to treat their mentally scarred soldiers. There were no fatalities.

Your Majesty will also be most pleased to hear that during the cease-fire period, as declared by Chief Justice Lord George Galloway, the British and Boer troops were treated to an elaborate Royal Banquet. At this very grand occasion, the soldiers from both sides mingled and socialized well. In some cases, too well! This developing inter-continental relationship seems to be getting stronger, despite the humiliating defeat dealt out to the Boers.

On a personal note, please pass on my fondest greetings to my old friend Prince Phillip. I trust he is enjoying his retirement.

I await your instructions regarding any further military operations required .

Your loyal Military Attaché,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

– The Field Marshal tall, left of middle – Venning in jacket and tie next to his ossewa –
– Jelliman in the mid-background, most of his hair on his upper lip –

After the 2017 tournament Field Marshall Russell VC’s report to Her Majesty, Mev Queen had been far more tragic . . . and despondent.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

lekker – romantic

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; lager, ale, bitters

boerewors – sausage; and like laws, you may not want to know how it’s made – based on a quote by: John Godfrey Saxe American poet

moer-en-soek – golf as prescribed by the Royal and Ancient, which only frowned on women membership for the first 260 years, kindly allowing them in after that cooling-down period

boere musiek – noise emitted by farm implements called ‘constant screamers’ and ‘pull pianos’

volkspele – dance in which you can grip your meisie in a dominee-approved manner

meisie – lass

dominee – veld pope; village vicar

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 8_Nostalgia sport

Conquered by the Boers, 2017

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

Here’s a dispatch to Mev Queen on the result of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament in 2017. It did not go well.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

“Boer War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace,  London, England

5th June, 2017

Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.

Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.

The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine ‘Mampoer’. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery. I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.

Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!

There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.

In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony. (with some more alphabets?)

Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.

Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal Colony), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.

I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.

I await your further instructions.

Your humble military servant,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

lekker – respectable

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; last to leave the pub

boerewors – secret sausage; used in hide-the-sausage games in bedrooms in the colonies

moer-en-soek – pointless game administered by the ancient Scots and Americans, proving that it’s pointless

‘Mampoer’ – moonshine liquor; anything distilled illegally; high octane rating

Mev Queen – that small tannie who wears the funny hats; the one with the rude Greek husband who crashes cars

tannie – auntie

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia Wildlife, Game Reserves

Safe as a Guinea

On Tabbo’s Warden farm ‘Rust.’ Mine host Tabbo is second from right, yet another ale in hand.

old-harrismith-warden
– Tony Porrell, Koos Swanepoel, Nev Shave, Charlie Deane, Dirk Odendaal, Ian Fyvie, Rob Spilsbury – Nick Leslie, Doug Wright, John Venning, Mike Curnow, Tabs Fyvie and Guy Kirk –
– front: Gillon Thake – son of Doug Wright’s sister, Yomi Thake –

None of those guineas were killed by me (second from left) with my old man’s cheap Russian shotgun, even though the barrel was smoking. A marksman I am not! I was ‘Rust’-y.

Kai Reitz once tried to cure my handicap of not being able to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. On his farm, The Bend on the Tugela river outside Bergville, he gently lobbed up big sandclods in a ploughed field and I filled the air surrounding them with birdshot. Then they plonked to earth. Thud! Unharmed.

It was for naught – he had to give up.

With the last two shells Kai took the shotgun. I hurled two empty shell cases as hard as I could. Blap! Blap! he hit both of them. Bang went the gun and bang went my chance of using faulty Russian alignment as an excuse.

Bloody guineas better watch out, I’ll bring my mate next time!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

As always, Sheila has the details:

This was taken on 1 September 1974, at a shoot at the Fyvies’ farm ‘Rust’ near Warden. According to my 1974 diary, we had had a wonderful party at Nick & Anne Leslie’s farm ‘Heritage’ the night before – “Had delicious supper. Danced. Sat & chatted” most of us spent the night there, then moved over to Rust the next day, where the guys “shot about 60 fowls.”

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Homeward Bound after Rag Ball

After NTC Rag Ball in 976, we left Pietermaritzburg’s notorious Hotel Insomnia and drove home in Tabs’ red Datsun fastback, famed for having being called a Ferrari by one of the automotively-challenged TC girls, and a Datsun Triple Ess Ess Ess by Geoff Leslie. We had spent a few short hours in the Hotel Insomnia after the ball was over.

Braithwaite was behind the wheel as he had held back slightly as he still had to drive on from Harrismith to Nelspruit where he was needed to dry-clean some Lowvelders’ underpants. Tabs was in the passenger seat, me on the back seat.

  • me & Liz Howe, Sheila & Hilton – Tabs in full voice with John Venning –

Under the flat raking back window of that fastback was most of a case of beer, baking in the sun. After a short hung-over silence Tabs turned to me and asked “How hot are those beers?”

I said “Shall we share one and see?”

He said “Let’s open two and share them and see.”

We happened to finish the case before we got to HY. Thank goodness for Hilton’s driving!


rag-ball-1976
  • Tabs & Jilly Shipman sing – Dave Simpson, Lettuce and me sit -all at a very clever stage of these academic proceedings –

I was probably sipping cooldrink . . .

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions

Safety First, Old-Style

I was telling you earlier that the Road Safety slogan in days of yore was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk, Thank You Very Much and this was proven half true one night when I told Tabs ‘Listen, I think you’ve had a few too many and the best thing to do is to let ME drive.’

It was all Bess Reitz’s fault. She was buggering off to America and insisted we drink beer at the Holiday Inn . .

Bess farewell 1974

. . and that we then repair to her garage opposite the Town Hall to drink beer. We were all sad to see her go so we had drunk more than usual.

It was OK though, the cops wouldn’t catch as us we had a lookout in the tree on the pavement outside the garage in the form of John. Where a normal person would climb up a tree till the branches started thinning, John climbed up into the twigs till his head popped out from the very top and kept a 360° lookout shouting ‘Where are the coppers!?’ and ‘The coast is clear!’ and ‘Ahoy!’

Now it was true I had been with Tabs all night drinking and he could have said the same of me, but it was me talking, making my sensible suggestion. And anyway Pierre agreed with me and said he’d fetch me from Gailian after I’d delivered Tabbo safely home.

Bess farewell 1974_3
– and Bessie would have vouched for my condition –

Tabs was perfectly rational and amenable to my eminently sensible suggestion. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ll drive to the top of forty two second hill and then you can drive.’ I was perfectly rational and amenable to that suggestion and we set off down Warden Street.

At 190mph.

Tabbo had a green two-door Datsun SSS 1800 (Geoff Leslie had famously called his red Datsun 1600 his ‘Triple Ess Ess Ess’) and that thing fucked off went fast. We touched the tar twice on the way down Warden street and flew up 42nd Hill at a hell of a rate of knots. I was highly relieved when Tabs pulled over as promised and I took over, proceeding at a more sedate pace.

Soon after, I turned sedately into Gailian and the road took a sharp left and I didn’t. Changing down into second I let out the clutch but I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas, so we leapt forward into the only deep ditch in the veld for miles around. Tabbo bit a huge chunk out of the dashboard. I was OK as the steering wheel stopped me from doing the same. Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet. Or more accurately, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet *. OK, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t yet become popular.

As it turned out, speed hadn’t been the problem after all – it was the sudden stop that dented Tabbo.

Fortunately for us, Pierre was right behind us and took us to hospital where the local vet stitched up Tabbo’s lip and he ended up looking quite handsome after that. As the doc said Vasbyt Tebs, he said ‘Hit it Doc!’ but gripped my hand tightly as he said it. It was True Valour in the face of adversity.

The sudden stop and the hospital afterwards were NOTHING. We now had to face the hard part: Telling Stella. They were in bed in the dark, we couldn’t see them, we could just hear Stella.

She asked if we were OK. Hector was silent.

~~~oo0oo~~~

* I looked it up: The first U.S. patent for automobile seat belts was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York not long before our escapade. In 1885. So we weren’t used to them yet.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia travel

The Night We Hijacked the Orange Express

Trudi won Miss Personality at Maritzburg Varsity. We could have told them that beforehand if they’d asked. Her prize: A trip to Rio de Janeiro! Steph arranged a farewell party at Shady Pines on the night of her departure, after which we would deliver her safe and pickled to the Harrismith stasie. You didn’t know trips to Rio de Janeiro start at Harrismith Railway Station?! Ha! It goes to show . . .

At the station we bid her farewell in moviestar style, Trudi hanging out the window, fans crowded on the platform, much hubbub (just like in any good romantic movie). Here we are, hubbubbing:

Is this when the first train choofed in? Who was there?

Here’s Trudi with her hatbox:

train-station
credit: alamy free use

Except some ringleaders are missing. Where could John and Nick be? At the very far end of the platform talking to the train driver. I get there just in time to hear: “Nooit, meneer, this are not a melktrein, this are ve Orange Express! No stops before Beflehem.”

He reminds me that they say you can’t find three wise men in the Vrystaat. But he does turn out to be wise after some rooinek private school farmer persuasion, as he partially relents: “OK, ve bess I can do for yous is I’ll slow down when I pass Rivierdraaistasie.”

Right!

We hop on, and soon the train pulls off. John the agile gymnast has a case of beer under his one arm and a wicked grin under his one moustache. We make our way to Trudi’s cabin. “What on earth are you guys doing here?” We repeat a very hasty goodbye because already the train is FLYING! I myself am now rather nervous and if it wasn’t for the medicinal value of beer I might have said something sensible. We each take position at a door and watch as the poles whizz past us in a blur. Past the crossing to Swiss Valley where Nick (whose leg was in plaster so he was chosen to drive the getaway car – just like in any good gangster movie) was going to meet us. The railway crossing whizzes past and it feels like we’re accelerating!

– lantern aloft –

Suddenly a decrease in speed and, peering forward, some lights in the dark. Get ready to jump. Arse over kettle each one of us hits the ground and tumbles. I almost stayed on my feet but then had to duck for the big sign RIVIERDRAAISTASIE one word. But one man didn’t fall: He who held the case of beers kept it together! We ran back up the track into the dark as a man came stumbling out of the stasie kantoor, lantern held aloft (just like in any good Orient Express movie).

When we gathered, a sober head prevailed. “Boys, we can’t go! We can’t ‘drop’ the train driver. The stasiemeester will have to put in a report and our man will get into trouble. We have to go and talk to the stasiemeester.

So a delegation is sent back to the stasie and some of us sit in the veld awaiting their return, supping thoughtfully on John’s case of ales. And we wait and await.

Eventually – just when we think maybe they’ve gone to jail – they return, much merrier and cleverer than when they left. Apparently as they started to say Naand Meneer the oke said: “That’s the BEST thing that’s happened to me in all my years at Rivierdraai Stasie!” and insisted they sit and join him for a dop, pulling a bottle of brandy from the top drawer of his desk (just like in any good cowboy movie).

~~~oo0oo~~~

A sequel: Is nothing a secret in a small dorp? I get home before sunrise, and later that same morning my Mom peeps her head into my bedroom in my garden cottage, The Country Mansion: “Were you on that train?” asks Mary Methodist in her woe-unto-us voice. And “I’m so glad you’re home safely,” what a special Mom. At about nineteen years old, though, I couldn’t understand why she was fussing.

– my Country Mansion on the left –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Now the desk with the brandy bottle in the top drawer has gone . .

– Ah, the sign didn’t have ‘stasie’ – just RIVIERDRAAI one word –

~~~oo0oo~~~