5 April 2020 – Today exactly fifty years ago was also a Sunday. I know this cos sister Sheila kept a diary in high school and every now and then she pops out with an entry that brings back a flood of memories. Even everyday entries like ‘had lunch at (place) with (people)’ can trigger memories and start some lovely reminiscing.
On the 5th April 1970 she wrote:
Climbed Mt aux Sources, had lunch at the waterfall and climbed down again.
“My descriptive writing was still under development” she now says! She was thirteen years and ten months at the time. I had just turned fifteen. Mother Mary was forty one.
Leading us were Mother Mary, Uncle Cappy and Auntie Joyce Joubert. Making up the party were two older boys, Etienne Joubert and Whitey Fourie; then myself, Sheila and Deon Joubert, in descending age order.
Mom always knew all the peak names – from the Sentinel to Giants Castle.
The feature pic of the chain ladder is more recent – to show the surroundings – the second chain ladder on the right in that pic was added long after 1970. For wimps. Like airbags in cars, we didn’t have spare ladders back in our day (!!!). Here’s a pic of how I first remember it – one ladder, with wooden beams to keep the rungs away from the rockface.
Around April 1970:
Rhodesia under Ian Smith had just become a Republic, severing their last ties with Britain;
Apollo 13 was in space, having gone to the moon but not landed, after an oxygen tank had malfunctioned; The first moon landing had been eight months earlier;
We were singing 1969 and 1970 hits like – All Kinds Of Everything; Mama Told Me Not To Come; Build Me Up Buttercup; Crimson and Clover; Proud Mary; Come Together; and many MANY more! In the Summertime; A Boy Named Sue; My Baby Loves Lovin’; Ma Belle Amie; Yellow River; Beatles hits; Elvis hits; Creedence hits – a long list, seared into our memories, never to be forgotten.
I’ve never forgotten “kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud and the blood and the beer . . “
Uncle Cappy was a mentor to his three sons and to many others around him. He was a huge influence in my life. He taught me how to play cricket, how to rough-and-tumble, how to BE THERE for your family; how to do the right thing. That you did not have to be skynheilig to be good.
As Mobiloil’s representative in the district he had new cars every now and then, which were cause for great excitement. His winged green Zephyr 6 Mark III (made 1962-1966), then his stompgat gold Zephyr 6 Mk IV are the ones I remember best.
His job with Mobil took him all over the countryside, visiting farmers and the depots, so he knew the back roads around Harrismith – and sometimes he’d take us along.
He was always available to help: With sport, with Sunday school, with church, with lifts to sporting events, being Father Christmas, arranging picnics, umpiring cricket, playing cricket, coaching cricket;
I was raised by my Mom and her Mom Annie, so was in danger of being pieperig, as they were gentle, quiet ladies. Thank goodness for frequest visits to the Jouberts, with rugged Uncle Cappy, three tough boys and – the toughest of them all – Aunty Joyce! Cappy would show you exactly how to hold a cricket bat; he would warn the boys and if they didn’t listen, physically wrestle them to the ground and donner them. I remember Etienne wrestling back, squirming, protesting and not giving up, and Cappy holding him in a vice grip on the grass until he conceded! When Etienne went one step too far for Joyce in trading chirps and talkback, Joyce would finally get to the point where she’d lean forward from the waist and jeer, ‘Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr!’ LIVELY action at the Jouberts!
Typical older brother, Etienne would try and get youngest of us all, Deon to do stuff, pushing the little one into taking the risk for our reward. Once when Deon refused, he said, “Chicken!” and Deon instantly and heatedly responded “I aren’t a blerrie chicken cos I aren’t got fevvers!”
Full of jokes and ‘streke,’ I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Aunty Joyce with her Cape accent – she pronounced the Afrikaans ‘so’ as sue, not sewah as we did – that put Tuffy up to this prank.
I wrote to his eldest son Etienne one fine morning, soon after Uncle Cappy had died peacefully in his sleep on his ninetieth birthday:
I was lying in bed this morning listening to the birds and de-fragmenting the hard drive in my head when this popped up on some old grey cells:
Knyptang innie broeksakDinamiet innie gatsakVOORWAARTS die Ossewa Brandwag!
Also then, of course you have to remember his song on a moonlit night:
O, die maan skyn so helder . .
. . op my POEPHOL !
He was a huge influence in my life. A very good ‘normalising’ influence to go along with the more conventional, narrow influences!
I’m sure you can remember much more.
Yes, he did rather have many funny little sayings.
Hou die blink kant bo was another favourite.
The ‘knyptang’ one he’d say aloud in the yard so that Eben Louw could hear.
“C’mon guys, let’s play the game.” That would be when us children were arguing.
He based a lot of his life’s philosophy on Cricket & the fairness & unfairness thereof.
When he drove me to Pretoria to start in the bank he reminded me:
Never over dress or under dress.Do not drink on your own.A gentleman leaves the club before seven.
I miss him often in sticky situations.
Have a great day Koos.
Uncle Cappy widened our horizons where school and others tried to narrow them down. He showed us how you can be thoroughly decent and also naughty! So many skynheilige people who weren’t a patch on him would NEVER swear in front of us boys, but Cappy did – with a twinkle in his eyes. Now, mind, he never swore in front of us in front of Auntie Joyce! That’s for sure! That mischief was for boys-only gatherings.
As he was Mobil and Annie – my gran – was Caltex, those were the ONLY fuels we would even THINK of using in our cars. Our non-existent cars. We would NEVER use Shell or BP!
So when one day we were in his car at the fuel depot and we saw a Caltex tanker filling up from the BP tank we were MORTIFIED!! What!!?
Cappy calmly set our minds at rest, ‘All fuels are basically the same,’ he said – to our loyal mystification. ‘It’s the additives we add afterwards that make them different,’ he explained.
We were half-mollified.
'You never forget the people
who were kind to you in childhood'
- PD James, English detective novelist
skynheilig – pseudo-holy; fake
stompgat – short tail
pieperig – a softie
Etienne Joubert met ‘n bek soos ‘n skȇr! – ‘Etienne bigmouth’
streke – waggery; jokes; pranks
knyptang, etc – the Ossewa Brandwag was a racist, anti-semitic, anti-British and pro-German organisation in South Africa during World War II. Justifiably angry at what Britain had done to them in the Anglo-Boer war, they over-reacted churlishly. Cappy had volunteered for the war and gone off to battle; on his return his church spurned him for wearing his uniform, so he joined the Methodists – the Methodists’ gain.
O, die maan skyn so helder – romantic: the moon shines so brightly
. . . op my POEPHOL ! – on my arsehole ! The sting in the tail of his mischievous ‘romantic’ song!
Hou die blink kant bo – keep smiling; look on the bright side
This building used to be something else, I think – not sure – but in our time it was the junior primary school. Occupying a full block between Stuart and Warden Streets near the centre of the metropolis, our Sub A to Std 1 classes were here. Except if your Std 1, 2 and 3 was all together in one room with one teacher (‘die Engelse klas’). Then you went down to the next school in Std 1. So I had Sub A and Sub B in this old sandstone building. I entered age five and departed age seven. With a blue bicycle.
My greatest achievement in this time was probably winning a high-pissing contest in the sandstone boys room and having big mate Fanie Schoeman report the feat to Mrs Van Reenen. Miss! Miss! Peter pee’d on my head, he said. Brief fame, diplomatically handled. The urinal was open to the sky and we’d been trying to see who could leave his wet mark highest up on the sandstone wall above the trough. Wee on sandstone leaves a very satisfactory, undeniable mark which cannot be disputed, in contests like these. It lasts long enough for judges to judge and disputes to be resolved. Mine was highest. And some did go astray and hit Fanie, it’s true.
Here’s a view of our classroom taken from the boys toilets. In fact this photographer’s head is very near where Fanie’s head was back then. Chips!
Another clear memory of that class was admiring the beautifully accurate Noddy car Lincoln Michell made of yellow and red plasticine.
That sums up my first year of formal education. Luckily it didn’t cost a lot.
One of the joys of being in this kleinspanskool was it was a junior part of the bigger primary school down the road and quite regularly something would need to be schlepped down there. To be chosen to pull the wooden trailer or trolley, with its rubber wheels from one school to the other was a much sought-after diversion from classtime. You’d be FREE! FREE AT LAST! and wandering the shady tree-lined streets in school time on a Long Walk To Freedom! Bliss!
Behind that long building was a rugby field where Giel du Toit despaired of my ever learning one end of a rugby ball from the other – or one end of the rugby field, for that matter. His coaching methods consisted of patting me on the head and muttering ‘There, there; Moenie worrie nie!’ Everyone was very kind to me in my young days. Occasionally onse Giel (Joyce Joubert called him Heilige Giel) would get a faraway look in his eyes and talk about walking behind the ploughshare and picking up a clod of freshly-turned earth, smelling it and saying something about nothing in the world could ever smell better. The dorpsjapie in me thought ‘huh?’ Years later I speculate he was angling to marry a farmer’s daughter and was practicing his pitch to Pa. He actually did just that, I learned.
I played for the under-eleven B team, and the only reason for that was there was no C team. Although we were now down the road at the bigger school, rugby practice was at the old kleinspan school, as the bigger school didn’t have a field.
The end of the season arrived – near the end of winter – and the last game loomed. The traditional big derby day against the Olde Enemy, Vrede, played home and away each year. This year the final game was away, in that far-off dusty city of sin and ribaldry. OK, dusty dorp. Now famous for not having a dairy, back then it was famous for losing at a range of sports to Harrismith. Though, every now and then they’d spring a surprise and beat us.
For some unfathomable reason, Giel decided I would captain the under-eleven B’s on that auspicious occasion. It was 1966, so maybe England winning the soccer world cup got him thinking, ‘Miracles Can Happen?’ Anyway, as the lowest of the most junior teams, we would be playing the first game early in the cold Vrede winter morning, long before most spectators arrived, only dedicated Ma’s and Pa’s on the rickety stand. Our job was to break through the frost on the dead grass on the rock-hard ground for the more important games to follow. With our bare feet.
Which is how I came to have the leather odd-shaped ball in my hand that morning. This was a novel experience. Usually I was only vaguely aware that there WAS even a ball involved in this mysterious game that onse Giel was despairing that I’d ever get the hang of.
My orange-clad barefoot underlings, now fully under my command, dutifully formed a line behind me as I ran onto the field and skopped the leather ball to start the game. I remember only four things about that game, but they are indelibly etched in my newly rugby-focused tactical brain:
1. We were awarded a penalty quite late in the game with the score still on 0 – 0;
2. I made a show of going down on my haunches, and staring at the posts, then tapped the ball and hared straight for the line and dotted the ball down. TRY!!
3. The ref awarded the try. We were 3 – 0 up!
4. There was a muttering from the tiny partisan home crowd of early-morning Ma’s and Pa’s, and the ref seemed agitated. At the next lineout I asked him ‘That was a try, nê?’ and he growled ‘Play on!’ So we won the game, I think.
The next year – or the year after? 1967 – I was suddenly a rugby player and in the A team. I’d like to say it was because of this revelation, revival, awakening and discovery of deep latent talent, plus a realisation of my brilliance thanks to Giel’s inspired and kind gesture, but it was mainly cos my balls dropped, and I shot up four inches and became the tallest oke among the under-thirteens! Size counts in a shoving and huffing and puffing game. When guys have to look up to you they often give way to you.
Kleinspanskool – small persons school; junior primary school
A large gathering of the Goor Koor – that assembly of happy inebriates led and accompanied by virtual-teetotaller Mary Methodist, our Mom, gathered together – assembled, amassed – on the occasion of Mom’s 45th birthday. Usually there were far fewer of them gathered at any one time, an occasional Lubricated Quartet perhaps, but this was a special occasion!
And Sheila – thanks goodness! – took pictures. She was in matric at the time, I was in Oklahoma, Barbara in Pietermaritzburg.
. . and here – precious picture! – Mary at the keyboard and Hugo Wessels right there, ready to belt out a number! Two very talented people, 45 years old, who were in matric together in 1945. And this fun gathering happened 45 years ago, as Mom is now 90! I think all my stats are right . . .
Wonderful memories of crawling down the long passage to get nearer to the sound of Mom playing the piano; Also of sundry ‘choir members’ over the years, belting out popular songs with high enthusiasm and various degrees of talent. If spotted by any of the choir it would be ‘Hello Kosie!’ – if spotted by Mom or Dad it would be ‘Get back to bed!’
Also memories of the smell of ash trays! Always plenty of ash trays. Ours were from tyre companies, so they were glass inside miniature Dunlop or Goodyear tyres!
Around 1965 or thereabouts, I got an early morning phone call filled with excitement and urgency: “Koos! Come quickly! Come see! There’s a snake in the hoona hock!”
Well, I was thrilled! This I had to see. You can live in a dorp and hike in the veld often and very seldom see snakes, so I hopped onto my dikwiel fiets and pedaled furiously. It was about a mile to the Joubert’s house. Down Hector Street, west along Stuart Street past Scotty’s house, past the MOTH Hall, then downhill in Piet Uys Street to their house on the spruit that ran between them and the meisieskoshuis.
As I pulled up the whole family was there to meet me, Aunty Joyce, Uncle Cappy, Etienne, Tuffy and Deon, laughing and shouting “Happy Birthday!”
There was no snake. I’d not realised it was the 1st of April.