Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Harrismith Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.

mountain race harrismith_crop
– at this point I wished I had done some training! –

I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

HS Mtn Race badges, medal
– mountain Race badges and medals – these are the legitimate four – where I actually finished in the allotted time! –

I recently found some old papers which told me I once ran the race in 79 mins and in 85 minutes another year.

We also walked the race for fun a couple times:

The 12km distance was enough. But no, some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb when I ran with Jon and Dizzi Taylor one year.

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds
– run to A then to B and back (who added three km of tar road!?) –

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Some history from friend Ettienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (I once spent a wonderful day with Wally).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.

During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top.  In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds – from town to the top of the mountain! Amazingly quick).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.

Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, JN ‘Koos’ de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.

Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.

*McDermott won sixteen times consecutively from 1982 to 1997 and in 1985 established the “short course 12.3km” record at 50mins 30secs.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school

Blaas, Boetie!

Marching in the cadets was a ballache. Once a week we would arrive at school not clad in grey shirts, grey shorts and grey socks, but in khaki shirts, khaki shorts and khaki socks. It was ‘kadet dag’ or something. Softening us up and brainwashing us in the glory of fighting for the vaderland.

This had to stop, so Lloyd and I decided to try out for the orkes. Still the kadet orkes and you still had to wear khaki but we thought it might be less onerous. I was assigned a drum and drumsticks. Zunckel was give a bright brass trompet, slightly battered.

bugle.jpg

What was lekker was instead of marching up and down like drones in the school grounds with some kop-toe ou shouting LI-INKS . . . . OM!! we headed off out the gates towards town. Freedom! There we were, Vrystaters going on A Long Walk To Freedom! Often there wasn’t even an onnie with us, and nobody shouting. We marched to the beat of the huge bass drum. Boom Boom Boom. Left Right and all that. We would march right into town, once going as far as the post office.

Bonus was you also got to keep an eye on the pomp troppies – seen here on an official outing – we dudes in the marching band in the background.

The pomptroppies

It couldn’t last. Some parade was coming up and it was time for quality control. Kadet uber-offisier von muziek Eben Louw lined us up, got us started on some military propaganda lied and walked slowly from one to the other, listening intently as we parum-parum-pummed away. He watched as I bliksem‘d the drum more or less in time, nodded and walked on.

Then he got to Zunckel. He leaned closer, then put his ear right near Lloyd’s trompet. “Blaas, jong!” he muttered. Niks. Not a peep. The Zunck had been faking it, pretending to blow with his right pinky raised impressively. Never had learned how to make that thing squawk.

Back to barracks he went. ‘RTU’ the parabats would say.

=========ooo000ooo=========

Oh no! This post was a dredged-up memory from 45yrs ago. I sent it to his big mate Steve Reed in Aussie, who forwarded it to Lloyd’s sister Filly in Zimbabwe where I thought Lloyd would have a chuckle reading it.

But no, I learned instead that Lloyd had passed away a few months ago. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Too soon!

1974-may-the-bend-sheila-lloyd0001
1974-may-the-bend-sheila-lloyd0002
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=========ooo000ooo=========

blaas boetie, blaas jong – prove you actually know how to blow a trumpet and you’re not just fakin’ it; You’re faking it aren’t you?

kadet dag – toy soldiers day;

vaderland – fake concept designed to get you to do things without asking embarrassing questions;

orkes – brass band with drums n stuff;

kop-toe ou – brainwashed individual;

LI-INKS . . . . OM!! – Military command to get a bunch of people all dressed alike to go somewhere. Instead of saying to sixty people, ‘Listen chaps, please get your arses over to the mess hall. See you there in three minutes’, you line them up in twenty rows of three and start shouting blue murder and generally getting really irritated with each other. Forty minutes later you arrive quite near the mess hall in a cloud of dust and blue air all hot and bothered, the only thing you learnt being one new way to cuss your mother-in-law; Massively inefficient;

onnie – paid brainwashed individual;

pomp troppies – short skirts – nuff said:

Drum Majorettes 1969.JPG

 

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

R.I.P Steph

I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.

I’ll write later.

Here’s how we’ll always remember you, Steph. Us who knew you in the 60’s and 1970 – your matric year.

The fab five strikes! Late at night in Harrismith. Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture
– the fab five strikes! Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture –
– Larry & Steph collapsing – Pierre and me keeping an eye out for the gendarmes –
– Omar Sharif looks stoic –

His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, builder of schools for underprivileged people, generous to a fault, though he would dispute the ‘fault’ part.

Steph funeral 5

Later: JP, his boet, his family, his workers and his colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained and feted us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going.  ‘Kom ons organise dit,’ was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I have written about our schooldays here:

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/raiders-of-the-lost-saab/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/chariots-of-beer/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/woken-by-the-tamboekie/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/an-old-mystery-whose-fault/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/the-night-we-hijacked- the-orange-express/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again/

~~~oo0oo~~~

Also:

We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades *  and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert, our American Rotary exchange student, were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.

One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!

Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.

He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.

Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.

His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous people. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.

Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!

Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:

Larry Visits from Ohio (4)
– Pierre, Francois, Koos, Steph, Tuffy, Larry –

*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought “No you won’t”.

** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pierre at Steph’s funeral:

Pierre at Shady Pines

Shady Pines

Shady Pines de Witt

I pulled over to catch this moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad day:

The moon rising as I left to go back to Durbs

“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”

  • paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia sport

River Trip Swinburne – Harrismith

Fluffy Crawley and I were dropped off in Swinburne on the banks of the Mighty Vulgar in the grounds of the Montrose Motel with our open red and blue fibreglass canoe by my Old Man. We were aiming to head off downstream, camp overnight and finish in Harrismith the next day. This was circa 1970.

But we bumped into the inimitable Ian Grant who persuaded us to spend the night at Montrose. His folks Jock & Brenda owned Montrose. They agreed to let us sleep in one of the rondawels.

Swinburne, Montrose Motel
– what was left of the motel in 2012 –

As evening fell Ian was up to mischief as always, and soon after dark one of the petrol attendants snuck up and slipped us a litre bottle of brandy. Ian organised a litre bottle of cream soda and we were set for nonsense. After a couple of quick shots I suggested we hang around and let the alcohol take effect and let the laughing begin, but as I was in the bathroom taking a leak I overheard Ian mutter “Fuck him, I’m drinking the lot!” so I  came out and said “Pour!”

Well Ian was first and I stuck a bucket under his chin as his technicolor yawn started. Just then I heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a lumpy laughter duet.

Early the next morning I woke Fluffy and said “Come!” and we carried the red-decked boat to the river and launched it onto the muddy waters. Well, actually “launched” it because it touched bottom.

Swinburne-bridge-1
– we launched – and ran aground – under the old sandstone toll road bridge –
– built in 1884, it was the second bridge to cross the Wilge –

The river was so low we didn’t even get our shoelaces wet! A long spell of carrying the boat on our shoulders, stopping for a hurl, carrying a while till another stop for a chunder ensued till we found deeper water and a settled stomach and could paddle home.

Fluffy remembers: “The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or by-passing the rapids. We made it in one day, no overnight stop. Your Dad picked us up in town under the old ‘ysterbrug’.

Harrismith-Hamilton-bridge
– we finished under the old Hamilton bridge in Harrismith – this looking upstream –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dave Walker tells of a Tugela trip or race with Clive Curson when they broke and had to carry their boat for miles. They christened their trip Walkin’ an Cursin’.

Mine with Fluffy Crawley would then be Walkin’ an Crawlin’.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Just been given a picture of the very fibreglass craft we paddled. Sister Sheila, keeper of the archives, had it. Red deck, powder blue hull, wooden slats on the floor.

– the Fluffy-Koos Swinburne Expedition craft –

~~~oo0oo~~~