I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
Six foot four inch Pete Stoute was running the Comrades Marathon, that foolish 89km exercise in torture held annually in KwaZuluNatal, when suddenly he heard a shout from around knee-level: “Yiss, Stoute, hoezit?”
He looked around, nothing. He looked down: There was Skim, short and round as a beachball, choofing alongside. Skim du Preez, kranige scrumhalf of the great Optometry rugby team of 1975.
Skim! What the hell are YOU doing here! he exclaimed. No, Stoute, I thought I must do this thing, seeing I’m a boykie from Dundee, said Skim. – Dundee pronounced “DinDear,” the Afrikaans way – it means ‘steenkool.’ Stoute pronounced ‘stotah,’ the Afrikaans way – it means naughty.
They chatted a few minutes and then Skim said, Oh Well, Be Seeing You and ran off into the distance!! Left the long-legged Stoute in his dust!
As often, one of my dodgy history lessons: Dundee, pronounced DinDear, is the famous site where British army troops, tired of being shot through their red coats and their white helmets, finally wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle. I wonder if their commander Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB still wore his red coat that day, though? He got shot in the stomach and died three days later as a prisoner of war in Dundee.
These Boers would know: The caption says they were ‘watching the fight’ that day! Like a movie!
The British claimed a ‘tactical victory’ in the battle. Here’s the actual scorecard – a lesson whenever you read battle reports. To the Poms, this (as they were informed by their jingo press) amounted to a tactical victory:
British casualties and losses – 41 killed, 185 wounded, 220 captured or missing; Boer casualties and losses – 23 killed, 66 wounded, 20 missing. So – Total count 446 down vs 109 down, but “we won.”
And so the dispatch goes back to Mrs Queen in Blighty (perhaps sent by jingo war correspondent Winston Churchill?): “We won a tactical victory, Ya Majesty.” Maybe he at least added “Um, send reinforcements” – ?
Always remember that one thing all military outfits do without fail . . is lie.
stoute – the Afrikaans pronunciation “stotah” as in kabouter; it means ‘naughty.’
kabouter – Snow White and the seven kabouters
choofing – running like a gazelle
kranige – capable; brave; gallant; dashing
scrumhalf – not only a scrumhalf – see the comments
No – yes
DinDear – Dundee; coal-mining village; not in Scotland
steenkool – coal; or stone coal; you can’t say just ‘kool’ cos that would mean cabbage
Scottish doctors. A delightful lot. The female of the species that is; I prefer them female. The guys with their kilts, beards and medical sporrans full of scalpels and aspirins, not so much. I mean, how do they scrub up with all those areas to disinfect? No thank you, give me the ladies. A few years before I had fallen deeply in love with a Scottish doctor and now I was told as I got onto the Pilatus ‘flying doctor’ aircraft something like the one above to fly to Charles Johnson Hospital in rural Nquthu that a Scottish doctor – actually medical student, same as the topless surfing ‘doctor’ in Durbs – would be shadowing me to learn about eyes. I was the volunteer optometrist on this ‘flying doctor’ type trip.
Before we landed we flew low over a small ragged-looking airstrip with an old Dakota parked near a big double-story homestead. Our pilot told of a famous inyanga or sangoma who got so well known and in such demand that he had to travel all over. Like house calls. Eventually road travel was no longer feasible, so he got a Dakota and a pilot to extend his reach. I’ve searched for him now, but can’t find anything about him on the ‘net! I’ll keep searching, his sounds like a fascinating story. Meantime, I’ll fantasize:
As I was settling in and unpacking my equipment in the Charles Johnson hospital outpatients department . . .
. . a whirlwind blew in! My Scottish doctor student! She was six foot tall, her smile was six foot wide and she demanded in a broad Scottish accent: “Teach me about eyes!” She was like this:
What a lovely day. We tested plenty eyes, talked non-stop, had lunch together and once again I fell in love with a Scottish doctor! Sadly she decreed dreadlocks would not suit me. To this day I think she was mistaken. They could have provided much-needed cover-up.
The pic is not my second Scottish doc, just as the numbis in the last post weren’t that Scottish doc’s. It’s of a Scottish student who reminds me of my doc who, like her, was born in Edinburgh of Nigerian parents.
sangoma – a practitioner of ngoma, a philosophy based on a belief in the amadlozi – the ancestral spirits;
inyanga – concerned mainly with medicines made from plants and animals;
numbis – breasts
While I search for ‘my’ sangoma, read about this one that Hugh Raw reminded me about; from the fascinating village of Lusikisiki, home of the Shy Stallion:
So pleased to confirm again that I ain’t imagining this shit! My mind is strong. My mate Hugh Bland, photographic historian and fifth cousin tells me thus: Your info on the Nyanga at Nqutu is correct, but I can’t add any more info than you have. His house or mansion is on the right about two kms outside Nqutu coming from Dundee.
Charles F. Marquart Johnson was a transport rider who became a teacher who became a priest who became a bush dentist. Opportunist, perhaps? After the the Anglo-Zulu wars he decided to stay on in Zululand, having apparently been asked by one of the chieftains, Hlubi, to be a teacher. He became a priest, then archdeacon of the area. With the nearest medical facility being at Dundee, a difficult 52 km journey away, he also involved his mission station at Masotsheni in helping the local people with their medical problems. He was, by Anthony & Margaret Barker‘s account – they ran the hospital for years – a formidable holy tooth puller.
Anthony Barker had a lovely isiZulu nickname: ‘Umhlekehlatini’ -‘He laughs in the forest’ – referencing his frequent laughter and his bushy beard.
I was working with Serge in the UBS building in Field Street.
Bending over someone with my right eye one centimetre from their right eye, I was gazing deep through their pupil with my ophthalmoscope when the building trembled and I heard a loud, dull thud.
WTF? I thought; ‘Hmm’ I said, ‘Sounds like the UBS sign fell off the building!’ I was about to change eyes when my door flew open and Serge darted in “Excuse Me” he panted, flung open my window and hopped out nimble as a cricket, as old and grey as he was. WTF again?
I stuck my head out and there was Serge bending over a man in a grey suit lying face-down on the tarry-stuff covering the roof over the street-level shops below us.
Turns out he was a lawyer. Partner in the firm on the fifth floor, who took to plummeting. We were on the second floor so he only fell three stories and survived. Came back to work a few months later limping with a stick.
I dunno. Haven’t a clue.
pic of downtown durban from thegreengallery.co.za
Serge = Serge de Marigny, longstanding venerable catholic optometrist; venerated the archbishop, who came to us for his multifocals. Brought them back once, “I have to lift my chin to read.” I made him new lenses, a millimetre higher. Brought them back again, “Now I have to lower my chin to drive.” I scurried about, muttering three hail marys and re-made them again, half a millimetre lower. “One low, one high and this one smack in the middle” he announced and swept out triumphant. Very sure of himself was old Denis.
When checking his eyes I had asked him what a sinner like me should call him. “Your Grace” he boomed, thought about it – about me being un-catholic maybe? – and said “or just Archbishop.” I called him neither. Maybe that’s why he wound me up with his new specs!
I see when they made a graven image of him to worship after he’d keeled over, they left off my specs, the buggers. See how he has to peer without them!
I was looking thru Dan Palatnik’s Digital Garage – well worth a visit – and an old Willys Jeep reminded me of Leibs and Achim who had developed the bad habit of lying under their old Jeeps in the backyard of our communal home at 4 Hillside Road, Parktown. Mainly they were banging out rust and stuffing revived V8 engines under the bonnets. Leibs was a handsome schoolteacher at Roosevelt school – why ‘Roosevelt?’ One of the highlights of 4 Hillside was when his girlfriend visited. The delightful Claire was a huge favourite among the bachelors. What a sweetie. Leibs was a myope like me (shortsighted) and happily allowed us to practice our contact lens skills on him, trying out all the latest lenses. We practiced and he got free lenses: Win-Win!
Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together. Achim went on to do a lot of off-road rallying in the dodgy metropolis of Brits, where he ran his optometric practice with his bream, wife and former lecturer, Eva the dispensing optician aus Austria or Germany. On the side, Achim ran a garage to tjoon up his racing 4X4’s and fit double divorce pipes. One of those eventually got him. Maybe Eva kicked him out for getting grease on the contact lenses?
Inmates of 4 Hillside:
‘4 Hillside’ was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers and former teachers in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillside was a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old London Plane and Jacaranda trees, a lovely quiet spot, right on busy Empire road but isolated from it thanks to being a ‘straat loop dood’ and having a big water furrow servitude with a lane of trees on our Empire Road boundary. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days. Big hydrangea bushes against the walls; we’d greet them Hi Granger!
It was a teacher digs. Educators. You would think teachers would have brains, but no, they allowed an optometry student into their hitherto blissful existence: Clive Nel of Kokstad and the long-suffering Sandy Norton. Norts. Clive was allowed in as he offered to take a run-down tin shed annex and convert it into habitable quarters. And he did just that! Soon the shed was carpeted in fine vintage carpets, Rembrandts and Monets on the corrugated walls and makeshift shelves stocked with fine wines. He was generous with his wine was Nel, so soon the teachers were (very) happy to have him! Also Norton was such an asset that she almost balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda RX2 rotary-engined gas guzzler with CCW plates: Kokstad (where his Dad sold Massey Ferguson tractors). I’m not kidding here – except for the Rembrandts and Monets. Clive ‘Nel’ Nel. A book could – and should – be written. “Dee dee dee BARKER! baap”. “Howdy Norts!” Endured by the wonderful and long-suffering Sandy Norts. His white Mazda RX2 – high speed, high consumption rotary-engined boy racer, ended up in a head-on collision after Brauer’s wedding.
The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming, hard-golfing sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa, with some anthirium hothouse culture thrown in. Green Toyota Corona NX 106, inherited from Gran. They also had NX 101 and 102 and 103 and 104 and 105 – you get the picture: Old money in the Umzinto and Dumisa district. NX was for “Alexandra County”, Glen would never tire of reminding us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had ‘distriks.’ The first NX 106 plate had been nailed to their ossewa when the first very Reverend Barker arrived aus England to bullshit, rob and confuse the poor happy heathens.
Then they let me in – Vrystaat boykie with a grey and grey 1965 Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now the digs had deteriorated down to four teachers, three students, a Malawian and a Norts – a delicate balance.
– Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire. As students we fitted Leibs with silicon permawear contact lenses! And we ogled the gorgeous Claire. He drove an Alfa Romeo. Was it a horrible brown colour?
– Granger Grey was a teacher too. He drove a dove-grey VW Beetle; TVB plates.
– Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins. Teacher. Coolest of the gang. There was some pottery in his family background, I seem to recall. He had various girlfriends, all of whom were reminded not to get too serious. One was‘Vaalwater’ who was famously told to ‘take off your clothes, so long, I’m just having a shit . . ‘
– Mike Doyle, ex-teacher, now a cement mogul; lovely girlfriend Michaela or ‘Shale’. Old blue British Land Rover 5-door station wagon; a healthy cynic, he loved the great outdoors.
– Gerald or Gerrard – ‘Gelard’, pronounce Jell-laahd, the Malawian butler with ambitions of becoming a tycoon. Deeply hurt and offended that we thought mowing the lawn was in his portfolio. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command. He called CoolsieBoss Donut. Anyone who asked him to do anything he considered unreasonable, he would defer to Boss Donut.
Friends-of-4-Hillside – not quite inmates – included:
– Jos, another teacher who lived nearby. Not tall, with high-plus specs, an Alfa Romeo and a lovely girlfriend Brenda;
– ‘Norbs’ Norbury. Yet another educator. Big black beard. Norbs imitated Charles Fortune to perfection at the Wanderers cricket ground, entertaining the inebriated crowds on the grassy banks as he waxed lyrical about the clouds and the birds while blissfully ignoring the fall of a wicket. Would sing loud John Denver: ‘You Philip My Dentures . . . Like a Knight at the Florist;’
– A Demmler oke – ??
Sitting in the crowded little TV lounge watching the news and Dorianne Berry came on to read the news wearing a strapless top. The camera carefully stayed just above her dress line making her look maybe naked! Horny bachelorness ran rampant: “Ooh, maybe we’ll get to see Dorianne’s berries”, was the call. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in.
Lying under the grey-and-grey Opel fixing the drum brakes before going to Port Shepstone. Now, I ask you: Who the hell would drive 700km in a car whose brakes I had fiddled with!? Turns out a few students, including the delightful Cheryl Forsdick;
The delightful Triple SSS – Sexy Susan Staniland Featherbed Fotherby – was a welcome visitor to 4 Hillside in one of my lucky – and brief – periods I . . . ‘had a girlfriend’! Far and few between, they were.
Steve Reed wrote:Granger – never forgotten. Mostly for his height-enhancing shoe-stuffing for weight watchers meetings;
Pete Brauer wrote:More vivid nostalgic memories of Granger Grey shoving quarts of Black Label down his throat;
I remember Granger Grey (6ft 4 high, 4ft 6 wide) getting home late one night, well-oiled with a placid beam on his face. He joined us students braaiing on the lawn next to the pool and started eyeing the sizzling meat, staring hypnotically. Borrowing one ale after the other he got progressively more glass-eyed and we watched in awe as he swayed, Obelix-like, WAY past a normal centre of gravity then slowed to a halt, jutting chin way forward, eyes on the tjops n boerie till you just knew he was going to platz on his face; and then SLO-OWLY swayed back to upright, then way back past upright, with his beer resting on his boep till he was leaning 450 backwards and HAD to see his arse and crack his skull; but again he halted, hovered, and started the slow sway forward again. Musta been the size eleventeen shoes that held him upright! We formed a wall round the fire, guarding the tjops n boerie, and keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs.
We had to hurriedly clear the braai and endure his hurt look. Imperative to be tough and take evasive action when Granger got near food
Mealtimes for Seven Lads and a Norts
The problem of feeding seven hungry men was solved by Gerrard cooking and placing the food in the oven. First man to crack and start eating had to divide the food scrupulously fairly onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagily watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first and do the tedious division under intense scrutiny.
On steak nights the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf – a dividing wall, actually. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was alone at home and he was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. After all, someone might not be coming home that night, you never know. Often someone would skip supper. Maybe they lucked out with a chick, who can tell? Then one more, and then he finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome with remorse.He was a very good man, Granger Grey and he had a heart of gold. So remorse he felt.
Jumping into his grey VW beetle – TVB for Vanderbijlpark, home of ISCOR, Boipatong and Sharpeville – he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three beautiful golden-brown roast chickens off their famous rotisserie to make good for his sin – he was atoning bedonderd – and rushed back, flattening only one whole chicken by himself en-route.
This caused him to reflect. He had wobbled before, but this was a seismic wobble. So he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-in report-backs. Getting back from his initial weigh-in he sank down onto the low – low cos it was broken – couch in the TV room with a huge sigh. Reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, he wheezed as he removed a thick wad of newspaper from each shoe. ‘And now, Granger?’ we asked. ‘No, we had a weigh-in tonight and I didn’t want them to give me a low target weight,’ he said, quite seriously, matter of fact. We collapsed when we realised what that entailed! He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight! You gotta love Granger Grey! Not only for doing that, but for the complete openness and honesty with which he ‘crooked!’
Granger. Heart of gold. He had bigger brothers, one called Tiny. He read Ayn Rand and thought she was on to something.
The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ingeniuosly solved by someone who fitted a long narrow wooden shelf in the passage where all socks were placed after washing. Sort them out yourself. Some of the holy ones would grow mould on that shelf.
Steve Reed again:The legend that I subscribe to is that the famous Vespa scooter that ended up on the bottom of the 4 Hillside Road pool originally belonged to a bird called Terry who later married Keith Taylor. Keith’s brother Ian Taylor [who became a Doctor] had apparently commandeered Terry’s scooter and somehow it had ended up at 4 Hillside where it met its famous fate. Of course, the story may be the result of the effects on Terry of the third bottle of pinot noir on a cold Auckland night.
Me: Vespa scooter reminds me of Keith Ballin zipping along, specs and moustache peering out from under his helmet, scarf trailing behind him in the breeze!
I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine – (Lou Reed)
Nostalgia: A device that removes the potholes from memory lane – (Doug Larson)
Vaalwater – name of young lass from the distant metropolis of Vaalwater
tjoon – tune-up in this case; sometimes ‘explain’
braai – barbecue
tjops n boerie – red meat sacrificed over an open flame
boep – stomach; paunch
‘Twas at 4 Hillside that a knock came at the front door. We knew it was a stranger as no-one knocked at the front door. Actually, no one knocked, you just walked into the open kitchen door.
It was a pink-faced balding chap and he asked for Peter Swanepoel.
We found out later from Madeleine what had transpired: A pink-faced balding chap walked into the School of Optometry and enquired at reception: Who’s your BEST optometrist? When Madeleine asked Um, Why? he said I want to employ your best final year optom student. Stifling a grin, Madeleine said politely, Actually most of them already have jobs, they’re nearly finished their exams. Oh, said the pink-faced balding chap, So who hasn’t got a job yet?
The rumour that he then went on to ask Oh. OK, then who’s your WORST student? is just that: A vicious rumour.
He made me an offer I couldn’t understand; I haggled the pink-faced balding chap up by a full R100 a month – that was 20% – and I had a job in Hillbrow! This Vrystaat boykie would be testing unsuspecting eyes in Highpoint in Hillbrow for a while – in fact, for the foreseeable future! Geddit!? We lasted three months before I fired him.
The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now fill the space! Bah!
In 1980 the army relieved me of my post as adjutant for the Natal Medical Corps and sent me to work for the provincial ophthalmology department in Durban run by the Nelson R Mandela school of medicine based at King Edward Hospital. This meant I worked at the three racially-segregated hospitals.
King Edward VIII in Umbilo (for the healthily pigmented):
RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth (medium pigmentally blessed):
Addington on the beachfront (pale, pigmentally deficient):
At KE VIII we had our own building, at RK Khan and Addington we shared. Addington OPDB (Out Patients Department B) was for legs and eyes. My mate Bob Ilsley in orthopaedics would say “I’ll get them to walk straight, you get them to see straight”.
Resident ophthalmologist Pat Bean was a character. Surfer dude at heart. And heart of gold. “You got cat tracks, mummy”, he’d say at RK Khan. “Cat tracks. Terrible things those cat tracks. Must give you ‘PRATION. Not sore ‘pration. Over one time, you go home next day no pain see nicely” he would reassure.
(‘cataracts’ – ‘operation’)
The nurse in charge of the clinic most days at KE VIII was Staff Nurse Anita Lekalakala, another character of note. One day she picked up a card for me, glanced at the name, grinned and called out loudly to the packed waiting room:
Miss Grace Kelly! Calling Princess Grace Kelly!
And in shuffled old Mrs Grace Cele, leaning on her walking stick.
(36yrs later Anita still comes to me for her glasses)