Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family school

Early Daze

A re-post cos Mom told me some news today (see right at the end):

My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

I lived there from when I was carried home from the maternity home till when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis. Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely older sister Barbara waving out the window):

birdhaven

1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.

Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondavel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask, “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave Leo a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

~~~oo0oo~~~

rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

~~~oo0oo~~~

– 1948 Ford Prefect –

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?

~~~oo0oo~~~

Today – 25 Sept 2021 – Mom (who turned 93 a week ago today) tells me Kathy Schoeman bought the old Ford Prefect from her and one day they drove to work to see it lying on its roof in the main street outside the town hall! Kathy had rolled it in the most prominent place possible!

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

My Jock

This post was over at bewilderbeast.org, but it belongs here, in the Olden Daze blog.

I read Jock of the Bushveld again for the how-manieth time. I enjoy it every time. Percy Fitzpatrick wrote his classic tales of his days with trek oxen and wagons on the lowveld on the highveld: On his farm Buckland Downs in the Harrismith district.

– famous Jock – almost as handsome as my Jock –

Always gets me thinking of my wonderful dog Jock in high school:

– 95 Stuart Street back yard with my room left and Jock’s luxury carpeted kennel right –
Jock with the Swanie/Bellato Vulgar River Expedition Voortrekkers' canoe
– Jock with the Voortrekkers’ canoe wreck after the ill-fated Swanie/Bellato Vulgar River Expedition –
– my favourite of all – Mom Mary knew –

We got Jock from Reg and Jo Jelliman. They farmed very near Buckland Downs out on the Meul river side of town, out Verkykerskop way. He was apparently a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with the formal name Copperdog-Something on his papers.

~~~oo0oo~~~

. . and then in Westville many years later our first dog in our first home was TC – to me she was a mini-Jock:

She lived to a ripe old thirteen years. I buried her at the bottom of that beautiful garden in River Drive, alongside Matt (above) and Bogart who both came after her but died before her.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Table Tennis Champ

Somewhere around 1969 I won the world-famous Harrismith Methodist All-Stars inaugural (and last) Table Tennis Tournament held in the Wesleyan Hall on Warden Street. This was a huge event for us dedicated Harrismith Methylated Spirits. There must have been . . what? half a dozen or more people watching, spellbound. Many of them would also have been among the entrants to this high-level event. Which I won, did I mention that?

My prize: The gold medal and a vinyl LP by The Tremeloes! except for the medal. The LP was real and was my first ever. And maybe my only? I don’t remember owning any other LPs.

How hip was the Harrismith Methodist Church?! I’d love to know who donated this lovely prize.

The feature pic shows our table tennis table on the side veranda at home. Training ground.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

What’s Wrong Swanie?

This was the problem: Most of the guys and gals I would do river trips with had a serious deficiency: a lack of some specific paddling strokes one should use on a river trip. Most of them especially couldn’t execute my favourite stroke: Paddle on your lap, arms folded, gaze around in awesome wonder, and allow the boat to gently rotate in the current. The Swanie 360° River Revolution, or Swannee River for short.

They were racing snakes. They’d say ‘Let’s Go,’ and then they would actually do that! Weird. Then they’d look back, wait till I eventually caught up and ask, ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’ I was of course much too polite to reply, ‘Nothing. What’s The Hurry?’ I’m polite that way. What I meant was, ‘I don’t want this day to end.’

And so we would gently bumble downriver. Every few hundred metres they’d wait, or one of them would paddle upstream (more weirdness) back to me and ask ‘What’s Wrong Swanie?’

Weird. Although I must admit, you wouldn’t want me in charge of timing or logistics on a trip!

When the current was swift enough my speed could match theirs. It was the flat water that was tricky. In their defence, they were actually going slowly and enjoying the scenery in awesome wonder. It’s just that their slowly and mine was out of sync!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Watch Luca Sestak (then 14yrs-old) show us how to do the Swannee River:

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

Canary Bird Bush

Yay! Science! I just found out what the very first flower I ever drew was/is: A Canary Bird Bush Crotalaria agatiflora.

I suppose for a school project? I collected a few in our garden and drew the flower and the leaf. I was fascinated by the shape of the flower: like a yellow bird, butterfly or ship.

I saw this on iNaturalist.org thanks to prolific iNatter @troos (Troos vdMerwe) and there’s a lovely twist: He photographed it in the favourite gardens of a favourite schoolfriend of my Mother Mary’s!

Joey de Beer became Jo Onderstall and became a founder member of the Lowveld Botanic Society and the Lowveld Botanic Gardens in Nelspruit, now Mbombela. She wrote the book on Lowveld flowering plants.

– Jo Onderstall’s 1984 book –

A lovely full-circle kind of story.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Joey matriculated with Mary in Harrismith in 1945. When she heard Mary was going nursing she expostulated: What A Waste Of A Good Brain! She was right, but Mom decided she needed to do something that earned her a salary and cost her widowed Mom Annie nothing. Typical Mom. Joey went on to study phys ed teaching in Bloem, then married ‘doctor/farmer’ Bill Onderstall. They moved to Nelspruit in 1950. Bill gave Jo a camera for a wedding present and so she herself took a lot of the pictures in the articles and books she wrote. I didn’t know her mother Bessie de Beer had been chair of the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State branch of the Botanical Society, so Jo followed in Bessie’s footsteps. Must tell Mom that. Jo herself seems as self-effacing as Mom. She writes in the introduction that her name on the book ‘is but the visible tip of an iceberg’ and the fact that she took most of the photos is mentioned nowhere. All other photographers are acknowledged, but even the fact that she took the front and back cover pictures is added in the ‘errata’ – like an afterthought! I’m guessing some of her friends insisted.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Yellow bird! Who remembers Johan Pheiffer who came from the city to Harrismith to visit his cousins the du Plessis in the dorp, whipped out his guitar and sang Yellow Bird?

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later: Mom said thanks for this. Sheila read it to her. She didn’t know Bessie had also been involved in things botanical. She did know that Bessie used to take people for the drivers test. ‘You would drive her round the block and she’d say OK, you have your licence. None of this parking into a garage stuff.’ So says Ma.

Her good friends Joey de Beer and Dossie Farquhar said Mom must take science. She found it hard, but enjoyed it. She didn’t like the science teacher, Swart Piet du Toit, though. There was also a teacher called Wit Piet du Toit, who later was called Whitey. Wit Piet married one of the girls he had taught in Std 6. Beautiful girl. Later he married Doris. Old memories flooding back, Ma?

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia Family

Quick Chat

I can’t talk long cos they’re coming to take me from my warm armchair – its falling to pieces, mind you – in front of the heater and wrapped under a blanket, to the piano, where I’ll play a bit before lunch. Lunch is a roast and vegetables and then ice cream cos its Sunday. And Sundays we get egg and bacon for breakfast.

You know Kosie, it’s amazing how an old tune suddenly comes back into my head and I start playing it. Then I keep playing it each day and it gets better every time!

You go, Ma! Remember to eat your vegetables, or you won’t get any ice cream. **Laughs** I eat all my vegetables except pumpkin, and that’s why I haven’t got curly hair. That’s what we were told when I was small.

Oh, Dad says the temperature is going to drop steeply tomorrow, you must wear warm clothes, she tells her 66yr-old son.

OK, Ma.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Barbara’s Letter

. . to old Jewish Harrismith friends

Big sister Barbara Swanepoel Tarr met Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the travelling rabbi, who I wrote about some time back. He very kindly gave her a book. 

Barbara tells of her voyage of discovery looking up old Jewish friends. This post is snippets from a letter she wrote:

Many of the names and surnames have been mentioned to me in conversations over the years with my parents and some I knew personally and grew up with. We’re still lucky enough to be able to contact our folks, Pieter Swanepoel (98) and Mary Bland Swanepoel (92), who now live in Pietermaritzburg and still have amazingly good memories. They fill in the gaps with names and places and help make our history come alive.

In Harrismith, the Royal Hotel was built by my great grandfather Stewart Bain and was sold to Mr. Sookie Hellman; the Central Hotel was built by his brother James Bain and was sold to Mr. Randolph Stiller.

– the extended Stiller family –

We lived in the Central Hotel for about three months in 1960. Mom and Dad had bought our first house in town – 95 Stuart Street, and were waiting for the tenant’s lease to expire. There we got to know the Stiller family (Isa was a young girl at school, I think) and Becky Kaplan, the receptionist. The Deborah Retief Gardens were our playing fields, under the watchful eye of Ted and Fanny Glick, sitting on their balcony in Van Sandwyk Flats No 1.

Fanny Glick and my grandmother Annie Bain Bland were the best of friends. Sunday afternoons these two characterful old dears would pick up the three Swanepoel kids in Annie’s big cream Chev and tootle down to the Park on the Wilge River. There we were each given a sixpence and left to our own devices at the round kiosk. ‘Glick’ and ‘Anna’ (that’s what they called one another) enjoyed tea and scones in the Chevy, and us three would swing, slide and no doubt fight on all the wonderful ‘things’ in the playground. 

– See Anna and Glick, great friends, on a drive – we’re in the back seat –

Around 2015 a bee flew into my bonnet, and I started looking for old Harrismith High School scholars. Finding Ivan and Brenda Katz in Joburg was a gem of a find; I also found another strong Harrismith sister, Adele Cohen.

In 1961 in Std 1, I received my first bicycle for Christmas – a blue Raleigh that kept me going to matric in 1970. I remember going into your Dad Eddie Cohen’s shop for a patch, a new tube, a bell or just to look around. All too soon, the three Swanepoel kids were finished with school and our bikes were no longer needed. Happily they became the property of new owners…the three Cohen kids. 

Joy Kadey, your parents’ shop, Jack Kadey’s Jewellers, still stands and is very much alive. Now called Louis’ Jewellers. While the name has changed, very little else has changed in the shop and in the whole building, thanks to Louis Nel and his daughter Erika Nel du Plessis (the owner). She has managed to make time stand still in a little place of long ago. Absolutely worth a visit to this ‘lil ‘ol shoppe’ of our childhood. Erika and husband Pierre du Plessis live in Louis Green’s old home in Warden Street, which they have also restored beautifully. One of Harrismith’s magnificent old homes.

Other Jewish people from old Harrismith are Essie Rosenberg Lunz, John French (great nephew of Fanny Glick, who sent a Facebook link on the Harrismith Jewish Cemetery), David Babbin, son of Isaac and Joey Babbin from the Tickey Bazaar, where you could buy ‘everything.’ How I loved that shop! Walking in through the door took one into an amazing fairyland. Baskets of all sorts on the floor, glass compartments of sweets at mouth-watering eye level, and counters of ‘what you will,’ and everything that could hang was hanging …just ‘as you like it’…..it was all there! 

– the occasion: Ivan Katz’s barmitzvah! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Whittington Court

‘We think it’s him, but we haven’t been able to catch him. He must distribute the leaflets in the absolute dead of night, probly just pre-dawn. They’re scurrilous. Well, we’ll see if they end when you move in.’

Owners in the shareblock building were gossiping about the mystery vendetta that had been waged for a long time in the block. Someone pecked away on an old typewriter, telling tales (and truths?) about other residents and criticising what the managing committee did and didn’t do for the building. They suspected their mystery person was the owner I had just bought from, and they were looking forward to his leaving to stay far away in the little dorp of Richmond out in the sticks.

My first own home! A spacious, high-ceilinged one (‘and a half’) bedroom flat in a good-looking ‘Art Deco’ building in Marriot Road one block up from Cowey Road.

– the stairs to my door – which cascaded as Vomit Waterfall one night, rumour had it –

On the day I moved in I was ambushed by a gang of Kingfisher Canoe Club mates who had spread the word ‘Party at Swanie’s New Place Tonight!’ The electricity wasn’t yet connected, but no problem to these hooligans: They dangled an extension cord out the window and politely asked the elderly couple below me to please plug it in. Bless ’em they did, and hats off to them they withstood the temptation to switch off as the noise lasted long into the night! There was some excess (did I mention they were canoeists!?) and tales – exaggerated surely? – were told of vomit streaming down the steps.

Once I settled in and my fellow occupants realised I was obviously the innocent party in the opening night cacophony (ahem!), I was told more about the strange old geezer I’d bought from. And I was told of a mysterious campaign of leaflets surreptitiously distributed, pointing out people’s faults and complaining of things not done, etc. in harsh language. They suspected it was him, but were never able to prove it. Soon I was able to solve the mystery: A secret compartment in the lounge cupboard revealed copies of his printed leaflets – the vendetta stash!

~~~oo0oo~~~

I bought ca.1984 for R45 000. Sold ca.1992 for R90 000. I saw it offered for sale recently (2021) for R967 000. That’s where I found these pics – someone has opened up the small kitchen so now the lounge and kitchen are all one big room. It looks great.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Wildlife, Game Reserves

Where Eagles Dare

We drove off the dirt road and onto a green hill, stopped the light blue Holden station wagon and walked up to the top of the low hill which ended in a steep cliff overlooking Natal down below. About 30m below us (I’d guess) was a nest, just as Robbie Sharratt had told Dad there would be, and on the nest was an eagle chick.

– location Normandien Pass arrowed – detail in inset –

The main reason the ole man had taken his dearly beloved son on an outing was his new Canon FT QL SLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens. It needed a subject, and there was the Black Eagle chick right there in the hot sun. Aquila verreauxii, now called Verreaux’s Eagle.

The way I recall it, we got pics of the nest and the chick, and a parent landed on or near the nest while we waited, but I could be imagining that part. Wonder where those pics are? I’d guess this was ca.1965 when I was ten years old.

It looked something like this (this pic from the Western Cape Black Eagle Project ):

The top pic was taken at Giants Castle in the Drakensberg by ‘Veronesi.’

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My Born, Bachelorhood and Beer blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2014, slightly updated:

~~~oo0oo~~~

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. You could say he enjoyed Harrismith-Wide fame. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow – Chris Bester – was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Die Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Travel! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! OK, maybe not.

One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.

We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than the fine art of rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox, great sense of humour, good heart.

People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.

Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said ‘Nice enough, but no range.’ So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe? Maybe our voices were taken out of context?

The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours to sing for our province and the rejection cut us deep.

It became mine & Gabba’s standing joke over the decades that followed. Every time we met we’d have a laugh and then he’d update me on our athletics records: his for shotput and mine for the 100m sprint. Mine was eventually beaten. Gabba said ‘hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het.’ His shotput record probably still stands, as far as I know. It was a mighty heave.

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg
Gabba, disappointed songbird –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:

We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 7.2.1.8 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also if we’d known that Septimus the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.

~~~oo0oo~~~

spreeu – starling, but mistranslated as sparrow

Die Kanaries – the canaries

Vrystaatse Jeugkoor – Free State Youth Choir; it must be confessed we would mock it as the Yech Choir

broekies – panties; maybe bloomers

beroemde, kranige – famous, outstanding

Oos Vrystaat – Eastern Free State; our neck of the woods

hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het – a new guy arrived who ran like the wind

‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies – fuck knows

~~~oo0oo~~~