Blast from the past. Memories can linger now – all hard copies have been discarded in overdue house-cleaning.
Rob Allen and Steve Reed’s lovely cartoon drawings.
Blast from the past. Memories can linger now – all hard copies have been discarded in overdue house-cleaning.
Rob Allen and Steve Reed’s lovely cartoon drawings.
It was advice from my chairman and as a new, fairly young member, I trusted him implicitly. You add sherry to your beer, said Allie Peter with a knowing nod. When we got to the bottle store in Cradock he spotted me at the till with a dozen Black Labels and a bottle of Old Brown Sherry.
‘No, Swanie,’ he came with more advice, ‘Get Ship Sherry. You can get TWO bottles for the price of one Old Brown.’ As a new, fairly young member, I trusted my chairman of the Kingfisher Canoe Club implicitly, so I dutifully swopped my bottle for two Ship Sherries. This decision was going to reverberate . .
At Gattie’s townhouse (that’s Malcolm Phillips Esq. to you) we stood around with cans of beer in our hands, topping them up with sherry every so often. It worked a treat and was a marvelous idea. I could see my chairman had been around and knew a thing or two. The mix seemed to enhance my paddling knowledge and experience vastly.
Much later that night I was busy expounding on some finer point of competitive paddling – probably on how one could win the race the next day – when I realised in mid-sentence, with my one finger held high to emphasise that important point I was making, that I was completely alone in Gattie’s lounge. Everyone had buggered off to bed and I had no-one to drink with. I looked around and found a corner, downed the rest of my berry mix and lay down to sleep. It was carpeted, I think.
Later I remember through a slight haze seeing Gattie asking if his prize bull was being slaughtered, but when he saw it was only me kneeling and hugging the porcelain bowl, he said ‘Oh’ and went back to bed. The porcelain bowl had amplified my sounds of slight distress like a large white telephone, waking him up in his bedroom far down the other end of the house.
It must have been a good clearing out as I felt fine when we left for the Grassridge Dam and the start of the marathon in Bruce Gillmer’s kombi a few hours later. Dave and Michelle were there and I spose some other hooligan paddlers and I’m sure my boat was on the roofrack. After a few km’s there was an ominous rumble and I knew I had a little lower intestinal challenge; which would have been fine – and some fun – if there hadn’t been a lady – and a real lady she is, too – in the bus.
I had to warn them. It was soon after a famous nuclear disaster, so I announced ‘We need to stop the bus or there will be a Chernobyl-like disaster on board.’ Bruce was a bit slow to respond, so it was only when the waft hit his own personal nostrils that he pulled over smartly and let me release the rest of the vapour at the roadside. Ah, that was better. With the pressure off I was fine again. I did notice I wasn’t talking so much about winning the race though.
The grumbling re-occurred on the dam, making that start the roughest I have ever endured. The wind and the waves on Grassridge Dam were worse than any rapids I have ever paddled. I was very glad to carry my boat down to the Fish River – leaving the dam stone last, I’m sure.
The river was plain sailing and the rest of the day a pleasure.
That night I sipped daintily at plain beer. I was beginning the long slow process of learning to think carefully when considering advice freely given by sundry Chairmen of Kingfisher Canoe Club.
See the Fun of the Fish in the Eighties (video)
My dates don’t tally. I thought I did the 1983 Fish, but Chernobyl was in 1986. I must have done the 1986 Fish. All I know is, the rinderpest was still a thing . .
The first race in 1982 attracted 77 paddlers in 52 boats. 37 boats finished the race, as the thick willows and many fences on the upper stretches of the river took their toll. It was won by Sunley Uys from Chris Greeff, the first person to shoot Cradock weir in the race.
In those days, the race was held on a much lower river, 13 cumecs (roughly half of the current level!) and it started with a very long – over 50km – first day. The paddlers left the Grassridge Dam wall and paddled back around the island on the dam before hitting the river, eventually finishing at the Baroda weir, 2,5km below the current overnight stop. The paddlers all camped at Baroda overnight, before racing the shorter 33km second stage into Cradock.
Stanford Slabbert says of the first race “In those days the paddlers had to lift the fences – yussis! remember the fences! – and the river mats (fences weighed down by reeds and flotsam and jetsam) took out quite a few paddlers. Getting under (or over) them was quite an art”.
“I recall one double crew”, says Slabbert. “The front paddler bent forward to get under the fence and flicked the fence hoping to get it over his partners head as well. It didn’t. The fence caught his hair and pulled him right out of the boat and they swam!”
Legends were already being born. Herve ‘Caveman’ de Rauville stunned spectators by pioneering a way to shoot Marlow weir. He managed to reverse his boat into the chute on the extreme left, and took the massive slide back into the river going forward, and made it!
The field doubled in 1983, as the word of this great race spread. 145 paddlers in 110 boats. It was won on debut by Joburg paddler Niels Verkerk, who recalls, ‘It was a very long first day, especially as the river was not as full as it is now (it was running at 17 cumecs in 1983). Less than half the guys shot Keiths, which was not that bad as the hole at the bottom wasn’t that big.’
At a medium level, the lines at Soutpansdrift were also different. The weir above Soutpans was always a problem, as there was no chute, no pipes. At the bottom of the rapid, the only line was extreme left, underneath the willow tree – yussis! remember the low-hanging willow trees! – and then a sharp turn at the bottom to avoid hitting the rocks, where the spectators gather like vultures.
It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships, and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime. Well, so far . . we would get better at some things as time went on.
Here’s the line-up!! It was 1970:
In the triple jump we had Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal. The driesprong.
In the pole vault we had Richter Hoender Kok, Std 9. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from Bethlehem Voortrekker school are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback (hoender, geddit?). The paalspring.
In the javelin we had Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it. Unknown factor, only frown wif a spear once before – at the recent Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms, where I had won the Victor Ludorum very unexpectedly. The spiesgooi.
The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced – to drink OR drive – so one of the guys who worked for his Mom Alet at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.
Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York and keen athletic spectator. That day.
The white Ford Corsair’s engine roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – and horror. Tiekiedraai songs, probly. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside likely the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner, who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that – if he’d please keep our beers. ‘MY FRIEN’! Of course I keep your beers cold for you!’ Stuck them under the eskimo pies, he did.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of Black Label Mansize cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales, Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy. Also known as “the law.”
Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any stimulant or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? And anyway those mansize cans were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers.
Let the games begin!
Steph’s event was first and we watched, moedig’d him aan and coached him. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and to us that = Gold Medal.
A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the quickening run, the cross-step, the full-strength launch, the perfect flight of me – and of the javelin – and my landing, right spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, second stage booster firing halfway, soaring past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem and pegging perfectly. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue, even though the skies were grey (which significant fact would come into play later that day).
Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff aluminium pole vs a bunch of long whippy fibreglass poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a newfangled pole but he declined. They take some getting used to.
Then it started to drizzle. The grey sky got wet. Suddenly everything changed! The langgatte with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep! The orange vest trifecta!
The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo. Sure, the movie was 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT.
We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked in the drizzle under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp for Hoender.
We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from under the eskimo pies and away we went “with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off in the twilight, heading east, the setting sun behind us, slightly pickled after glugging the 450ml of contraband nectar, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.
AND: We got our name up in lights and our handprints pressed in to concrete next to a big star on the pavement.
Well, the Harrismith Hoerskool equivalent: On the Monday morning we were mentioned in dispatches by Johan Steyl at assembly in the skoolsaal. He sounded rather amazed.
kranige – excellent; and handsome
hoender – his nickname; he looked a bit like a scrawny old rooster, I guess?
Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms – renowned school athletics meet, widely known in the district, like famous
tiekiedraai – Like, lame dancing that adults approve of; you were allowed to tiekiedraai, so who would want to
nê? – y’unnerstand?
moedig’d him aan – told him ‘C’mon, Move Your Arse! JUMP!’ Also coached him by saying the same thing
driesprong – triple jump; hop, skip, n jump
langgatte – long arses, tall chaps
spiesgooi – spear chuck, javelin; Seems all that practice frowing fings wif a stone of our youth translated well into frowing wif a spear.
gly’d – slipped
paalspring – pole vault; see how we pole-vaulted in the tough old days, with stiff poles and the ground ploughed over and a sprinkling of wood shavings and sawdust to act as a “soft” landing;
skoolsaal – hall where you assembled
HO de Villiers – Henry Oswald de Villiers (1945-2022) “HO” played 14 Tests and 15 tour matches for South Africa. Made his Springbok debut against France in Durban in 1967 and scored four conversions and a penalty as the Boks won 26-3. His last international was in 1970 in the drawn Test against Wales in Cardiff. He also represented UCT and Villagers at club level, and played in the blue and white hoops of Western Province from 1965 to 1975. HO revolutionised fullback play at the time with his counter attacks.
Years later a nocturnal visit to Senekal involving beer would not be as much fun; more dark hillbilly horror than daylight athletic fun!
It was 1981 and we were new in Durban. We decided to watch the Comrades Marathon, an 89km exercise in insanity being run “up” from the coast at Durban to the heights of Sleepy Hollow that year. Those days it was easy to follow the race: You just got in the way, parked wherever and got out whenever you felt like shouting encouragement to the possessed. Early in the morning we stood near 45th cutting and soon the runners arrived. Near to us was a short old bald whispy-haired fella shouting enthusiastic encouragement and giving two-thumbs-up to virtually every runner, some of whom – quite a number – seemed to recognise him.
Once the last stragglers had passed we started to head off to Dave’s green VW Beetle, but noticed the old bullet seemed lost. Can we help you? we asked. Do you know the way to the finish? he asked. Sure, and we’re going there, we said, wanna come along? I’d love that, he said gratefully, and that’s how two complete Comrades ignoramuses ended up driving Wally Hayward in the back of a Beetle to the finish of the 1981 Comrades – a race he had run five times AND WON FIVE TIMES!
Well, you couldn’t spend a morning with Wally without hearing a whole bunch of tales and we milked him for more and fell under the spell of this warm and unassuming bundle of energy. At the finish we sat on the grass and heard an announcement that some old bullet who won the race decades ago was there and was going to do a lap of honour. The wonderful brave soul – I think Phil Masterson-Smith, the 1931 winner – shuffled slowly around the track to tremendous applause, none louder than that coming from Wally who watched intently, quivering like a bird-dog with a huge grin and a wistful look in his eyes. I winked at Dave and snuck off to the announcer’s tower and told them we had the 1930 winner Wally Hayward with us, and could they make a fuss of him, too?
They could indeed! And so, 51yrs after first winning the race Wally hit the track, totally surprised – but also totally chuffed – and ran that 400m with a smile like a truck radiator and his knees flying past his ears looking for all the world like an escaped ostrich! I bet his 400m time would have been way up there among the quickest ever for a 73yr-old!
Yes, Wally had won in 1930, then again in 1950, ’51, ’53 and 1954! He had run this crazy ultra-marathon only five times in all and won it every time he entered, the last time at the age of 45, a record which still stood in 1981. It was only broken much later – in 2004.
It took us a while to find him after his lap of honour, celebrity that he now was, but yes, he still wanted a lift back to Durban please.
I s’pose he didn’t know the way!
Six years after we enjoyed this magic day, Wally ran Comrades again, thirty three years after his last run and shortly before his 80th birthday. He ran a magnificent race, beating half the field and beating the winner Bruce Fordyce on an age-handicapped calculation. Bruce himself mentioned and emphasised this after the race.
Wally’s memoirs were published in time for the 1999 Comrades by a wonderful friend of mine, fellow Comrades runner and Dusi paddler Bill Jamieson. He titled the book: “JUST CALL ME WALLY”.
89km in 9hrs 44mins just before his 80th birthday.
Dave Simpson wrote to me on seeing this post:
Well this does bring back memories – 33 years ago at that! Actually, we originally only planned to go as far as Fields Hill.
When Bruce Fordyce past us outside the Westridge Park Tennis Stadium, with his bunch of early race ‘klingons’ and yelled out ‘Walleeeee’ as he strode past the great man – we knew we were dealing with someone special. The rest you’ve said.
Me: I’d forgotten that! It was Fordyce’s first win that year. The first of nine.
In the back of my mind I thought we did know there was something special about him, but we weren’t sure who he was.
When he asked for a lift, did we already know who he was?
Dave again: No, we did not know who he was. When he asked for a lift, he told us that he was there with his mate, who wanted to follow his son who was a plodder at the back of the field. Dear Wally just assumed that we, like him wanted to watch the front runners.
As it turned out, Wally was wrong – we just wanted to be with Wally!
Among many other running achievements, Wally had also won the Harrismith Mountain Race. After the race, in typical generous Wally style, he called ‘The toughest race in the world!’ – just what we Harrismithians wanted to hear!
Wally Hayward died in May 2006 at the age of 97. In November, the Comrades Marathon Association announced that a new medal, the Wally Hayward medal, would be presented to runners for the first time in 2007. These special medals are awarded to those runners who fail to earn Comrades gold medals – awarded to the first 10 men and women finishers – but still come in under the six-hour barrier first broken by Hayward in 1953.
Wally Hayward was one of the greatest ever Comrades runners, with five wins in five starts over twenty four years, then two more finishes, up to fifty eight years after his first run. Comrades Association chairman Dave Dixon said in announcing the new medal, ‘He had a remarkable Comrades career, and is still the oldest person ever to finish the race.’
thanks to brandsouthafrica for some of the info here – read how Wally was branded a professional and barred from winning more Comrades; thanks also to Bill Jamieson’s book ‘Just Call Me Wally.’ Bill was a great character, Comrades runner and fellow Kingfisher Canoe Club member. In his later years we would meet and he’d regale me with his stories and his worries. A lovely man.
Years later, Dave Simpson met another SA sporting icon:
Rotary had a few strict rules for exchange students. I can remember one: Definitely No Driving. So I didn’t. Except when really drunk.
Off we went one night into the sticks for beer and loud music. After a few hours we needed more beer to be fetched from town and I shouted “I’ll Drive!”
Amazingly (also a beer effect?) Jay said OK!
His beautiful, prize Camaro looked a lot like this one.
So off we went with this foreigner driving on the wrong (left) side of the car and the wrong (right) side of the road. Driving perfectly and safely until we got to a right turn on the country dirt road. Most bends around Apache are right-angle bends – the roads mostly run north-south or east-west.
And then the wheels came off. Quite literally. Jay’s prize 15-inch back slicks on his beautiful hot dark green ’69 Camaro popped off the rims as I blacked out momentarily and gunned too fast around the bend, off the left-hand side into a ditch.
Jay crapped all over me but – friend he was – let me off amazingly lightly. This poor – guilty – foreigner was allowed to get away with it.
Yikes! VERY lucky escape! *embarrassed*