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 looking 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 and joyful 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

“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars.” ― Stephen Fry

We learnt good.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Raiders of the Lost Saab

The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.

Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged.

– the occupants – Pierre, me, Steph, Tuffy, inset Larry –

When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!

– Saab engine brick spanner –

After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!

The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.

Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.

Tuffy tackles an ox en-route.

Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat.

Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage ‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee.’ His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.

As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Larry left for home – Cobleskill, New York – soon after, missing the school photo session. We sent him this:

– a picture of innocence –
– as can be clearly seen here, I should have been driving – I’m the only one here who’d had his eyes tested –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Groot Klip Kerk – see the action picture of us drifting; It’s the building in the background;

middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;

domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;

hoofseun – head boy;

Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;

grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;

‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee’ – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you? Moms always know what’s happening

Mielies – maize, corn;

drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;

~~~oo0oo~~~

R.I.P – Jan van Wyk died in a car accident ca.2010

Update again: R.I.P – Steph de Witt died in a car accident 2015

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Coldest Nights

Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!

– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s

– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca.1970

– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair, Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca.1968

– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche se Hoer Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca.1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!

– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. EVER! The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca.1983

With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca.1996

Cold!
– Silver fox, Kalahari Gemsbok Park –
Kalahari Gemsbok (1)

With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca.1996

This is why Sheila made us camp in THE most exposed spot!
Wasn't hot. Aitch still huddling in the tent!
– not warm –

Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca.1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?

With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca.1993

Nyika plateau
– cozy after a while –
Nyika plateau; Spoiling Aitch again with luxury lodgings . . .
– romantic dinner for two – in luxury accommodation –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions

Safety First, Old-Style

I was telling you earlier that the Road Safety slogan in days of yore was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk, Thank You Very Much and this was proven half true one night when I told Tabs ‘Listen, I think you’ve had a few too many and the best thing to do is to let ME drive.’

It was all Bess Reitz’s fault. She was buggering off to America and insisted we drink beer at the Holiday Inn . .

Bess farewell 1974

. . and that we then repair to her garage opposite the Town Hall to drink beer. We were all sad to see her go so we had drunk more than usual.

It was OK though, the cops wouldn’t catch as us we had a lookout in the tree on the pavement outside the garage in the form of John. Where a normal person would climb up a tree till the branches started thinning, John climbed up into the twigs till his head popped out from the very top and kept a 360° lookout shouting ‘Where are the coppers!?’ and ‘The coast is clear!’ and ‘Ahoy!’

Now it was true I had been with Tabs all night drinking and he could have said the same of me, but it was me talking, making my sensible suggestion. And anyway Pierre agreed with me and said he’d fetch me from Gailian after I’d delivered Tabbo safely home.

Bess farewell 1974_3
– and Bessie would have vouched for my condition –

Tabs was perfectly rational and amenable to my eminently sensible suggestion. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ll drive to the top of forty two second hill and then you can drive.’ I was perfectly rational and amenable to that suggestion and we set off down Warden Street.

At 190mph.

Tabbo had a green two-door Datsun SSS 1800 (Geoff Leslie had famously called his red Datsun 1600 his ‘Triple Ess Ess Ess’) and that thing fucked off went fast. We touched the tar twice on the way down Warden street and flew up 42nd Hill at a hell of a rate of knots. I was highly relieved when Tabs pulled over as promised and I took over, proceeding at a more sedate pace.

Soon after, I turned sedately into Gailian and the road took a sharp left and I didn’t. Changing down into second I let out the clutch but I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas, so we leapt forward into the only deep ditch in the veld for miles around. Tabbo bit a huge chunk out of the dashboard. I was OK as the steering wheel stopped me from doing the same. Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet. Or more accurately, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet *. OK, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t yet become popular.

As it turned out, speed hadn’t been the problem after all – it was the sudden stop that dented Tabbo.

Fortunately for us, Pierre was right behind us and took us to hospital where the local vet stitched up Tabbo’s lip and he ended up looking quite handsome after that. As the doc said Vasbyt Tebs, he said ‘Hit it Doc!’ but gripped my hand tightly as he said it. It was True Valour in the face of adversity.

The sudden stop and the hospital afterwards were NOTHING. We now had to face the hard part: Telling Stella. They were in bed in the dark, we couldn’t see them, we could just hear Stella.

She asked if we were OK. Hector was silent.

~~~oo0oo~~~

* I looked it up: The first U.S. patent for automobile seat belts was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York not long before our escapade. In 1885. So we weren’t used to them yet.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

An Old Mystery: Whose fault?

There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: (1). If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and (2). We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3). A moving car is a safe place to drink beer in. These are facts.

Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his family’s obliging gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy.

Tuffy always finished his before we hit third gear . . .

A quick routine stop to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.

We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel.* This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the fuel pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose.

In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?

Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed from the back seat, “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .

That broke the ice. The hill, meantime, had probably broken the suspension.

But no. A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.

Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months! And in not too many years’ time, we’d be licenced drivers.

I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!

A great big fault – or ditch? – runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.

Queen's Hill - Annotated

I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!

~~~oo0oo~~~

  • * Next time you’re wondering who made those ‘crop circles’? Think a) Homo sapiens; b) Homo sapiens subspecies pranksterii; c) Alcohol; These are facts.

 

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia

I’m fifteen?

The mighty Vulgar river had risen! It was flowing way higher than usual, and had overflown its banks. We needed to get onto it!
So Pierre and I dusted off the open blue and red fibreglass canoe the old man had bought us and headed off downstream early one summer morning from below the weir in the park.

By the time we started the river had dropped a lot. Still flowing well, but below the heights of the previous days. This left a muddy verge metres high where the banks were vertical, and up to 100m wide where the banks were sloped and the river was wide.

When we got to Swiss Valley past the confluence of the Nuwejaar spruit, we had a wide wet floodplain to slip and slide across before we reached dry land, leaving us muddy from head to toe. Dragging the boat along we headed for the farmhouse where Lel Venning looked at us in astonishment. I don’t think she even recognised us.

No, You haven’t! You can’t fool me! APRIL FOOL! she exclaimed when we said we’d paddled out from town.

Pierre and I looked at each other and he said “Happy birthday!”

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

Prohibition lifted, re-instated

The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.

It was 1969 and we were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had been unable to fill it so they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?

We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: The Karasburg Hotel. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.

We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. His relaxed response had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.

Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner or manager, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.

He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting our peaceful ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.

But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!

Early next morning we hightailed it out of the metropolis of Karasburg and headed for the nearby Finger of God. Was it going to wag at us sternly for our little alcoholic misdemeanour?

~~~oo0oo~~~

kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’

vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?

Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!

onderwyser – teacher

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Eat Your Heart Out Chuck Norris!

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Camping on the slopes of Platberg below Khyber Pass Pierre, Tuffy and I had made a fort of ouhout branches and cleared a big spot to make a fire. Sitting around talking shit when we heard a rustle and a shout and who appeared before us but Guillaume. He was excited that we were overnighting and asked to join us. Sure! we said. With pleasure!

He first had to head back to town, though, to go to movies. He had recently left school and had a date with one of the onnies. The one with the micro miniskirts! The one we had lustful thoughts about. That little blonde one with the pageboy hairstyle. That one!

Well after midnight there was another rustle, another shout, and Guillaume squeezed back through our hedge with a blanket over his shoulder and a plastic packet in his hand. He sat on the blanket, took a bloody ox heart out of the packet, stuck it on a stick and roasted it over the coals.

Look: We knew he was the nephew of the famous Deneys Reitz of Boer War Commando fame; and the son of legendary Dr Frank Reitz – but MAN, were we impressed! I mean Action Man had walked up a mountain in the dark, carried the lightest provisions (when we looked at the size of our rucksacks and sleeping bags), roasted and ate an ox heart – and pomped a teacher. All in one night!

Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris!

~~~ooo0ooo~~~

ouhoutLeucosidea sericea, lovely aromatic scrub bushes and trees found in stream beds in the Drakensberg our inselbergs, and surrounding foothills

onnies – teachers; from onderwyser

pomped – made love; who we kidding? had sex; shunted; or so we surmised

More great pics of Platberg here.

~~~oo0oo~~~