Come With Me To The Station

The old man inviting me to go someplace! How’s that!? I hopped into the old faded-blue VW Kombi OHS 153. This sounded interesting. We never went to the railway station. We’d go near there to the old MOTH hall and occasionally to the circus field when the Big Top was pitched there! But never to the station itself.

We’re fetching a family from Italy. The father is coming to work at the Standard Woollen Mills and they can’t speak English,’ says the old man. He picked up Italian in Italy around 1943 to 1946, first wending his way up the Adriatic coast in the Italian campaign and then later on involved in the post-war stuff armies do after the end of WW2, before flying home, having traveled the length of Italy south to north and into Austria. He kept up the language over the years mainly by fraternising with Boswell-Wilkie ** circus folk when they hit the Vrystaat vlaktes on the circus train and pitched the Big Top next to the railway line on the west edge of our famous dorp.

This exciting station trip was in 1965 or thereabouts. So we got to the stasie, the train rolled in and there hanging out of a window was a family of four: Luigi, Luigina and two sons about my age, fresh from Italy out. They were probably staring at my bare feet. But I’m just guessing.

– we met Claudio with some fanfare – maybe not this much –

I carried one suitcase to the kombi and then from the kombi into the Royal Hotel, where my great-uncle Smollie Bain was the barman. His Dad built the hotel and I think he stayed there all his life.

– the Royal – here’s where we took Claudio to stay – it was maybe some time after this photo was taken –

Soon Claudio and Ennio were in school, Claudio a standard below me in sister Sheila’s class, and Ennio a standard or two lower. They got a house in Wilge Park and so started many happy visits and sumptuous Luigina meals with the Bellatos – I can still picture her kitchen so clearly. And sundry happy adventures with Claudio.

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The only time before this anything Italian might have rolled up at Harrismith stasie might have been these Italian things ca. 1914.

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** Boswell-Wilkie Circus: Every few years for a while we would suddenly have clowns, lion-tamers and acrobats in our home! They all looked very ordinary, frankly, in their normal kit; except Tickey the clown. He and his daughter were instantly recognisable even without make-up because of their small stature and strong faces.

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Ah! Claudio read it and responded with compliments and corrections:

‘Excellent Koos. The year was 1967 – 24 March. Otherwise pretty accurate. A good read and great memories. ** laughing emoji – thumbs-up emoji ** Well done.’

Tool Chests

The Studley Tool Chest: Made out of mahogany, rosewood, walnut, ebony, and mother of pearl.

Henry O. Studley (1838–1925) was a carpenter, organ and piano maker, who worked for the Smith Organ Co. and later for the Poole Piano Company of Quincy, Massachusetts. He is best known for creating the famous Studley Tool Chest, a wall hanging tool chest that cunningly holds 218 tools in a space that takes up about a metre by half a metre of wall space when closed.

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I wrote about this in Feb 2014. I got responses:

Steve Reed wrote: In his entire married life, Henry Studley only came inside the house at mealtimes and to sleep. Otherwise he was out in the shed. Must have had a bag of a wife.

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Me: Or just his pri-horities right ?

Talking about living in the shed:
Did I tell you my ole man bought himself a new lathe? Brand-new wood lathe with a 1m gap between the headstock and the tailstock. The headstock can swivel so he can turn bigger bowls – and turn them sitting down. Says he can’t die now for at least three years to justify the purchase and to finish the chisel handles and tables he has in mind . . . ninety one and counting . . .

Went to visit the other day. Their tenants have left and I found the ole man in the second house on top of a stepladder, muttering that they’d left their curtains up. Bitched good-humouredly when I took over and removed the rest of the curtains: ‘What do you think? I’m too old to climb a stepladder?’ Uh, yes, Dad.

Now he wants to buy a new kombi – with the old lady’s money! Goat . . .

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Peter Brauer wrote: I’m with your old man on this one. Want a job done properly… do it yourself

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Me: Want a job done properly, procrastinate till it no longer needs doing . . most peaceful*, cost-effective method I’ve found.

*under the new regime. Under the old regime this method was NOT peaceful . .

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Brauer: I don’t know what procrastinate means, but stuff it, I’ll find out tomorrow.

Caltex Calenders

Annie had a Caltex garage; Dad worked for Annie; Louis Schoeman traveled for Caltex. Between 1962 and 1971 Caltex gave cloth wildlife calenders as their gift to their filling station owners.

Dad (now 96) says Louis would ‘forget’ to hand them out and he would insist on seeing what was in his boot. And there, ‘along with the sheep shit’ were the calenders! An inveterate collector, Dad would get ‘his’ share! Right! That’s why he has quite a few duplicates!

– I could find nothing on the internet about BK Dugdale – Mom’s hand here in pic –

Some have been sewn together to make table cloths. He still has plans for them, can’t get rid of them. He knows someone who will make them into cushion covers. Then he’ll get some cushions . .

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He’s had it done: The calendars are now table cloths and cushion covers and he’s very proud of them. Can’t understand why his eldest daughter didn’t rave about them! She doesn’t like them, I dunno why; I like them. Nice and colourful.

Post Office Linesman

Dad was a Post Office technician. He applied for ___ which was more technical, but was given electrician. He did his apprenticeship ca.1938 and was soon put on telephones for some reason, given a truck and sent off to Ixopo where he was assigned a “line boy.” Actually an adult to do lots of the hard work for you. His line boy’s name in Ixopo was Charlie.

telephone linesman from pinterest
– testing, testing –

Himeville fell within his area and he got to know the lady in charge of the General Post Office there – Miss Viven Wise. Miss Viven D Wise, actually, which got the young techies snorting as “VD” was rude. She spoke of the Sani Pass up into Basutoland and how beautiful and rugged it was, so when out that way one day Dad decided to see if he could get there. He soon came across a stream he had to ford, so out jumped Charlie to pack stones in the stream so the truck could get across. Soon another stream and the same procedure. After the fourth stream he decided this is going to take too long and turned back.

He also tells of putting in new telephone lines. From one farm to the next the line would go as the crow flies, over hills and through valleys. They’d be allocated long gum poles treated with creosote and they’d take them as close as they could in the truck, but to some places they had to be carried on their shoulders. Heavy and the creosote burning their shoulders, they’d lug them over the veld, dig the holes and plant them.

I’m guessing Charlie did more than his fair share?

telephone linesman handsets
– linesman handsets –

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Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in town) I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these four paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood –
– shrubs beside a cascading stream –

I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:

– spot on!! – an image locked in my brain for maybe fifty years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge near Walton farm? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.

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Sgt Culling on Kings Hill

One of Annie’s workers at the Central Service Station on the corner of Warden street and Southey street – the ‘Caltex garage’ as we knew it – was called Johannes. Because he looked so different from the other petrol attendants, we learnt his surname. He was Johannes Culling.

Today I found out a bit more:

The Boer War started in 1899 and ended in 1902, but a lot of British soldiers stayed on in Harrismith until 1913. One of these was Sergeant Culling, stationed on Kings Hill. He, in fact stayed on even longer, as he married a local lady and went to live with her in the ‘location’ called ‘Skoonplaas’ outside town, probably when it was south of Queens Hill on the far (left) bank of the Wilge river.

Dad knows of three children: Johannes, Henry and a daughter. They could not have had an easy life in the Free State of yore and Dad tells of problems: ‘run-ins with the police due to drinking and fighting.’

That’s all I know . . .

Local Knowledge

Another of Dad’s tales:

Koos Mof van Wyk was a bachelor who lived with his Ma out on the Kestell road. One evening he drove home and a Joburg driver drove right up his bum as he slowed suddenly on the main road in order to turn in at his gate.

The Joburg oke was angry, ‘Waddefok maak jy dat jy sommer so skielik stilhou innie mirrel vannie pad!?’

Koos Mof was astounded. Waddefok maak JY!? he yelled.

Almal weet dis my hek hierie en ek draai altyd hier in. Ek is Koos Mof en ek BLY HIER!

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Joburg driver: How can you just stop in the middle of the highway!?

Koos Mof: What do you mean!? Everyone knows this is my gate and I always turn in here! I LIVE HERE!

Rhodesia in a Vauxhall Victor

Sometime back in the fifties uncle and family lawyer Bunty Bland needed to go up to Rhodesia – ‘up north’ – to sort out the sale of his sister’s property. His Rhodesian brother-in-law drove down to Harrismith to fetch him. As ever, the finer details of my story should be checked out . . . pinch of salt. The car is probably right, the country – now Zimbabwe – is almost certainly right, and two of the people – Dad and Bunty – are right, that’s all I know. At first Dad said they drove up in Bunty’s Rover, but I couldn’t find a Rover station wagon. Seems they left ‘that sort of thing’ to Land Rover. I found this Vauxhall Victor station wagon and then Dad remembered it was the bro-in-law’s car and yes, it was a Vauxhall! Memories! Dodgy things.

The reason they took young Pieter Swanepoel, husband of favourite niece Mary, along was to share the driving. He says he ended up driving all the way there and back.

With him he had his new Eumig 8mm cine camera! He took footage of the ruins of the magnificent Great Zimbabwe. Bunty features in his trademark ‘fairisle’ sleeveless jersey . .

Other footage featured the Vauxhall, Bunty again and some fountains . .

Chaka’s Rock Luxury Beach Cottage

Back in 1963 we joined the du Plessis on a one-week beach and fishing holiday on the Natal north coast – Chaka’s Rock! They were beach regulars, this was one of our two beach holidays that I can remember. (flash: there were three!). Louis Brocket wrote in to remind us that, as Lynn’s boyfriend, he was also there for his first “vakansie-by-die-see“.

Sheila writes: “Found a postcard which Mary Methodist sent to her Mom Annie Bland (1½ cent stamp – remember the brown Afrikaner bull?). Mary wrote ‘We’re enjoying the swimming immensely. Coughs no worse in spite of it. We’re sleeping well and eating very well. The coast is beautiful. This is a picture of the pool where we swim.’ I think the three little Swanies all had whooping cough. Must have been fun for the du Plessis family who shared our holiday!”

It was amazing! The cottage on a hill above the beach, the rocks and seaside cliffs, narrow walkways along the cliffs that the waves would drench at high tide; magic swimming pools set in the rocks. The men were there to fish:

We baljaar’d on the beach and sometimes even ventured into the shallows – just up to safe vrystaat depth. A swimmer I was not, and I still vividly remember a near-death experience I had in the rock pool: a near-metre-high wave knocked me out of Mom’s arms and I was washed away out of her safe grasp! I must have been torn away by up to half a metre from her outstretched hands; little asthmatic me on my own in the vast Indian Ocean for what must have been a long one and a half seconds, four long metres away from dry land! Traumatised. To this day I am wary of the big-dam-that-you-can’t-see-the-other-side-of, and when I have to navigate across any stretches of salty water I use a minimum of a Boeing 737, but preferably a 747.

Well, this was the most threatening Free State water I was used to braving before I met the Indian Ocean: Oh, also the horse trough.

– and even then I’d lift my broek just in case –

The view from the cottage looking down the flight of stairs:

vakansie by die see – beach or seaside holiday for naive inland creatures

baljaar – frolic

safe vrystaat depth – about ankle deep

postscript: I tried to keep up the luxury cottage theme but Barbara talked about the big spiders on the walls and yesterday even Dad, who was talking about Joe Geyser, mentioned ‘that ramshackle cottage we stayed in at Chaka’s Rock.’

Dad was saying Joe hardly ever caught a fish. He would be so busy with this his pipe, relighting it, refilling it, winding the reel with one hand while fiddling with his pipe with the other. My theory is the fish could smell the tobacco and turned their nose up at his bait. Dad reckons tobacco was never a health hazard to old Joe. Although he was never without his pipe, it was mainly preparation and cleaning, and the amount of actual puffing he did was minimal.

Once he caught a wahoo and brought it back to Harrismith. Griet took one look at it as he walked into her kitchen and bade him sally forth. Some wives had agency. So Joe brought it to Dad and they cut it up and cooked it in our kitchen.

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I went back in 2016 and the beach and rocks and the pools still look familiar.

But don’t look back! The green hillslopes have been concreted.

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Harrismith & District Gymkhanas

Dad remembers the gymkhanas he took part in and so enjoyed in the late 1930’s and mid-to-late 1940’s.

They were held in Harrismith, Eeram, Verkykerskop, Mont Pelaan and Aberfeldy; and on the farms Appin near Swinburne, Primrose near van Reenen, and Maraishoek.

The entry fee was one pound per event – and prize money was less than the entry fee!

Events included Tent pegging; Sword and ring; Sword; Lance & ring; Potato & bucket.

Races were the bending race, we’ll need to ask him what that was; and the owners race, where the owner him or herself had to ride, no hiring a jockey!

Regular participants he recalls are Manie Parkhurst Wessels; Bertie van Niekerk; Kerneels Retief; Richard Goble; John Goble; Kehlaan Odendaal; his son Adriaan and his daughter Laura; Laurie Campher; Hans Spies and his kids Hansie, Pieter and Anna (Anna later married Jannie Campher, who helped Frank Bland with his farming for a while).

Dad says he was the only non-farmer riding! Kerneels was usually his partner.

gymkhana-tent-peg

**  internet pics  ** If anyone has some real Harrismith district gymkhana pics I’d sure love to display them – with full acknowledgment of course.

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– SA Champions from Harrismith – photo from Leon Strachan –

Here’s footage from a gymkhana in Cape Town in 1940. With hilarious Pommy-ish commentary.