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5_Army days 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Loopspruit Army Basics

  • – – – draft – work in progress –

So there we were ensconced on a farm outside Potchefstroom among raw rockspider seventeen year-olds, fresh out of high school from all over South Africa. We heard it had been a reform school for delinquents before we got there and turned it into a military camp. A SAMS base – South African Medical Services. “Loopspruit” or “Klipdrif” they called it. We’d been sent there for “army basics”. We were around twenty four, having delayed the joys of military life by studying to become optometrists. In hindsight, maybe we shoulda done the army first!? Time would tell . .

Our barracks was an old science lab. It still had the thick wooden workbench tops, the thick ceramic washbasins with fancy taps and the bunsen burner attachments. And best of all – vinyl tile floors! That flooring was to become our biggest asset . .

One young dutchman was big as an ox, quiet as a mouse. He sat listening to us twenty four year-old oumanne praating Engels in fascination. In many pockets of the old South Africa you could grow up hearing very little Engels.

Suddenly one day our man became famous! He burst into song, singing three lines: ‘Are you lonesome tonight? Are your brastrap too tight? That’s why you’re lonesome tonight!

He sounded unlike Elvis:

We hosed ourselves and gave him a new name: Jelly Tots. He didn’t really like it, but his name was Lotzoff, and we would see him and say ‘Lots and Lotzoff – JELLY TOTS!’ He learnt new words from us – and taught us a new phrase too: When frustrated he didn’t say “fuck’s sake”, he said “fuck’s fakes” so that became our phrase too.

Another character was as small as Lotzoff was big. He looked twelve years old and was a compact, muscular, good looking, perky, cute little bugger. He had a smattering of  Engels and preferred to use it. Some of the others refused to even try – Stoere Boere. His name? GT Jones! Pointless giving someone with so apt and memorable a name a nickname. GT Jones!

We were in the medics and we had to know all about ambulances. GT Jones called them ‘ambuminces.’ And so was born a new name for one of the meals in the mess. On ground beef days we would refer to the stuff plopped onto our plates by the bored chefs as ambumince  – which led in turn, naturally, to gruesome speculation on its origin!

Among the older, optometrist inmates:
Graham Lewis – A companion worth his weight in gold. Never fazed, always cheerful. Keenly aware of the hilarity of this fake existence we were leading. He’d been assigned to D Company. We were in A or C Company and we were chuffed when he got transferred to our (better, natch) company. We were good company and so was he! D Company’s barracks was one of the old residences. Wooden floors. A nightmare to clean. They would regularly get bollocksed for dirty floors after hours of scrubbing them, while we got praise for our vinyl floors after all we had done was sweep them. Typical army illogical unfairness. They would lose weekend passes and we would win bonus weekend passes based on the luck of the floors we’d been allocated! Once while we were away on a weekend pass . . .

Basics was, uh, basic. Get up in the morning, bugger around with your clothes and other domestic stuff like making your bed; Assemble in straight stripes; March; March; Trudge; Omkeer! Eat; March; March; Trudge; MakeeriePAS! Holy shit . . .

Dave Cooper was another worth his weight in gold. Always smiling, always upbeat.

Les Chrich, Les Davies, Les Miller, Okkie Oosthuizen, Rod Stedall, who else?

~~~oo0oo~~~

Loopspruit – walking creek; running stream;

Klipdrif – stony shallow river crossing or drift;

oumanne praating Engels – old men (24yrs) speaking English

~~~oo0oo~~~

  • still to come –

weeding duty

guard duty – grootjas, cold; threats if caught not looking sharp on duty; one flyswatter gets DB – the dreaded Detention Barracks

Puma helicopter demo / race / stretchers – we win!

Categories
1_Harrismith 5_Army days 7_Confessions travel

High Speed Tug – or Stress in the Army

I suffered severe stress in the army in 1979. Once.

My two-tone 1965 Opel Rekord 4-door bench seat, column-shift sedan in sophisticated shades of grey: dark grey body, pale grey roof, grey upholstery; got indisposed while parked under the bluegum trees outside the Medics base camp on Roberts Heights – then Voortrekkerhoogte, now Thaba Tshwane. She wouldn’t start.

koos-opel-1976

This was serious! We had a weekend pass and there was a party on in the City of Sin & Laughter, aka the metropolis of Harrismith, as everyone knows.

Not a problem, said KO (surname). We were all KO’s: candidate officers. He kindly offered to tow me to Harrismith behind his V6 Cortina bakkie. A short piece of nylon rope was found and we set off.  I immediately thought Uh Oh!! as we hared off, accelerating furiously. Soon we reached what felt like 100 miles an hour. Slow down! I screamed silently. We hadn’t arranged any signals or communication, so I simply gripped the steering wheel and concentrated. If cellphones had been invented I’d have sms’d him: WTF RU MAD? Then I’d have worried about him reading his sms while driving at that speed.

I sat tensely, staring at the rear of the bakkie a mere six imperial feet from my bonnet. I couldn’t even see the towrope as we roared along. We’re going East so fast we hasten the setting of the sun.

Then it started to rain! Then twilight fell. Then it got dark, with the rain falling ever harder as my wipers feebly swished back, and then later on, forth. With the motor not turning, the battery got flatter and flatter and the wipers got slower and slower. Blowing the hooter and flashing my lights just made things worse – the wipers stopped if anything else was switched on. Upfront in the bakkie the music was so loud and the chit-chat so intense they didn’t even notice us. Or pretended not to?

There was nothing for it but to hang in there for hours. Worst journey of my life. My chin got closer and closer to the windscreen and my knuckles got whiter. Still the KO kept the bakkie floored! He had to get to Durbs where a girlfriend was waiting. My neck was tense and I don’t think I blinked once, staring at the top edge of the bakkie tailgate. My right thigh ached as it poised ready to brake – delicately! – at any moment.

An eternity later we pulled up in Harrismith, unhitched the towrope and off he went, on to Durban. ‘Hey, thanks!’ I said. ‘Appreciate it!’

Fu-u-uck-uck-uck!!! I had never felt such relief. The beer soon relieved the stress though. And soon the testosterone was saying ‘It was nothing.’

~~~oo0oo~~~