Comrade Skim

Six foot four inch Pete Stoute was running the Comrades Marathon, that foolish 89km exercise in torture held annually in KwaZuluNatal, when suddenly he heard a shout from around knee-level: “Yiss, Stoute, hoezit?”

He looked around, nothing. He looked down: There was Skim, short and round as a beachball, choofing alongside. Skim du Preez, kranige scrumhalf of the great Optometry rugby team of 1975.

Skim! What the hell are YOU doing here! he exclaimed. No, I thought I must do this thing, seeing I’m a boykie from Dundee, said Skim. – Dundee pronounced “DinDear” the Afrikaans way; it means ‘steenkool.’

They chatted a few minutes and then Skim said, Oh Well, Be Seeing You and ran off into the distance!! Left the long-legged Stoute in his dust!

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As often, one of my dodgy history lessons: Dundee, pronounced DinDear, is the famous site where British army troops, tired of being shot through their red coats and their white helmets, finally wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle. I wonder if their commander Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB still wore his red coat that day, though? He got shot in the stomach and died three days later as a prisoner of war in Dundee. These Boers would know: The caption says they were ‘watching the fight’ that day! Like a movie!

The British claimed a ‘tactical victory’ in the battle. Here’s the actual scorecard – a lesson whenever you read battle reports:

British casualties and losses – 41 killed, 185 wounded, 220 captured or missing;

Boer casualties and losses – 23 killed, 66 wounded, 20 missing.

And so the dispatch goes back to Mrs Queen in Blighty (perhaps sent by war correspondent Winston Churchill?): “We won.” Maybe he added “Um, send reinforcements” – ?

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stoute – the Afrikaans pronunciation “stotah” as in kabouter; it means ‘naughty.’

kabouter – Snow White and the seven kabouters

choofing – running like a gazelle

kranige – capable; brave; gallant; dashing

scrumhalf – not only a scrumhalf – see the comments

No – yes

DinDear – Dundee; coal-mining village; not in Scotland

steenkool – coal; or stone coal; but you can’t say just ‘kool’ cos that would mean cabbage

On Not Playing Rugby

Matric. Rugby season. I’m not playing. Old pipe-smoking, Andy Capp cap-wearing, grog-loving, moustachioed Stollie Beukes came up to me at school and asked straight-forwardly and politely, no weaseling, no guilt-suggesting. That’s him ‘playing goalie’ above.

“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”

“Ja, sekerlik,” I said, “Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” That would have ended it. I have an aversion to training in sport. Makes you sweaty. If you enjoy a sport, do the sport. Training? Ha!

“Nee, net op Saterdag,” he said.

Cool. So I got a coupla games on the President Brand Park B field; the field with the wooden poles on part of the cricket pitch. You can see the posts behind Stollie in the pic.

Being the mighty third (also last) team, we played early – before the first team, so we could all go and support them in our smelly kit. If it was in the morning there could be frost in the shade of those trees. The game would attract only a handful of the most die-hard spectators.

Lekker.

Then at the end of the season I played in the last game, the traditional matrics vs the rest of school. I don’t know who won? I dislocated my collar bone near the end and went off to see GP Mike van Niekerk, where he glanced at it, told me to wear a sling – “Your mother will know how to do it” – and then spent his time trying to change my future career. And he almost did.

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The next year I played a season of American football; Two years later I played rugger again. In Joburg for Wanderers Club.

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“Ons kort a paar manne in die derdespan. Sal jy vir ons speel?”– We need some superb and exciting talent in the Mighty Thirds. Will you sign up?

“Ja, sekerlik,” “Sal ek oefenings moet bywoon?” – Sure. I’m naturally fit, (right!) so I’m ready to play!

“Nee, net op Saterdag”– play the games only, no need to attend practice; a sign of desperation

Rugby Heroes – or ‘Delusion’

Ode to a Tighthead Prop – Author unknown (but probly some Kiwi – they tend to wax forth after a few). The poem could also be called ‘Delusions of Grandeur.

It was midway through the season
we were just outside the four
and although I know we won it
I can’t recall the score.

But there’s one thing I remember
and to me it says a lot
about the men who front the scrum –
the men we call “the props”.

We won a lineout near half way
the backs went on a run
the flankers quickly ripped the ball
and second phase was won.

Another back then crashed it up
and drove towards the line
another maul was duly set
to attack it one more time.

The forwards pushed and rolled that maul
They set the ball up to a tee
the last man in played tight head prop
and wore the number “3”

The ball was pushed into his hands
he held it like a beer
then simply dropped to score the try –
his first in 15 years.

Then later, once the game was done
he sat amidst his team
he led the song and called himself
the try scoring machine.

But it wasn’t till the night wore on
that the truth was finally told
just two beers in, he’d scored the try
and also kicked the goal.

At 6 o’clock the try was scored
by barging through their pack
he carried two men as he scored
while stepping ’round a back.

By seven he’d run twenty yards
out-sprinting their quick men
then beat the last line of defence
with a “Jonah Lomu” fend.

By eight he’d run from near half way
and thrown a cut out pass
then looped around and run again
no-one was in his class.

By nine he’d run from end to end
his teammates stood in awe
he chipped and caught it on the full
then swan dived as he scored.

By ten he’d drunk a dozen beers
but still his eyes did glisten
as he told the story of “that try”
to anyone who’d listen.

His chest filled up, as he spoke,
his voice was filled with pride
he felt for sure he would be named
the captain of that side.

By nights end he was by himself
still talking on his own
the club was shut, the lights were out
his mates had all gone home.

And that’s why I love my front row –
they simply never stop
and why I always lend an ear

when a try’s scored by a prop.

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This try was much like our mighty prop Hubby Hulbert’s try in our epic match against the InjunKnees. Do you recall? ca. 1975

Hubby found himself lying down for a brief rest on the ground under a mass of other bumsniffers when an oval object appeared next to him and he placed his hand on it. The ref went wild and indicated we had managed to beat the InjunKnees, a team no-one thought would be beaten.

We were dressed in our all-black jerseys, black shorts, black socks with OPTOMETRY in front and  ZEISS in white on the back. To show our appreciation to our jersey sponsors after a few beers – also kindly sponsored by them – we would shout “ZEISS ist Scheiss!”  I’ll admit, sometimes we weren’t impeccably behaved.

That game against those InjunKnees: We had spent 79 mins desperately defending our tryline when some scrawny scrumhalf type happened to get the ball by mistake and hoofed it as hard as he could in the opposite direction of where we’d been back-pedaling all day. Those days his hair colour matched the colour of our jersey; Nowadays the bits that are left match the colour of our logo

We got a line-out near their line, Hubby fell down, the ball fell next to him and he inadvertently became a match-winning hero. He’ll call it a tactical move.

I forget if he gave a speech afterwards in the Dev but we wouldn’t have listened to him anyway. We’d have sung ‘How The Hell Can We Buh-LEEEV You!?’

The game was played on the Normaal Kollege grounds in Empire Road, Jo’burg. We shouted for our hosts as we waited for them to finish their game so we could trot onto their field and display our brilliance. Up Normaal!! we shouted. Ab-normaal!

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On 2018/12/11 Peter Brauer (he of scrawny scrumhalf fame) wrote: Classic example of how bashful props become more truthful / eloquent when their throats aren’t parched.

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bumsniffers – forwards; the tight five; the slow; the engine room; the brains trust; depends who you ask

InjunKnees – engineers; they had a T-shirt slogan ‘six monfs ago I cooden even spel injineer and now I are one’

Normaal Kollege – anything but

Uh, Correction, Mrs Bedford!

** recycled post ** updated **

In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be his last game.

Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford, – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith English teacher and the captain’s Mom – hence our feeling like special guests! – up in the stands. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.

Tommy Bedford Springbok

Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”

We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.

jane-bedford-portrait

Mrs Bedford taught English as second language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!

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After:

In matric the rugby season started and I suddenly thought: Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.

So I didn’t.

It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.

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Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’

Bain of Harrismith

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven ‘Royal Bains’ and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the ‘Central Bains’, who owned the Central Hotel!

Playing rugby for Hilton, ‘Bain of Harrismith’ became the ‘Bane of Michaelhouse’ in the first rugby game between these two toffee-nosed schools.

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

A century later these rugby genes would shine again as Bain’s great-great-grandson also whipped Michaelhouse.

Lovely picture of the Michaelhouse scrum on top.

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Rugby in Harrismith was full of Bains and Blands:

1921 Rugby Team Bains Blands

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Please Release Me Let Me Go!

July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had gone to Bethlehem – surely the only town in the world where a big sign saying FAKKELHOF welcomes you as you drive in? – to see them play. Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored two tries in his very first game in an All Black jersey.

Check the Bethlehem news: ‘en daar was rugby ook’ – with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby!

We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought! You can be sure there’d have been much more rugby coverage had we won!

Rugby writer Terry McLean said: Paul Roos XV was, bluntly, a nothing team. Dannhauser and Fourie had good stances as locks in the scrummage. Lyell at No 8 had bags of pace which he used much too little and Burger, a hooker of some note, took a heel from Urlich, though he lost five in the process. But behind the scrum Froneman was an obsessive kicker and Kotze at fullback defended principally by making meaningful gestures from a distance.

And McLook said: I get heart burn (sooibrand) just reading remarks like this; it has always been one of the most irritating and frustrating things for me about South African rugby. As a provincial player you get one opportunity in your life to play against an international team so why would you waste the opportunity by constantly kicking the ball away. Secondly, it totally eludes me why selectors would pick individuals for a team if that individual does nothing else than kicking. If you want to kick a ball go play soccer.

Later the Silver Ferns played Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloemfontein and my mate Jean le Roux and I decided we needed to go and see that game as well. We hitch-hiked to Bloem, arrived in time and watched the game.

Hitch-hiking flip.jpg

Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.

1970 Free State -All Blacks.jpg

After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the pulley staasie, the cop shop, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with complete indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, ‘Wat maak julle hier?’ and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. ‘There’s a ladies cell vacant,’ he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.

Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffiti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept tentatively, trying to hover above those mattresses, which were also vieslik, and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the tiny little peephole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!

‘Vaddafokgaanhieraan?’ he asked. ‘Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith,’ we said, eagerly. ‘Dink jy ek is vokken mal?’ came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence! They were these ous:

SA police 1970

We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.

And then:

Hitch-hiking

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FAKKELHOF – doesn’t sound like welcome; sounds like go forth and multiply; literally Torch Court

‘en daar was rugby ook’ – oh, there was some rugby (after ooh’ing about all the ancillary pomp)

pomptroppies – drum majorettes

klapped – pasted; smacked

Wat maak julle hier? – what are you doing here?

vieslik – disgusting; sis

Vaddafokgaanhieraan? – Can I help you gentlemen?

Dink jy ek is vokken mal? – Do you think I’m gullible?

A Brief Encounter

I had skipped rugby in matric, then played seven games of high school American football in Oklahoma. When I got to Johannesburg I was ready to play rugby again, but as there was little sport at the Wits Tech, friend Glen Barker joined Wanderers club. He had a car, so I joined him and off we would go in the green 1969-ish Toyota Corona 1600 he inherited from his gran to the field in Corlett Drive for practice.

wanderers rugby2

I doubt there were 30 players among the under-21’s so we made the B side – probably by default; Opposition teams I remember were Oostelikes; Strathvaal; Diggers; Pirates; Rugged bliksems all.

At Strathvaal in the Wes Transvaal we played and lost and I was removing my boots at the side of the field when a senior coach asked me to please fill in for the senior 3rds – they were short. Their game had already started so I laced up and waited on the sideline for a gap. I ran on as a scrum formed and they got the ball. Moving up from inside centre I went to tackle my man and  – BOOM! was carried off on a stretcher.

Who knows what happened, but at about ten seconds it was the shortest game of any kind I’ve ever played! Those miners were built like brick shit houses and seemed to enjoy them some explosive contact!

The yellow & blue hoops of Strathvaal!

Strathvaal rugby

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I played a short international soccer game too, once.