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

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My Born, Bachelorhood and Beer blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2014, slightly updated:

~~~oo0oo~~~

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. You could say he enjoyed Harrismith-Wide fame. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow – Chris Bester – was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Die Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Travel! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! OK, maybe not.

One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.

We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than the fine art of rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox, great sense of humour, good heart.

People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.

Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said ‘Nice enough, but no range.’ So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe? Maybe our voices were taken out of context?

The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours to sing for our province and the rejection cut us deep.

It became mine & Gabba’s standing joke over the decades that followed. Every time we met we’d have a laugh and then he’d update me on our athletics records: his for shotput and mine for the 100m sprint. Mine was eventually beaten. Gabba said ‘hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het.’ His shotput record probably still stands, as far as I know. It was a mighty heave.

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg
Gabba, disappointed songbird –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:

We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 7.2.1.8 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also if we’d known that Septimus the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.

~~~oo0oo~~~

spreeu – starling, but mistranslated as sparrow

Die Kanaries – the canaries

Vrystaatse Jeugkoor – Free State Youth Choir; it must be confessed we would mock it as the Yech Choir

broekies – panties; maybe bloomers

beroemde, kranige – famous, outstanding

Oos Vrystaat – Eastern Free State; our neck of the woods

hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het – a new guy arrived who ran like the wind

‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies – fuck knows

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Turn the other Tympanum

We good people of the Harrismith Methodist Church would never have taken Mrs Brunsdon to court for her singing! Sure, her singing was awful, but church would have been duller and there would have been less giggling and less to skinder about without her. She would bellow off-key and at her own pace, sniffing loudly from time to time and gazing all round the church mid-hymn; sometimes through her glasses, sometimes over her glasses; sometimes turning right round to see who was behind her. The sniffs would put her behind, so soon she’d be a few words and then a few lines behind but no way she would play catch-up. She got her money’s worth, singing every single word. In fact, our Mom Mary Methodist, the organist, would wait for her, as would we all.

Not so the Methodists in Lumberton, North Carolina USA. They were considerably displeased when William Linkhaw sang hymns very loudly and very poorly. Deviating from the correct notes, he continued singing well after the congregation reached the end of each verse. On one occasion, the pastor simply read the hymn aloud, refusing to sing it because of the disruption that would inevitably occur. The presiding elder refused to preach in the church at all. Upon the entreaties of a prominent church member, Linkhaw once stayed quiet after a particularly solemn sermon. But he steadfastly rejected the repeated pleas of his fellow congregants to remain silent altogether, responding that “he would worship his God, and that as a part of his worship it was his duty to sing.”

In their defence it must be noted that some of the better congregants of Lumberton Methodist – like us in Harrismith – found Linkhaw’s singing hilarious, but the bitter lot won out and decided to show him! They had the law hand down a misdemeanor indictment against Linkhaw, charging that he had disturbed the congregation. Obviously the LumberMeths had never heard Jesus’ clear instructions in his sermon that we ‘Turn The Other Tympanum.’ Or if they had, they were ignoring him! No wonder Ghandi reputedly said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ And if he didn’t he should have, as ‘Christians’ were mismanaging both his countries at the time: India and South Africa.

The case went to trial in August 1872. Several witnesses, including the church’s pastor, testified that Linkhaw’s singing disturbed the church service. One witness, being asked to describe the way in which Linkhaw sang, gave an imitation of it, singing a hymn in Linkhaw’s style. He provoked what the court described as “a burst of prolonged and irresistible laughter, convulsing alike the spectators, the Bar, the jury and the Court.” Witness testimony also showed, however, that Linkhaw was a devout and spiritual man, and the prosecution admitted that he was not deliberately attempting to disrupt worship. Linkhaw asked the court to instruct the jury that it could not find him guilty unless it found intent to disturb the service. He was right, but the judge rejected his request, ruling instead that the jury only needed to determine whether Linkhaw’s singing actually disrupted the service. The jury found Linkhaw guilty, and the judge fined him one penny.

Well!

William was not gonna take this lying down. He appealed the judgment to the North Carolina Supreme Court; the case was heard in 1873 and the court unanimously set aside the verdict. It accepted the jury’s ruling that Linkhaw had indeed caused a substantial disturbance. It also agreed that intent can generally be presumed when the defendant could have anticipated his actions. However, the court observed that the prosecution had expressly admitted that Linkhaw had no malicious intent. The justices therefore held that the presumption, being contradicted by uncontested evidence, did not apply. The court issued a writ of venire de novo, nullifying the jury’s verdict.

Well! We of the Harrismith Methodist Church liked our Mrs Brunsdon and we did not take her to court. We instead thought like the 1873 Supreme Court that since she was attempting in good faith to worship, she could not be subjected to criminal penalties. And we also thought thus:

“Although the proof sure did show / Ms Brunsdon’s voice was awful / us judges found no valid ground / For holding it unlawful.”

and

“While LumberMeths grumbled / and acted all nefarious / us Harrismithians benevolently / Thought it all hilarious.”

and

“If all things bright and beautiful / the Lord God made them all / Then sniffs and squawks discordant / Are welcome in the hall.”

and

“Old Brunsdon raised the rafters / some congregants did cringe / But she was screeching to her Lord / so we laughed, we did not whinge.”

I’ll stop now.

“Some thought that they could bellow / in holy tones so fine / but oo’s to know what the Mighty One / regards as a voice divine?”

I mean, how do we know the Good Lord likes it when he hears the famous Three Fat Blokes Shouting (some call them The Three Tenors)?

~~~oo0oo~~~

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_v._Linkhaw

The first poem at the end paraphrased and Harrismith’d from The Green Bag – self-described as “A Useless, but Entertaining Magazine For Lawyers.” Second and third limericks sommer made up.

~~~oo0oo~~~

skinder – gossip; juicy

sommer – just because;

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

Scotland the Brave 3

Miz Zobbs was scathing: Why can’t any of you whistle? Listen to Claudio! HE can whistle. Show them Claudio. It takes a boy from Italy to show you lot how to whistle!

Poor old Claudio Bellato dutifully pursed his lips and tootled some Italian to show us how it was done while probably thinking . . You Don’t Pronounce My Name Clawed-ee-oh.

See?! *SNIFF* *SNIFF* You see! shrieked the old duck, sniffing loudly and wobbling alarmingly.

Dora Hobbs, snuff-sniffing tour de force of Harrismith Volkskool could rampage. She would march up and down like a galleon in full sail, never happier than when commanding a choir.

She stopped us in mid-song once to berate us: How many of you can say that!? Huh? How many of you can say you’ve fought and won!? she demanded.

Us ten year-olds stared at her blankly. What was she on about? Did she think we actually thought about the kak we were singing? Weird.

We’d been singing:

There was a soldier, A Scottish soldier

Who wandered far away, And soldiered far away

There was none bolder, With good broad shoulder

He’d fought in many a fray, And fought and won

How many of you can say you’ve fought in many a fray? she brayed.

Jeesh!

– foughting and fraying –

Dripping disdain and snot, with snuff stuck in her moustache, on her glasses and on her ample bosom, she’d close her eyes, toss her head and mince around on her toes like a bulk ballerina. I think she was living in another world. When she opened her eyes and saw not dashing broad-shouldered soldiers in kilts, no underpants, wanting to woo the wee svelte lassie inside her, but instead snivelling pint-sized Vrystaters who would rather have been anywhere else in the dorp other than in “singing,” her mood probably grew dark.

Anyway, she probably didn’t know we fought of something totally different when she said ‘fray’ – and no we hadn’t done that either. Yet.

– Hobbs with a girls choir – the girls probly weren’t asked if they’d fought and fray’d –
– nor if they’d fought about fraying –

She could be vicious, too, I’m afraid. She beat Dries and Alvaro mercilessly when they irritated her. Across the shoulders, on the top of their heads, stalking them from where she sat behind us. Face-to-face she would smash the heavy 40cm wooden ruler on their fingertips. She was rooted in Olde English educational methods:

A. Find out what a child cannot do; and then . .

B. Repeatedly demonstrate that he cannot do it;

Stand him up in front of the class and order him to do that thing that you know he cannot do; HUMILIATE HIM; followed sometimes – depending who the child was – by . .

C. a public beating.

A bad show, really, even granting that having Std 1, Std 2 and Std 3 in one class was probably not easy. Still: Not right. 26 kids in a class is far from the most anyone ever taught. She picked on the vulnerable. I suspect she knew none of their parents would challenge her on their behalf. Nor would the headmaster. Others of us never got touched; never even a harsh word.

– tiny Alvaro seated right in front of the formidable Hobbs –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Years later I read a review of what James Joyce had written when his character’s knuckles had been viciously beaten by a sadistic Catholic priest in front of the whole class. I found it now:

Stephen knelt down quickly pressing his beaten hands to his sides. To think of them beaten and swollen with pain all in a moment made him feel so sorry for them as if they were not his own but someone else’s that he felt sorry for.

Stephen – the character in Joyce’s novel A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man – reported it to the rector and got at least some satisfaction and admiration for being bold enough to defy convention and make the cruelty known. In Harrismith Volkskool no such justice was done; nor even attempted, to my knowledge; no-one brave enough, me included; no-one believing it was any use to expect any justice or fair play.

~~~oo0oo~~~

volkskool – primary school

fought – thought

fray – woo, neck, kiss, make love, first fumblings

kak – shit

Vrystaters – citizens of the Free State; which was anything but

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

Tragic Testicular Descent

I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje I think, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her, gorgeous redhead she was.

I was a soprano and we looked down on the altos who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: ‘Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa  La LaLaLaLa.’

One day this delectable and discerning talent spotter, the red-headed Juffrou Ethel Cronje chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert. Me, the soloist!

Fame loomed. It was 1965 and even then, the image of a golden buzzer appeared to me in a vision. This thought crossed my mind: Harrismith’s Got Talent!

Then tragedy struck!

My balls dropped.

They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise. Co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent? And by the time the next konsert came around I hadn’t been banished – just discreetly consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.

* * *

Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya:
WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.

We got into the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni far away, where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, Dominique and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.

If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or the scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to the coastal village of ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket – though those were probably gratis?

Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.

After that epic and ground-breaking (sod-breaking?) tour, warbling faded in importance and rugby took over.

Later, there was one brief but intense attempt at reviving my career as a singer.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Harrismith Laerskool – the village school

Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor – very much like the famous Vienna Boys Sausages

ous – us men

‘Dek Jou Hol Met Bouse Off Hollie! FaLaLaLa LA LaLaLaLa’ – listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones. The highballs are on them.

seunskoor – boys choir

stampvol – sold out, overflowing; like – viral!

volksliedjies – folk songs; songs of ve Chosen People

gehoor – audience, fans; (they would have clicked ‘like’ or ‘follow’)

dankie tog – fanks heavens, sigh of relief

ReetShits Bye – Richards Bay, then still a small fishing village on the warm Indian Ocean, the bay still a natural estuary, not yet dug out for coal ships

Pa rum pum pum pum – listen to the sopraan-ous, they’re the ones

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Culture, FreeState Style. And Counter-Culture

At the Harrismith se Hoerskool, we were taught “sang” by Eben, well-known HNP lid of the Harrismith Tak who we thought fancied himself as a singer and ladies man.

HARRISMITH HS TEACHERS 1967 Eben

He tried his best, but we were not an easy task. The RIGHT way was very clear in ou Eben’s mind: Die Volk, Afrikaans, Die Voortrekkers, Die FAK Sangbundel, no “anglisismes” and no Engels. And modern music was the work of the devil. This much was not in doubt. This meant, of course, that the RIGHT way in our minds was – well, something other than that.

He announced one day in the asbestos pre-fab sangklas that we would now sing “Heb je al gehoord van den silveren vloot”, which wasn’t actually Afrikaans, being Hoog Hollands, but that was kosher in his world; followed by the pure Afrikaans “Wie is die dapper generaal? DE WET!” which made us all think we were singing a song of praise for our flyhalf, De Wet Ras.

At this, Skottie Meyer sighed audibly: “O, jis, sing ons al weer vir Fokken Faderland?”

Rugby HY 1972 Skottie

Well! Despite Skottie’s protestations that he had said “Volk en Vaderland”, he was despatched by a puce-faced Eben to the headmaster’s office, forthwith! Inderdaad! But he must have forgotten to go all the way because he appeared at the window behind Eben a minute later and proceeded to have us stifling grins the rest of the session.

I will confess we did sometimes sing words other than those strictly written down in the sangbundel.

Skottie has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Actually, they both have.