One Fine Day in April

Around 1965 or thereabouts, I got an early morning phone call filled with excitement and urgency: “Koos! Come quickly! Come see! There’s a snake in the hoona hock!”

Well, I was thrilled! This I had to see. You can live in a dorp and hike in the veld often and very seldom see snakes, so I hopped onto my dikwiel fiets and pedaled furiously. It was about a mile to the Joubert’s house. Down Hector Street, west along Stuart Street past Scotty’s house, past the MOTH Hall, then downhill in Piet Uys Street to their house on the spruit that ran between them and the meisieskoshuis.

As I pulled up the whole family was there to meet me, Aunty Joyce, Uncle Cappy, Etienne, Tuffy and Deon, laughing and shouting “Happy Birthday!”

There was no snake. I’d not realised it was the 1st of April.


hoona hock – chicken coop (actual Afrikaans hoenderhok)

dorp – village

veld – fields, grasslands

dikwielfiets – sophisticated mode of transport, a black balloon tyre bicycle

spruit – stream

meisieskoshuis – girls hostel

==== another time I forgot the 1st April ====

On Jumping Over a Rinkhals

This is actually older sister Barbara’s story. It’s her story because she was the brave one, and because she was about 50% older than me at the time, seeing I was four. She threatens to write it one day. In fact, she says she has written it down somewhere.

Here’s the way I remember it – probably modified by being told it over the years:

We lived on ‘the plot’ Birdhaven east of town on the forestry or sawmill road in Platberg’s morning shadow. One evening towards sunset we were playing in the back yard outside the kitchen door when Barbara needed to go inside to fetch something. Water to mix up some mud most probably? Near the door she came across a snake and took a flying leap over it (she would probably add ‘athletically’ or ‘gracefully’, but I bet there was a shriek involved about then).

I jumped up and ran closer to see a snake reared up and looking concerned. This caused me to show even more concern. Obviously it now posed a much greater threat, right? so I sensibly ran away, around the house and in at the front door. You know: Discretion? Valour?

After that I vaguely remember the black bakelite phone attached to the wall, the one you wound the handle energetically before picking up the modern one-piece ear-and-mouthpiece to give the live person on the other end the number you were looking for. I dunno who was phoning, wasn’t me.

telephone wall-mounted old

Here’s one of those phones in a museum

Then I remember the old man in the kitchen moving the stove with a stick in his hand and a box to guide the snake into.

I remember being told the rinkhals – for it was identified as such:  Hemachatus haemachatus if you’re looking it up – had “crawled into the back of the stove”.

And I remember being told that it was given to Tommy vd Bosch who would take it to the Durban Snake Park, poor thing – although I only thought “poor thing” years later now that I know it would have been better to release it where it belonged.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen

That kitchen door

Harrismith Birdhaven Rinkhals. jpg

That poor thing


The Rinkhals is endemic to Southern Africa. Though it resembles a cobra, spreads a hood and spits venom, it is not a true cobra and gives birth to live young. A grassland and wetland inhabitant, it feeds on frogs mainly, but also takes mammals and reptiles. When threatened it is very quick to disappear down a hole, but if cornered it will stand its ground, form a hood and spit, throwing the head forward when doing so, as it has a primitive spitting mechanism. The Rinkhals will also sham death very realistically, with its body turned upside down and mouth hanging open. Its venom is largely cytotoxic causing pain, swelling and potentially tissue damage. Bites are extremely rare and fatalities unheard of.