Borrowing Cars Genetic?

We used to borrow our parents cars on the without-permission system and drive around at night with the ultimate destination being the Royal Natal National Park Hotel down Oliviershoek Pass. That was a triumphant destination I only achieved once, other times we went to Little Switzerland, halfway down the pass. Or Kestell.

Once Steph de Witt decided to raise the bar and we headed off to Durban with the goal of putting our toes in the warm surf of the Indian Ocean and getting back to Harrismith before sunrise but we ‘changed our minds’ soon after Ladysmith and turned back.

I knew this habit could not be genetic as Mom would never have done such things, but recently I found out something which may throw new light on the possible causes of such fun behaviour.

Mom’s older sister Pat matriculated at Girls High in Pietermaritzburg while Mom matriculated at Harrismith se Hoer. I suddenly wondered why, so I asked.

Oh, she was getting into boys so Dad sent her off to boarding school, said Mom. She must have been in standard eight and about fifteen or sixteen years old.

Apparently some boys had borrowed a car from Kemp’s Garage in Warden Street and headed off to Royal Natal National Park Hotel back before it was Royal. It only became Royal after the Breetish Royal visit in 1947 and this must have been about 1941. Mom thinks Pat’s fellow felons may have included Michael Hastings and Donald Taylor. Pat, being the fun-loving person she always was, was right there! FOMO (fear of missing out) was a thing then too, even if it didn’t yet have an acronym! I know I had it big as a teenager.

The hotel looks like this now, but not because of us, swear!

Royal Natal National Park Hotel - Heritage Portal - June 2014 - 1

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Potted history of the Royal Natal National Park area:

In 1836, while exploring Basutoland, two French missionaries, Mons. Arbrousset and Daumas first discovered Mont-Aux-Sources, the source of three rivers. In 1908 the idea of establishing a National Park in this area was conceived, and the territory was explored by Senator Frank Churchill, General Wylie, Colonel Dick and Mr. W.O. Coventry. Recommendations were put forward, but it was not until 1916 that the Secretary of Lands authorised the reservation of five farms, and certain Crown Lands totalling approximately 8160 acres and entrusted it to the Executive Committee of the Natal Province.

On the 16 September 1916 the National Park came into being. An advisory committee was appointed to control the Park. Shortly afterwards the Natal Provincial Administration purchased the farm ‘Goodoo’, upon which a hostel for hikers had already been opened in 1913 by W.O.Coventry, and incorporated a small portion of the Upper Tugela Native Trust Land, thus swelling the National Park to its present 20 000 acres. The Advisory Committee was abolished in January 1942, and the Park was administered by the Provincial Council until the formation of the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board on the 22 December 1947.

Mr. F. O. Williams held the first hostel lease rights on the farm Goodoo which he obtained from Mr. W.O. Coventry, the original owner. Mr. Coventry became Lessee of the whole park in 1919, and took over the post of Park Superintendent in August 1924 at the grand salary of five pounds per month. In 1926 he was succeeded by Otto and Walter Zunkel, who each added their share of buildings and improvements. Mr. Alan Short was the next Superintendent.

Short was in charge when the Royal Family visited the Park in May 1947. Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted King George VI, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to take a break from their two-month tour of southern Africa and see the splendour of the Drakensberg. It was Elizabeth’s first overseas trip and she celebrated her coming-of-age there, drafting her first important speech at the hotel.

The Royal family were so impressed with their stay that they insisted that the hotel and national park be granted the “Royal” designation.

Today, the Royal Natal National Park is managed by KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation body of KwaZulu-Natal.

Here’s why everyone loves the area:Amphitheatre Pierre (1)

Picture taken by Pierre du Plessis while he was working down there.

World Firsts

Or – Firsts in the Vrystaat (well, sort of . . . Firsts For Us! There you go).

In our little world:

  • We invented Hijacking – of the Orange Express (check post)
  • We invented Streaking – in Kimberley (check post)
  • We invented Drifting – on the athletics track in the park (check post)
  • We invented Selfies – in Oklahoma (check post)
  • We invented Kidnapping – on birthdays, anyway*
  • We invented self-driving cars

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Tobogganing – We didn’t invent tobogganing in the Vrystaat, but we thought we maybe invented summer tobogganing. We did it on old car bonnets that we found in the dongas east of town between King Street and the new bypass, which wasn’t there yet – just veld. Cardboard boxes worked too, but had a short lifespan. These guys were doing it in 1872 in the snow. OK, we were in the 1960’s – not cardboard on grass, but upside -down car bonnets down dongas.

But we did invent Mountain Biking, we were sure. MTB’ing on our dikwiel fietse in and around those same dongas ca 1966 to 1970. Ramping, jumping and gooi’ing squares. Along the dongas and across the dongas. Maybe those fietses weren’t really built for that kind of action (no shocks, flimsy mudguards), as the mudguards caught on the wheels and got scraped up into weird shapes. We find the excessive use of helmets these days puzzling.

History according to wikipedia: The original mountain bikes were modified heavy cruiser bicycles used for freewheeling down mountain trails. The sport became popular in the 1970s in Northern California with riders using older single speed balloon tyre bicycles to ride down rugged hillsides. See! We were first!

Bicycle Dikwiel deluxe.jpg

HijackingThe earliest documented instances of maritime hijacking were in the 14th century BC, when the Sea Peoples, a group of ocean raiders, attacked the ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. OK, that was before us. Train hijacking? OK, there was this military raid that occurred on April 12, 1862, in Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army commandeered a train and took it northward toward  Chattanooga Tennessee. If you look closely, one of the raiders does look a bit like a Venning;

train-hijacking

StreakingWhen and where streaking started is unknown. A 1967 article in the student paper at Carleton College in Minnesota laments that streaking was a tradition during winter when temperatures were well below freezing. OK, so we were in 1969, maybe they beat us. Anyway it seems Lady Godiva beat us all to it:  An English noblewoman who, according to a 13th century legend, rode naked – but covered by her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. In later versions of this legend, a man named Tom watched her ride and was struck blind or dead. The name ‘Peeping Tom’ for a voyeur originates here;

DriftingAlthough the origin of drifting is not known, Japan was one of the earliest birthplaces of drifting as a sport. It was most popular in the Japan Touring Car Championship races. Kunimitsu Takahashi was the foremost creator of drifting techniques in the 1970s. But first there was us in the late 60’s in a black front-wheel-drive Saab! The venue: the streets  of the metropolis of Kestell and the athletic track in Harrismith. Steph at the wheel! Deftly dodging the bluegum tree stompe specifically placed on the track to deter hooligans. In vain.

This church saw some good drifting in its day

Selfies – I took my selfie in 1973 in Oklahoma, which was WAY before it became popular.

ApacheOK73 (8).JPG

selfie-1839-robertcornelius  serious-selfie

OK, this Robert oke did it in 1839, and this lady had better equipment – in both ways.

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Kidnapping – Tuffy started kidnapping in 1970 but these fellas kidnapped this bride 100yrs earlier in 1870:

bride_kidnapping-1870

*Birthdays: Tuffy started the tradition of birthday kidnapping, grabbing a birthday boy and bundling him into a sleeping bag, tying the top closed. Then driving him somewhere and dumping him to make his own way home. When it was Tuffy’s turn we simply dumped him out of the sleeping bag into the pool at the du Plessis’ place as he happened to be born on the Winter Solstice, 21st June, shortest day of the year. Oh, yes – and the coldest! So he didn’t have a long walk home, lucky fella. Funny thing is, he didn’t thank us . . .

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Rally Cross – Tim Venning in the blue Triumph 2000 roared around and between the old popular trees and oke trees and other trees on the far side of the Harrismith President Brand park across the Vulgar river. Just when you thought he had to go straight he’d cut left between trees and hare off on another tack. People watching might have dreamt up today’s rally cross.

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Self-driving cars – Or cars fuelled by one kind of inflammable substance while the drivers were fuelled by another. Old hat. Elon Musk was still growing pimples.

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donga – Dry gully or arroyo, formed by the eroding action of running water; fantastic cowboy movie scenery;

gooi’ing squares – slamming on the back brake while throwing the bike on its side, skidding dramatically while looking nonchalant; chicks swooned;

dikwiel fietse – fat- or balloon-tyred bicycles; Chicks swooned over ous who rode them;

ous – handsome young rakes; cool cats;

 

I Must Go Down To The Sea Again . .

. . . to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

Maybe Steph was thinking of Masefield’s poem when he suggested we’d done enough short jaunts with our parents’ cars late at night while the dorp was sleeping and good kids were in bed dreaming of homework well done.

Been to Kestell? Tick;

Been to Swinburne? Tick;

Been to Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Had a head-on collision with a hill on Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Drifting laps around the atletiekbaan in Pres Brand Park? Tick;

Donuts on the high school netball courts? Tick;

What was there left to do? Maybe this was the first sign of his lifelong love of the sea (sailing his huge ocean-going catamaran and fishing on his skiboat off Sordwana)? In those far-off days, that was yet to come.

Whatever – (let’s face it, more likely Steph was just thinking ADVENTURE! REBELLION! ADRENALIN!) – he started us plotting a biggie.
It was most probably he who came up with the bold idea:
I know. Let’s go to Durbs, dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and bring back a bottle of sea water, and – as always – be back before sonop.
RIGHT!!

We must plan:
– We need the white Corsair, not the black Saab; It’s faster.

Here’s what it looked like except Gerrie’s was white. And four-door. Otherwise like this.

Ford Corsair

We must leave much earlier. We can’t wait for our parents to fall asleep; We need longer.

But not too much planning – I don’t remember discussing fuel or mileage or consumption. Those weren’t really fashionable topics in those days.

So Steph strolls into his Mom Alet’s bedroom, the one nearest the long getaway driveway, to talk to her as she lies reading in bed. At a given signal we start wheeling the Corsair out of the open garage and down the long driveway to Stuart Street. The driveway is downhill – that helps – and made of two long concrete strips – that doesn’t help: the wheels fall off the edge GghgGghgGghg! SHHH! shhh!

And they’re off!
There’s no beer this trip. This is more serious. It’s a journey, not a jaunt. We have a mission.

We roar past Swinburne; We roar past van Reenen; Down van Reenen’s Pass; Past Ladysmith and on into unknown territory.

Suddenly: Blue lights! Oh Shit! They’re after us. We slow down a little bit. Just to the speed limit. We sit straight in the car, no slouching. We rehearse our story: Ja Meneer. Nee Meneer. The flashing blue light fills the car – then overtakes us and whizzes past and shrinks into the distance.

We slow down. We think. We reconsider. Wordlessly, we make a U-turn and head back to the big HY.

Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted.
And anyway, that story about the bottled sea water is just a myth.

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I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

R.I.P Steph, our histories are forever entwined. You are part of who I am. My sense of self would be poorer without those mad crazy daze!

R.I.P Steph

I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.

I’ll write later.

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Here’s how we’ll always remember him. Us who knew him in the 60’s and 1970 (his matric year).

The fab five strikes! Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture

The fab five strikes! Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture

His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, generous to a fault (he would dispute the ‘fault’ part).

Steph funeral 5

His family and colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going.  was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.

I have written about our schooldays here:

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/raiders-of-the-lost-saab/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/chariots-of-beer/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/woken-by-the-tamboekie/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/an-old-mystery-whose-fault/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/the-night-we-hijacked- the-orange-express/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again/

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Also:

We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades *  and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert  our American Rotary exchange student were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.

One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!

Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.

He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.

Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.

His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.

Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!

Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:

Larry Visits from Ohio (4)

Pierre, Francois, Koos, Steph, Tuffy, Larry

*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought “No you won’t”.

** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!
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Pierre at Steph’s funeral:

Pierre at Shady Pines

Shady Pines

Shady Pines de Witt

Moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad day:

The moon rising as I left to go back to Durbs

“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”

  • paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist

Raiders of the Lost Saab

The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.

SAAB_96_De_Luxe_1961

Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged.

When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!

After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!

The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.

Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.

Tuffy tackles an ox en-route.

Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat.

Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage “Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee”. His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.

As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible.

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Groot Klip Kerk – see top picture

middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;

domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;

hoofseun – head boy;

Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;

grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;

“Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee” – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you?;

Mielies – maize, corn;

drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;

Chariots of Beer

It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime. Well, so far . . . we would get better at some things as time went on.

In the triple jump we have : Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal.

In the pole vault we have: Hoender Kok, matric. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from Bethlehem Voortrekker school are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” (hoender, geddit?) after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback.

In the javelin we have: Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it. Unknown factor, only thrown once before – at the Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms.

The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced – to drink OR drive – so  one of the guys who worked for his Mom at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.

Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York. He had brought Bill Cosby’s “Why is there air?” vinyl LP to the Free State without Hertzog the censor baas knowing it. NOAH! Ri-ight! What’s a cubit? Vupa vupa vupa. (You had to have heard it).

The Corsair’s engine did sound a bit like a Cessna engine as we roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – well song anyway. Tiekiedraai songs. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner, who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that – if he’d please keep our beers.

Oh yes: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of Black Label Mansize cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales, Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy. Also known as “the law”.

Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any stimulant or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? And anyway those mansize cans were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers.

Let the games begin! Steph’s event was first and we watched and moedig’d him aan. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and that = Gold Medal.

A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the run, the full-strength launch, the perfect flight of the javelin and my landing, spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem and pegged perfectly. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue.

Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff pole vs a bunch of long whippy poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a fibreglass pole but he declined. They take some getting used to. Then it started to drizzle. Suddenly everything changed! The okes with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep!

chariots athletics.jpg

The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo. Sure, the movie was 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT.

We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp.

bluegum-trees

We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from next to the eskimo pies and away we went “with the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off in the twilight, heading east, the setting sun behind us, slightly pickled after glugging the 450ml of contraband nectar, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.

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Years later a nocturnal visit to Senekal involving beer would not be as much fun; more hillbilly horror than fun!

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kranige – excellent; and handsome

hoender – his nickname; he looked a bit like a scrawny old rooster, I guess?

Harrismith Hoerskool Atletiekbyeenkoms – renowned school athletics meet, widely known in the district, like famous

tiekiedraai – Like, lame dancing that adults approve of

moedig’d him aan – told him C’mon, Move Your Arse! JUMP!

driesprong – triple jump; hop, skip, jump

langgatte – long arses, tall chaps

spiesgooi – spear chuck, javelin

gly’d – slipped

paalspring – pole vault; see how we pole-vaulted in the tough old days, with stiff poles and the ground ploughed over to act as a “soft” landing;

An Old Mystery: Whose fault?

There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: 1. If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and 2. We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3) a moving car is a safe place to drink beer in.

Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy. Tuffy finished his before we hit third gear . . .

A quick routine stop to bash the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.

We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel. This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the petrol pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose.

In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?

Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .

A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.

Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months!

I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!
A great big fault runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.

I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!

 

 Queen's Hill - Annotated