Seeking to Dodge Salvation

Stephen sent a terrible picture of a recovering drunk back in the old days. Around 1980. He found this poor soul asleep on the covered veranda of his top floor flat in 10th Avenue off Clarence Road in Windermere, Durban and cruelly photographed him, him unknowing. Sleeping with his specs on so as not to have blurry dreams.

Koos Steve flat ca1980
Me – innocent

Later he accompanied the poor soul to the cafe on the corner for something to slake our Sunday morning cotton mouth thirst. En route we came across the Salvation Army on the pavement, gearing up their instruments, getting ready to go and blast a bracing dose of Christian ‘look sharp’ into some poor sinners’ ears

We were convinced they’d marked us as just exactly the right type of sinners they needed. Neatly – if severely – dressed in their fierce outfits, sensible shoes and soldier-looking hoeds they glared at us, fiddling threateningly with their instruments.

I could feel their accusing stares boring through the back of my head as I minced delicately past them, taking a wide – but not too wide – berth by stepping down into the gutter – where I belonged? – trying not to upset them in any way. Had they sounded the horn and hit the drum we might have capitulated and joined immediately. Thankfully a baleful stare was all we got and we made it past them. We eyed them out from a distance from the cafe door and returned to Stefaans’ flat once they’d parum-pum’d off a goodly distance down the road. Anyway, I’d already been saved a few years before, so there was no need for them to target me. Dunno about Stefaans – he looked like he needed a bit of salvaging.

They were like this menacing-looking mob, except there were more tannies with sensible shoes, like in the top pic:

salvation army

hoeds – headgear; salute-worthy headgear

tannies – aunties

parum pum – guilt-inducing tympanic torture

Ah! This is better! Beryl Cook captured them perfectly:

see how fierce they are . .

Good Lord, Deliver us!

I really needed to take a hike, I really did.

But to do it I needed a henchman. You can hike alone, but I’d really rather not, so I persuaded Stefaans Reed, The Big Weed, resident son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) and fellow optometry student in Jo’burg to accompany me. Sucker, he agreed.

We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Piet Uys Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams, into the ‘Government forest’. Pine forest. We could discern two types of pines, I’m sure there are more, but the type we liked had the long soft needles and made a good bed. We walked next to the concrete furrow that led water down the mountain into town. Often broken and dry but sometimes full of clear water, it made finding the way easy.

Gibson Dam furrow
The furrow on top

Halfway up we made camp, clearing a big area of the soft pine needles down to bare earth so we could safely light a fire.

Learning from our primate cousins we raked together a huge pile for a gorilla mattress and lay down to gaze at the stars through the treetops. This was 1974, we were eerstejaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein, Jo’burg. We had learnt to drink more beer, sing bawdy songs, throw a mean dart in a smoke-filled pub, hang out of friends car windows as they drove home thinking ‘Whoa! better get these hooligans home!’ and generally honed our urban skills. Now we were honing our rural skills. Wilderness ‘n all.

As we lay in our sleeping bags, burping boerewors and gazing through the pine fronds at the stars, we heard a loud, startling, beautiful sound.

I was wide-eyed wide-awake! WHAT on EARTH was that!? I knew it had to be a night bird, but what? Which one?

In the dark I scribbled down a picture of the sound. This is what it sounded like to me and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget it:

sonogram-fiery-necked-nightjar

I didn’t know I was drawing a “sonogram” – I’d never heard of that.

When I got back home I looked through my ‘Birds of South Africa – Austin Roberts’ by  G.R. McLachlan and R. Liversidge, 1970 – and found there was a nightjar that said “Good Lord Deliver Us” and I knew that was it. The Fiery-Necked Nightjar – some call it the Litany Bird. I loved it, I love it, I’ll never forget it and it’s still a favourite bird.

It’s the call! – they look similar but sound very different

Click here to hear it as we heard it that night.

Fiery-necked nightjar_2.jpg
Stunning nocturnal aerial insect catcher

Next morning we hiked on, past the beautiful eastern tip of Platberg – some call it ‘Bobbejaanskop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back home and a cold beer.

Sheila in the cosmos
Dense thicket in foreground

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  • Thanks xeno-canto.org for sharing birdsounds from around the world.
  • Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy. Still an invasive pest, though.
  • A ‘litany’ is “a tedious recital or repetitive series; ‘a litany of complaints’; a series of invocations and supplications; – “Good Lord, Deliver us!” The Catholics can really rev it up:

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.

– This is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more! Holy shit!!

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boerewors – raw beef wurst; just add fire

eerstejaar studente – first year students

Bobbejaanskop – Baboon peak

Nêrens – nowhere, or Clarens in the Free State, named after Clarens, Switzerland to which that coward Paul Kruger fled cowardly after accusing my brave great-great Oom of cowardice. Ha! Who actually stayed and fought the war, huh?

Communicating, Clarens-style

Stephen Charles Reed was the laat lammetjie son of Vincent and Doreen Reed. Vin and Dor. Butch was the big black Labrador in residence.

Vincent was hizzonner, the Lord Mayor of Clarens, so although Stevie was by a long shot not their first son he WAS the First Son of Clarens.

In the holidays I would ring up Oom Lappies Labuschagne at the Harrismith sentrale. He would say ‘seker‘ and patch me through to the Clarens telephone exchange – their ‘sentrale‘. The operator lady would answer with a chirpy “Clarr-RINSE”!

Three Four Please. Seemed somehow wrong that their number was 34. I mean, Vincent was the Mayor. Surely it should have been One Please?

Anyway, Three Four Please.

“No, Stevie’s not there, he’s at the Goldblatts, I’ll put you through”.

Old Clarens, before the rush. Here’s the Reed’s store.

clarens2.jpg

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laat lammetjie – afterthought child, unplanned, not to be confused with unwanted

seker – sure

sentrale – telephone exchange

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Zena Jacobson wrote:

Can’t remember Steve, did your family own the garage? I remember your dad being the mayor though. And I remember the craziest dog I had ever seen called Dennis – a cross between a Labrador and a dachshund or something! I also remember the “centrale” telephone exchange lady, who kept interrupting every three minutes to tell you how long you have been talking, and one day I got irritated, and said something like “aw shut up!” and she scolded me for being so rude! I was mortified!

You should see Clarens now! Although I haven’t been back, it’s the central art and antiques weekend getaway in the country. Quite the arty place, with hotels, B&Bs and coffee shops by the dozen.

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I wrote:

AND – they have a brewery! One of my favourite newer tales of Clarens involves young Rod Stedall. He and Karen bought a stand, built a lovely sandstone cottage, made a good income from it for years, had some lovely holidays there and then sold it for a handsome profit. Boom! I stood and watched as all this happened, thinking “That’s a great idea, I should do something about that”, and doing buggerall. Rod then bought a house in the bustling metropolis of Memel, thinking that would be the next big Vrystaat thing and I thought “That’s a great idea, I should do something about that!” Yeah, right.

OK, Memel didn’t happen in Rod’s time here (he offered to sell me the Memel house when he was leaving for Noo Zealand), but guess what: SANRAL are talking of bypassing Harrismith and running the new N3 past Memel. Boom time! Bust for Harrismith, it would be, though.

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Terry Brauer wrote:

Clarens is one of my favourite getaways in SA. Who’d have thought, Mr Reed?! We stayed in that wonderful home with the Stedalls. Had we not owned San Lameer we’d have considered buying it. Fabulous place. Fabulous hosts.

Pete, join the Brauer investment club. Fail. Epic fail every time.

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A brief history: Clarens, South Africa, was established in 1912CE and named after the town of Clarens in Switzerland, est around 200CE, where exiled Paul Kruger, who some think a hero of South African independence from Britain, died in 1904 after fleeing there. He fled there – yes, fled, like ‘ran away’, a coward – after calling my great-great uncle – who bravely fought the whole war against the thieving British to the bitter end! The swine!

A company wanting to establish a village in the area bought two farms: Leliehoek from Hermanus Steyn in 1910/11 and Naauwpoort from Piet de Villiers, situated near the Titanic rock. The two farms were divided into erven, and these were offered for sale at fifty pounds sterling apiece.