I wrote a letter as a final year optometry student! Astonishing. When could one find the time? To sister Sheila, newly-qualified teacher in Empangeni in Zululand. My news was:
Passed my supplementary exams.
Started organising our Annual Ball at Carlton Hotel already.
I’m SRC chairman till July.
The mighty grey and grey Opel Concorde ‘needs a tjoon up.’
I may not make Rag Ball in Pietermaritzburg this year!
Unhappy with res in Doories; expensive, badly looked after, phones don’t work; fought with matron; moving into communal house 4 Hillside Rd in Parktown, where Glen Barker and Clive Nel stay. ‘Before I go, though, I’m going to raise hell to see if things’ll improve.’ (!)
Steve Reed, Cheryl Forsdick and I baby-sat for Bobby & Jill and Louis & Gail; ‘chaos for an hour, then not too bad. They enjoyed their evening; it had been a long while since they’d gone anywhere.’
Great parties; Braais; a Chinese Dinner-Dance; a cricket day; ‘played our first rugby match in our new kit – pitch black from toes to necks with the only white our optom badge on the pocket and our numbers on the back; Beat engineers 18-0.’
‘Went to the Vaal river for a weekend’s skiing; two of the guys had boats; stayed in a resort – lovely; went to a 21st in Pretoria; Generally busy except for work – work is suffering muchly; latest tests got 50% and 82% – the averages , thought were something like 80% and 95%.’
And all that was in a letter written 10th March!
Later that year:
Went to Pete Brauer and Terry Saks’ wedding in Pretoria. I was best man, had to get on my hind legs. My partner was the delightful Cheryl Forsdick; Lovely evening; Driving back with Clive Nel and the delightful Sandy Norts in Clive’s gas-guzzling white Mazda RX-2 we had a midnight head-on collision; Some drunken idiot turned straight into us on the highway! I was fine but the others got a bit battered, with Clive, driving, the worst. He’s in plaster and on crutches.
Harrismith has always had Spies families. The ones I remember were horsemen; or at least, the times I saw them they were usually riding horses at our agricultural shows, playing polo or competing at gymkhanas. Leon Strachan, Harrismith’s historian, tells of one family of four brothers who all had different characters or traits – and how one became world-famous!
Found this lovely series of articles by Leon at a website promoting Stephen Reed’s hometown Clarens, Free State – inclarens.co.za. I have simply taken snapshots of the articles to save them and be able to access them again. I must check in which of his four books on Harrismith characters Leon wrote about Andries ‘Caveman’ Spies.
I have now tidied and stitched them together in sequence. If you can read Afrikaans – go for it. It’s a fascinating story, which I will translate in a summary later – later!!
Earnest and diligent students eagerly absorbing the maths being taught in a chalkdust-filled classroom overlooking a little park on the corner of De Villiers and Rissik streets back in 1974, will be pleased to hear that said classroom has been restored – chalkdust and all. Also the window ledge.
When City Prop’s Alec Wapnick and Jeffrey Wapnick – well-known for their revitalization efforts in Pretoria’s inner city – saw the historic early 20th century Wits Technikon building, they not only realized the potential for restoration but also the opportunity to create a distinct node for learning and education. Alec had the vision to purchase the Wits Tech buildings, and Jeffrey had the foresight to restore and redevelop them to a standard way beyond the basics.
The project is in line with City Property’s comprehensive approach to inner cities, encompassing all the elements of everyday life, from working, to living and shopping, to schooling.
Established as a technical institution in 1903 to support the city’s flourishing gold mining industry, the building fronts onto Eloff, Plein and De Villiers Streets. It will continue to educate. The west block was already occupied by Johannesburg Polytech the east block will house Basa Educational Institute, an inner city school with excellent credentials, which was looking for a new home. Its focus is on the melting pot that is inner city schooling in Johannesburg today, something that dovetails well with City Property’s holistic approach to local development. They teach in all eleven official languages, as well as a number of others, including Portuguese.
The restoration of the Wits Tech building was something of a labour of love for the Wapnicks, whose long history of restoring architectural beauty show they believe that buildings are themselves works of art, to be shared and enjoyed. A lot of work had to be carried out. The building had been vacant for several years, with the result that fittings had been stripped, the structure itself vandalized and left in a state of disrepair. Architecturally, it was originally designed in the classic Greek revival style, an aesthetic that was popular in Johannesburg at the time: the nearby Supreme Court building is a good example of the same vintage. “The neo-Classical style is very typical, very ornate and a reference to renaissance architecture,” says City Property project manager Anita du Plessis. “It has been designed on a breathtaking scale in a style specific to the time.”
She points to the three different architectural orders used in the building concept: the plain Doric columns on the ground floor, to the distinctive scrolled Ionic columns on the first floor, to the leaves of the Corinthian columns above.
Original fittings, like the marble floors, have been carefully restored and repaired; the original viewing panes in the doors were replaced with safety glass; and the stained glass windows were repaired.
Although the grand architectural style needed to be restored, a key outcome for the project team was an updated space suitable for a contemporary user. For this reason, practical, modern features were worked into the project. For a start, the building is now compliant with all the modern building standards and criteria.
The entrance hall and atrium are equipped with security systems, while the air of a tranquil and dignified place of learning has been carefully maintained. The large, bright airy classrooms with sash windows create a positive learning environment, while the solid structure of the historic property blocks out the noise of the city.
Fellow Wits Tech alumnus 1974 – 1978 Steve Reed wrote: Hope they keep the alternative entrance to Kleinman’s classroom – the ledge along the outside…
Steve is speaking of our chalk-dust encrusted 1974 maths lecturer here who lectured in a classroom overlooking the little park on the rear of the building – the front being on Eloff Street. Some wicked students climbed out the windows onto the window ledge before Kleinman got to class. Once he was there they climbed in one by one, each waiting until he got going with his lecture before interrupting him mid-sentence by climbing back in and greeting him cordially. Must have been the B (rauer) class.
“We are the custodians of these magnificent buildings and it is our responsibility to return them to their former glory,” says Wapnick.
These okes are eye pasiente of Brauer’s. Wonder if he’ll claim he gave them their vision and foresight . .
Rust in Vrede means Rest in Peace. Rust in Warden was anything but peaceful on account of an invasion of hooligans from the Last Outpost of the British Empire – a flock of unruly wimmin studying to be teachers back in March 1976. It took us gentlemen from behind the boerewors curtain in the salubrious Johannesburg suburb of Doornfontein to bring some decorum to this rustic spot.
Rust, meaning ‘rest’ was Tabs Fyvie’s farm in the Warden district with a lovely empty farmhouse which we colonised, spreading sleeping bags on the wooden floors. Overflow slept on the lawn. Beers, ribaldry and laughter. Tall tale telling . .
. . can’t remember eating . .
And thanks to sister Sheila we have 1976 pictures!
Long before Zimbali became an over-priced gated estate for the rich to hide in, Manfred Bacher, augenoptikermeister from Austria aus, built a yacht in his Umhlanga backyard and called it Zimbali. Or SMS Zimbali, I’d say. He said Zimbali meant ‘forever young,’ which is what he wished for himself and might have been if it wasn’t for the beer and the cigarettes. In isiZulu izimbali means flowers or blossoms, but Manfred always did cruise and sail to the beat of his own drum.
The boat was a beauty. I hope someone has pictures of it. (update: Yes! Steve Reed had these pics). Beautifully finished in carved and highly-polished dark wood. My part in its construction consisted of visiting Umhlanga after work with big buddy Steve Reed, Manfred’s protégé oogkundige. We’d sit in its cabin in the Umhlanga backyard drinking quarts of beer and listen to Manfred wax lyrical. If I remember right, it was built in two locations: it was moved to the Umhlanga new home from somewhere else?
I missed the actual launch day when it was ferried to the harbour and lifted off a trailer and lowered into the salty water, but I then visited it again to sit in the cabin drinking quarts of beer and listen to Manfred wax lyrical while it bobbed up and down and the sheets and cables clanked in the wind. Once after enough beer I climbed right up to the top of the mast and enjoyed the swaying to and fro high above all the other boats in the yacht mole. Wonderful view at night with a million lights reflecting off the oily water. I made it down safely, sanks goodness, as Manfred would have said.
Roomerazzit Zimbali only ever made one trip out of the mouth – never again were the sails hoisted till Manfred sold it. It remained moored as a convenient boys gathering place. Again, some may know better and I’d love to hear.
augenoptikermeister – optician
oogkundige – augenoptikermeister
The kaiserliche und konigliche kriegsmarine, sometimes shortened to k.u.k. kriegsmarine, was the naval force of Austria-Hungary. Ships of the k.u.k. kriegsmarine were designated SMS, for Seiner Majestat Schiff (His Majesty’s Ship).
… and their humour. Met up with Sam, an excellent Scotsman who came in for some glasses today. We were chatting about some of the female news anchors you see on TV. One of them, Virginia Trioli, we agreed is opinionated, superior, demanding and – from all accounts – a piece of work.
sums her up:
“Ya woodn’t want ta be coming hoome to her wi’ only a half week’s pay packet.”
Later, I am handing him over to Ioannis who has the job of telling him how much his new multifocal glasses are going to cost (cringe) with some light banter … Sam replies:
“Well I am a Scotsman ye know. Every penny a prisoner.”
packed up – had not heard that one before.
comes up a lot in the local pub.
Me: So right! Gotta love the Scots!! 😉 – I must remember those pearls!
My gran Annie’s father came to Harrismith straight from the freezing far north of Scotland – a fishing village called Sarclet, south of Wick – but she sadly became heeltemal Engels – the queen, the empire, and all that.
only Scottish she ever spoke to me was her oft-repeated tale of once
on the golf course, waiting to tee off. The oke in front of them
sliced off into the bush and said,
‘Och, its gone off in the boooshes,’ to which Annie quipped,
‘That’s betterrr than doon in the wutterrr,’ – upon which she says he spun around and said,
‘Begorrah’ (or whatever a Scotsman would say on an occasion like this), ‘Yer one of oos!’
‘Aye,’ said Annie semi-truthfully.
takes me to her THIRD language: Afrikaans.
Of her ninety years on Earth, Annie spent about eighty seven in Harrismith. She was born there, she went to school there (half her schooling) and she sold Caltex petrol to her Vrystaat customers there.
The only few years she was away from Harrismith she spent ‘down in George.’ She went to stay with her sister Jessie Bell when Jessie’s daughter died.
When she got there there was great excitement as they just knew she’d be very useful in dealing with the kleurlinjeez, who spoke their own Afrikaans and hardly any Engels.
‘Annie speaks Afrikaans, she’ll be able to speak to them and understand them,’ was the buzz.
So the first day the gardener needs instructions and Annie confidently demonstrates her skill to the assembled rooineks:
‘Tata lo potgieter and water lo flowers’ she told the poor man who must have scratched his head at the Zulu-Engels mix in which the only word approximating Off-The-Krans was ‘potgieter’ instead of ‘gieter’ for watering can.
more Harrismith Scots joke I’ve told you before, but I’ll add it to
this collection: Jock Grant arrives from Scotland full of bravado,
bulldust, enterprise and vigour.
He’s a plumber – a plooomerr – but soon he’s bought the stone quarry, bought the Montrose Motel in Swinburne, bought the Shell garage, bought a big white Mk 10 Jag and smokes fat cigars.
In the pub at the golf club he removes the cigar from his lips, waves it around and tells the guys he’s started Afrikaans lessons – he’s going to learn to speak Afrikaans.
Jannie du Plessis looked concerned. ‘Jock,’ he says, ‘We think you should rather learn to speak English first.’
heeltemal – completely
kleurlinjeez – a vague racial classification in apartheid times – and still in use today! Not black, not white, therefore ‘coloured’; actual word: kleurlinge
rooineks – people congenitally unable to speak Afrikaans, try as they might; actually, try as they don’t
Me and Stephen Charles Reed, First Son of Clarens Vrystaat, were talking V8’s back in 2012 when he delivered that spot-on description of the sound they make as they roar off, windgat, into the distance.
I replied: Oh, I DO like that description! That’s GOOD! When you hear that at a traffic light you delay your take-off to hear that grumble-rumble-roar . .
Remember the ole man’s V8 bus? Did you drive with me in Hillbrow? Floored it at a few robos. More like a Doories hobo clearing his Old Brown sherry-phlegm throat, but still impressive . . and neat for penniless students to windgat in. We blew a few okes’ doors off in the sprint to the next lights. ca1975.
Steve: I had forgotten but it comes back to me. Imported van, was it not? Is it still around? I can quite imagine you driving it around Doories and quietly being a bit of a wind gat. Aah, those halcyon days! Now it’s all about boring things like reliability, economy and resale value. Where has all the fun gone? Back to the van. Did your folks do a bit of touring in it? Or a lot? I am sure half the fun with them is kitting it out.
Me: Ja, a 1972-ish Ford Econoline with 302cubic inch V8. White. Automatic 3-speed. Imported direct from Detroit. They toured a bit, but the vehicle itself was the ole man’s interest. We had old faded-denim blue VW kombis before it and a big Toyota 22-seater after it. All with the seats removed and beds, stove and fridge fitted . . Now he has an ancient Jurgen camper VW kombi with the tortoise-on-the-back look. And tortoise-on-the-back speed.
When he was about eighty he took the ole lady off to Oranjemund on the Atlantic Ocean on the border with Namibia; then followed the coast southwards down to Cape Town; up the Garden route, into the old Transkei, into Natal up to Kosi Bay on the Indian Ocean on the border of Mocambique = the whole blerrie South African coastline. Mom found out on the way that that had been his goal all along! They broke down at night in the Transkei between the coast and Umtata. Luckily Sheila had a friend in Umtata and luckily he roared off in the night to tow them in to his home. Now at 89 he wants to buy another one. In an understatement he says, ‘This one is too rusty, but the 1800 Jetta engine is still FINE.’ He has his eye on a newer one, only 400 000 kms on the clock; Planning vaguely to head off into the wild blue yonder again. Heaven help the ole lady. She gets panic attacks at the thought, but soldiers on, providing the calm, rational common sense to the union as she always has. (They had been married about 52 years when they toured the coastline).
If only he was reasonable, like his son. Aitch and I hired a later-model Ford Econoline camper in San Francisco, California on honeymoon in 1988. We went to Yosemite, Big Sur, Golden Gate bridge and a bit north of that to some redwood trees. Fun way to go. Ideal for Oz, I’d think
Stephen: Wow – fantastic that he has that passion at 89. Of course I imagined your folks much younger. My ole man would have been turning 100 in September 2012!He would have loved all that. My guess is that they kept up too much of a social lifestyle to have money left over for exciting things like camper vans. To be buggering around tinkering with cars and vans at 89 your dad must be blerrie fit. Well done to him. Takes me two days to build up the momentum to clean my car!
Sorry to hear about
That trip round California including the big sur (now Keith Ballin country) sounds amazing. A lot of old-timers (i.e about my age) over here go and ‘do the lap’ round Australia. Would smaak to do it some day but in the meantime need to keep the nose to the grindstone. Which I know is the wrong attitude. Do it now!
Me: You are absolutely right: Go now. Work again later. One thing okes agonise over is what vehicle to choose, and I think the actual answer is always ‘The One You Have.’ Just get into it and start driving. As for ‘What to take?’ – very little. Weight is the enemy. There’s very little you might pack that you can’t find along the way. Take less luggage and more money than you think.
A thought for both of us: Contact every little dorp optometrist en route and ask them if they need a locum. Tell them you’ll work a day or a week for them and house-sit while they have a holiday. Also always seek out the local birding fundi and ask him or her to take you to the local spots. Save time and see more.
The story started earlier when I told a tragic tale:
On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, pete swanepoel wrote: My fine VW kombi T5 bus went clunk after I dropped Jess off at school this morning, and suddenly no clutch, no gears, fokol. Absolutely no problem, sir, said Alpine Motors when the AA tow truck dropped me off there, just give us twenty four grand and we’ll have it as good as old. I picked up a lil Suzuki to keep me going meantime. R200 a day while I ponder whether to fix or sell.
Later: The ole kombi lay down with its wheels in the air, and the quote to fix it went up to forty four grand, so I got me a Fraud Ranger last week. 2007 model, a mere 89 000km on the clock. So far I’ve only dinged it the one time. Smashed the rear lights against a pillar in a parking garage.
Steve reed wrote:A three liettah turbot diesel! Now you can pull out tree stumps. Anyway, he said (I paraphrase), dirty VW no longer deserves your patronage, the lying thieves.
Me: Exactly. Just don’t tell anyone the Ford’s front wheels just trundle along for the ride . . . it’s a high-rider, so it masquerades as a Four Four Four as Jessie used to call them.
Steve: It’s when the BACK wheels freewheel that it’s more shameful. Like my corolla. At the local Toyota dealer they had a genuine Glen Barker Toyota circa 1975-ish, mint condition; belonged to a little old dear living locally. Now that was a back wheel driver, I am almost sure. They had it in the showroom as an object of curiosity.
Anyway that noo car: You gonna be pulling something with that – other than chicks? Or putting some sort of enclosure on the back? Forgot what they call it.
Me: Canopy. Maybe I’ll install a double bed mattress and dark curtains. You never know . . . it does exhibit strong chick-pulling tendencies.
Yeah, Glen’s Toyota! Green, it was. A Corona, I think. Definitely rear wheel drive. NX 106. His Dad still has NX 21 from when it was first nailed to their oxwagon when they arrived fresh in Natal to steal it from the Zooloos in the name of the Lawd.
postscript: Steve did buy a bus! And he did convert it into a camper van! Proud of ya! He and Evil Voomin did a really neat job:
That car? A 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. 455 cubic-inch V8. That’s 7.5-liters in today’s money.
Two delightful Scottish medical students arrived at Addington hospital. They were here to “do their elective” they said. We didn’t mind what they were doing, we were just happy they were in Darkest Africa and drank beer. Always a better chance if a lady will drink alcohol.
One of them asked me if I surf, which is a terribly unfair question to ask a Free Stater by the sea. It puts great pressure on us and reveals our secret fear of that-big-dam-that-you-cannot-see-the-other-side-of. Ask us when there’s no sea within miles and we can tell a good story, but the sea is right on Addington’s doorstep. “Even better” I said casually, leaning against the bar in The Cock and Bottle on the first floor of Addington doctors’ quarters, “I paddle-ski.”
Ooh, will you show me? she asked, which put great pressure on me. “Come to my flat in Wakefield Court after work” I ordered and she meekly nodded. Wakefield was part of doctors’ quarters, over the road from the hospital. After work I hared off to Stephen Charles Reed and borrowed his Fat Boy paddle ski, threw it in my green 1974 Peugeot 404 station wagon OHS 5678 and hared back to Prince Street in time to casually say “Hop in” as she arrived. Addington beach was right there and I proceeded to give lessons in the surf. Little did she know it was like the drowning leading the drowned. I’d help her on, hold her steady, time the waves and say “Now! Paddle!” and she’d tumble over like a Scottish person in the warm Indian Ocean, time and again. One wave was better than the rest, nicely obliging and masculine, and it did something like this:
Marvelously, she didn’t notice for a while until I blurted out “God you’re gorgeous!”. Following my grinning gaze, she giggled and hoicked her boob tube top up over her boobs from where it was sitting around her waist. *Sigh* I cherish wonderful mammaries of that day . .
Steve Reed visited SA from Aussie. He’s a Vrystaat boykie, mainly Bethlehem and was the mayor of Clarens – the first son actually – so was on a visit home.
Him: When visiting my bro in Johannesburg we had plenty of jams and preserves all from ‘Annies Kitchen’ in Harrismith. Wouldn’t be the famous Ann Euthimiou from Harries, would it?
Me: No, not the gorgeous young Annie the Greek, another Annie from Harrismith, a contemporary of my gran – who was also Annie.
Her grandson Leon Strachan was one year ahead of me at Harrismith se Hoerskool. Lived on a farm, but his gran lived next door to us in town. He hopped over the fence one day ca.1965 to come and moer me for my insults. He was giving me a good and well-deserved whipping when younger sister Sheila came to my rescue, jumping on his back and beating him wif a bamboo, putting him to flight.
A first-class fella, he has written four books about Harrismith. I have one, Sheila has loaned me two more, and I have borrowed the fourth from Leon himself. He and his wife Elsa farm on Nesshurst, south of Harrismith on the Natal border. He grows and harvests black nightshade (nastergal – Solanum nigrum) and makes that mauve jam with black berries we called masawba – more correctly umsobo or sobosobo. They also make lots of other jams ‘in season.’
They branded it ‘Annie’s’ after his rooinek gran. Like me he had an Afrikaans side Strachan that originated in Scotland, and an Engelse side Davie. ‘Twas his rockspider gran Strachan what lived next door to us.
info from the defunct harrismith.co website:
Op Nesshurst met sy allemintige dam groei en besproei Leon en Elsa Strachan nastergal wat hulle in die plaasfabriek inmaak om die wyd-bekende Annie’s konfyte met die veelkleurige etiket met twee tarentale op te maak. Jare lank reeds sien ‘n mens nou oral in die land die bekende flessies met nastergal en tot soveel as twintig ander soorte konfyt. Die beroemde Annie’s konfyte van Nesshurst. Nastergal (Solanum nigrum) dra bossies klein, ronde bessies wat donkerpers is wanneer hulle ryp is.
My translation: Leon and Elsa Strachan make lovely jams (American: jellies) on their farm Nesshurst near the Free State / KwaZulu Natal border. Probably their most famous one uses Solanum nigrum berries, European black nightshade. Although parts of this plant can be toxic, the real deadly nightshade is a different plant. The good one’s berries are a dull, powdery, dark purple in bunches, the deadly one has single glossy black berries.
Steve:Well it was blerrie lekker konfyt. And he obviously did not moer any significant amount of sense into you from what I have been able to observe since ca.1974.My eldest brother Doug (68) looks after his health, having had a couple of stents a few years ago. He cycles furiously (the Argus, the 96.4 or whatever long races are going) and golfs twice a week. His one weakness is for the blue cheese, crackers and Annie’s preserves, accompanied by bottomless refills of post-prandial brandy, port, or whatever other alcohol comes to hand. I spent seven nights with them and woke up with a headache on all seven mornings. He woke me up fresh as a daisy with heart-stopping strength coffee every day. Most mornings I was in an arrhythmic state as a result. He couldn’t understand what the hell was wrong with me.
Harrismith se Hoerskool – Harrismith High School
moer – thump; but when Steve said it: educate
Rooinek – English-speaking; Pommy; uitlander; often preceded by fokn
Engelse – English, but usually not from England; more ‘not Afrikaans’; Like when any new product or gadget impresses, someone might say admiringly/mockingly ‘Dis wonderlik wat die Engelse kan doen,’ even if the gadget was made in Sweden
blerrie lekker konfyt – bloody nice jam
Dis wonderlik wat die Engelse kan doen – this is a nifty new gadget
The pics of the museum on Nesshurst are from Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.
We were talking of our younger days when we occasionally, perhaps, got up to some light mischief which pedants might have regarded as slightly illegal. Such as hopping fences without having purchased tickets to see international sporting events at Ellis Park Joburg – rugby tests and tennis internationals. One of my fellow culprits named Stephen Charles Reed mentioned that we even ended up getting good seats. And that reminded me:
Talking of good seats: Do you remember when you took me – new in Debbin (Durban) and you an old hand, having emigrated down there a year or two before – to my first Durban July! The Rothmans Durban July Handicap?
Here’s the way I remember it:
We dressed up in the best we had and stood in a long queue to place a bet on the first race. Took forever. Then we rushed to the fence to watch the race and our horse was running in reverse and eventually had to be picked up and carried off half an hour after the race finished or it would still have been running.
Everyone then went back to the betting windows to queue again to place bets for the next race, determined to throw away their money.
This left the fence, crowded as hell a minute before, quite empty and we spotted a bench at the finish post. We scurried over and occupied it and made a very intelligent decision on the spur of the moment: We would not place any more bets, we would not move from that bench and we would spend all our money on champagne.
Best decision in the world! We saw everything, we didn’t waste our money, we got a liquid return on every cent we spent; we got delightfully pickled and awfully clever and we started making confident predictions on which nags would win. We had a system, based, I think on the deep bubbly-inspired insight “Usually It’s A Brown Horse.”
Soon people were coming up to us to inquire who they should bet on! They thought what with all the champagne and merriment that we were obviously winning and therefore knowledgeable. We freely advised them on how to invest their hard-earned cash by consulting the racing form guide – Give Beau Geste a bash! we’d say; or Sea Cottage looks good!What? Not running? Oh, try (check book): Lady Godiva! We took turns fetching more champagne.
A wonderful day at the races. ca1980. Edu-me-cational it was.
I seem to remember Steve had also convinced some lovely lass to tart herself up and accompany us in high heels? Wishful thinking? Our bench looked like this: