Des is a mensch. He’s a gentleman and he has good intentions.
He’s in a serious marriage and under strict starter’s orders. The thing is Des has a bit of a dodgy handbrake. Even when pulled up tight it can occasionally slip and he can lurch forward a few steps and then all hell can break loose and you don’t know if he’ll be able to stop.
So Hector Fyvie being a legend and him being a nephew, Des got written permission to go to Uncle Hec’s funeral and straight back. Promise. It was a lovely funeral and lots of people were there celebrating the life of a very special man. Now it was time to go home, and Des was definitely going to leave as he had clearly undertaken to do. Honour bright. And he would have . .
But there were Vennings and Fyvies and Leslies and other people there and a strong case was put forward for Des to stay for the wake. The after-gathering was naturally well-catered with sustenance and libations – Aunt Stella, Gail, Ian, Skig and Tabbo always do things right. Still, Des refused to relax and partake, which made the exhortations stronger. With friends like this . .
He raised himself up, closed his eyes in that way he does and made a small speech, one of many we have heard from Des:
“You guys”, he said. “Jy weet: Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min”and he agreed to have Just One. Just. The. One.
So we knew he was staying for the duration.
Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min – “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and Three are not enough” – James Thurber
Hector and Stella, Ian and Bev and Tabs – all or some of them! – built a large dam on the Swartspruit, a tributary of the Wilge river on Ian and Bev’s farm Sarclet.
The Fyvie’s Balmoral dam – If you build a dam you need a boat and Tabs found one in Howick, going cheap. As always, Tabs needed a side-kick to join him on his ventures and I was more than willing. We fetched the wee boat in Howick. I wrote about that misadventure here.
Later Tabs got a bigger boat, ‘The Pheasant Plucker’ with a V6 inboard motor and a Hamilton jet. The name likely affirmed for certain Anglicans that an earlier decision they’d made was right.
I once embarrassingly beached it when the motor cut at speed; I landed up high and dry next to the cars parked on the bank; I learnt that when the engine cuts in a Hamilton Jet there’s no steering, no brakes, no nothing. Without that plume of water thrusting out the back, there’s no direction! Suddenly you’re a passenger; you’re no longer the skipper.
Ah, we had many a pleasant day next to the dam, gently mixing petrol, beer and water into a cocktail of fun and laughter. Thirsty work, though. After – apres ski – we’d have to repair to Gailian for drinks:
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!
We had a few gatherings in the long, wide and high Gailian lounge / dining room / bar with the smooth parquet floor. For a while this lounge was shenanigan-central for the Harrismith Jet Set. While the Stella cats were away the lightly inebriated mice came out to play.
Luckily Hec & Stella Fyvie would regularly gallivant off to Kruger Park and other places in their yellow and white kombi. ‘Don’t worry,’ Tabs would say, ‘We’ll look after the place;Enjoy yourselves.’
I would nod.
One such evening* is engraved in the memory bank. ‘Twas a dark and starlit night after we had sat all afternoon seeing to it that the sun set properly, and fine-chooning ourselves to a well-honed pitch, like a master-crafted musical instrument. A lute, perhaps. A flute, perhaps. By carefully choosing our poison by percentage alcohol multiplied by millilitres consumed we had manipulated our PE Factor** to a wonderfully advanced state where we were erudite, witty, charming, sparkling company – and wonderful dancers.
Especially wonderful dancers.
The theme for the evening was high-speed langarm, and we whizzed around the lounge to loud classical waltzes at ever-increasing speeds on that slick polished parquet wooden floor till centrifugal force spun us out onto the veranda, onto the lawn and across it to the swimming hole in the dark, thutty metres away; back over the lawn and round the dance floor again. To tremendous applause. I personally did a few laps with Lettuce Leaf which were wondrous in nature. Strauss would have been proud of his waltz that night. Jet-fuelled ballroom dancing par excellence.
Some people didn’t get the langarm memo though, and arrived in punk outfits. No names, no packdrill, but Des had a safety pin through his earlobe and Timothy Leary one through his foreskin and these two pins were joined in holy matrimony by a chain. Never before have two ballroom dancers been so synchronised, Des leading and Tim not daring not to follow. After that performance they even named a band N Sync.
Before the sun rose there was snoring and long after the sun rose there was still snoring and that is how Aunt Stella found us when she returned unexpectedly to find Des and other bodies in her double bed. On seeing his Aunt Stell, Des spun onto his tummy, burying his face into the pillow. Des has always believed if you hide your head in the sand maybe the problem will go away.
But this time he shouldn’t have: Written in bright red lipstick on his back was “FUCK! PUNK! PUNK!!”
*This tale might be an amalgam of a few blurry evenings, skilfully blended and spiked;
**PE Factor – Personality Enhancement Factor; Found to various degrees in all bottles of hooch;
langarm – two or more perpetrators remain attached by various body parts and run around more or less in time to music they normally would not listen to, while pumping the outermost arms up and down; unlikely to work sober.
This critical observer might have been watching us at Gailian that night, although he was actually talking about the 1815 season in Brussels:
Whenever they get together the severest etiquette is present. The women on entering always salute on each side of the cheek; they then set down as stiff as waxworks. They begin a ball with a perfect froideur, then they go on with their dangerous ‘waltz’ (in which all the Englishwomen join!) and finish with the gallopade, * a completely indecent and violent romp. – Rev. George Griffin Stonestreet
Gallopade: A lively French country dance of the nineteenth century, a forerunner of the polka, combining a glissade with a chassé on alternate feet, usually in a fast 2/4 time. Sounds about right, huh? I think that’s what we were doing. Indecent and violent romps bedondered.
Recently Des went viral – no, no, in a good way. Thanks to great backing from sister Val, he put what he learnt at Gailian to good use. Roomerazzit he got extra points for his broek and his dancing shoes:
Sheila saw to it I had a party! As so often, Sheila saved the day. Back in 1976 before there were rules and the rinderpest was still contagious.
Des Glutz threw open his palatial bachelor home, Kenroy, on the banks of the mighty Vulgar River to an invasion of students from Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. That’s because as a lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer he had his eye on some of those student teachers from Teachers Training College in PMB!
“Kindness of his heart” you thought? Ha! You know nothing about horny bachelor Free State farmers! Anyway, he owed me for managing his farm brilliantly when he went to Zimbabwe.
Sheila invited everybody – and everybody arrived!
Eskom had not yet bedeviled Kenroy so paraffin lamps, gaslamps and candles gave light. Music pomped out from car batteries. There was singing and much laughter. Except when Noreen, Jo and Ski danced their Broadway routine The Gaslamp Revue with Redge Jelliman holding the silver tray footlight staring in open-mouthed wonder at their skill. And of course, their legsnboobs – another lonely horny bachelor Free State farmer, y’know. Awe-struck silence reigned. For minutes.
There was also Liz and Mops and Jenny, Georgie, Mandy, Gill and Jill; Hell, we bachelors were in awe at almost being outnumbered – a rare event. We were so excited we got pissed and fell down. Timothy Paget Venning got so excited he walked all the way round the house smashing Des’ window panes to let in the night.
Poor ole Gilbert, Des’ personal butler, valet and chef – seen here in purple – and his men bore the brunt of the extra work!
He cooked and cooked, including a big leg of lamb which didn’t make the main table, getting scoffed on the quiet by ravenous would-be teachers under the kitchen table. Pity the poor kids who would have to grow up being taught all the wrong things by this lot in Natal in the eighties.
These would-be teachers and pillars of society were wild n topless:
Tabbo wore his tie so he could make a speech into his beer can microphone:
Funny how Glutz doesn’t feature in any pics! Where was he? We know he wasn’t in his bedroom cos the TC girls raided it and were in awe at the impressive collection of bedroom toys and exotic rubber and latex items in his bedside drawer. No stopping those TC girls!
Ah! Here’s Glutz – Sheila and Liz presenting Des a thank-you gift for hooligan-hosting:
The morning after dawned bright. Too bright for some . . .
A mudfight! said some bright spark – Sheila, no doubt – so Des arranged transport to the mighty Vulgar river.
After the weekend I roared back to Jo’burg in my brand-new 1965 two-shades-of-grey-and-grey Opel Rekord Concorde deluxe sedan, four-door, grey bench-seated, 1700cc straight-four, three-on-the column, chick-magnet automobile. My first car! Watch out Doornfontein!
Thanks Mom & Dad! And thanks for the party, Sheils and Des! Before we left, Mom tickled the ivories while the TC gang belted out some songs:
The old man organised the numberplate OHS 5678 for me. The man at the Harrismith licencing office said “Oom, are you sure you want an easy-to-remember number for your son? Don’t you want one that’s hard to remember?”
On Tabbo’s Warden farm ‘Rust.’ Mine host Tabbo is second from right, yet another ale in hand.
None of those guineas were killed by me (second from left) with my old man’s cheap Russian shotgun, even though the barrel was smoking. A marksman I am not! I was ‘Rust’-y.
Kai Reitz once tried to cure my handicap of not being able to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. On his farm, The Bend on the Tugela river outside Bergville, he gently lobbed up big sandclods in a ploughed field and I filled the air surrounding them with birdshot. Then they plonked to earth. Thud! Unharmed.
It was for naught – he had to give up.
With the last two shells Kai took the shotgun. I hurled two empty shell cases as hard as I could. Blap! Blap! he hit both of them. Bang went the gun and bang went my chance of using faulty Russian alignment as an excuse.
Bloody guineas better watch out, I’ll bring my mate next time!
As always, Sheila has the details:
This was taken on 1 September 1974, at a shoot at the Fyvies’ farm ‘Rust’ near Warden. According to my 1974 diary, we had had a wonderful party at Nick & Anne Leslie’s farm ‘Heritage’ the night before – “Had delicious supper. Danced. Sat & chatted” – most of us spent the night there, then moved over to Rust the next day, where the guys “shot about 60 fowls.”
After NTC Rag Ball in 976, we left Pietermaritzburg’s notorious Hotel Insomnia and drove home in Tabs’ red Datsun fastback, famed for having being called a Ferrari by one of the automotively-challenged TC girls, and a Datsun Triple Ess Ess Ess by Geoff Leslie. We had spent a few short hours in the Hotel Insomnia after the ball was over.
Braithwaite was behind the wheel as he had held back slightly as he still had to drive on from Harrismith to Nelspruit where he was needed to dry-clean some Lowvelders’ underpants. Tabs was in the passenger seat, me on the back seat.
me & Liz Howe, Sheila & Hilton – Tabs in full voice with John Venning –
Under the flat raking back window of that fastback was most of a case of beer, baking in the sun. After a short hung-over silence Tabs turned to me and asked “How hot are those beers?”
I said “Shall we share one and see?”
He said “Let’s open two and share them and see.”
We happened to finish the case before we got to HY. Thank goodness for Hilton’s driving!
Tabs & Jilly Shipman sing – Dave Simpson, Lettuce and me sit -all at a very clever stage of these academic proceedings –
I’m sure I told you about Tabbo’s first boat? Before the Pheasant Plucker with its inboard motor and Hamilton jet?
After Sarclet dam was built he NEEDED a boat and he found one for sale in Howick. Good price, so we set off to fetch it. It was rather small – for which read: very; and its 30-horse Johnson looked like Noah would have only used it as backup. But it was cheap.
We set off towing back to the big HY, city of sin and laughter, at a rate of knots, Tabbo behind the wheel of his red Datsun-Lamborghini with the round lights at the back.
We had a good chuckle when we saw a wheel overtaking us on the main tar road between Howick and Estcourt: ‘Wonder which poor fool that belongs to?’ till we heard a scraping in the rear (we hadn’t felt a thing). Well, it was our wheel that had parted and rushed forward to try and give us a message. So that was a problem, as we had sort of ruined whatever a new wheel might have attached to by driving on blissfully ignorant, feeling smug, dragging the axle stump on the tar.
A couple weekends later we finally got the boat to Sarclet dam and into the water. Some okes came around (I think Rob Spilsbury was one) – fortunately no ladies to roll their eyes – and we launched the tiny boat and plucked the starting cord. There was only room for two, so Tabs was sitting in the boat with one other oke who stood in the boat and rukked and plukked. Two of us were standing in the shallow water, holding the transom.
And we plucked and yanked and plukked and then we took turns to pluck and pull and huff. Then we pulled and puffed. Then we took the motor apart and cleaned the spark plugs and put stuff in the carb and did all the things okes do who know a bit and then we re-assembled it and rukked. And still fokol. Two okes were in the boat and two in the water standing on each side of the motor holding the boat and taking turns plucking.
After 4520 plucks it spluttered and began to roar, so the two okes in the water hopped on and the whole fucking thing sank, motor and all.
Dave Simpson wrote: Peter, I think my staff must think I am a bit fucked in the head, as I have just burst out into some raucous laughter. What a classic tale. I can just imagine what happened next: Everyone pissed themselves laughing; Tabbo called some of his trusty staff to pull the boat out; and you all got stuck into a few cases of Lion Lager. Did the boat ever get a second life? – (answer: no) –
Here’s the newer, bigger Pheasant Plucker – some years later:
One day I’ll have to tell how I parked the Pheasant Plucker on the bank amongst the parked cars. At high speed. Eish . . petrol and beer . . .
Comments ensued on this picture, which was taken apres ski on nearby Gailian:
This picture got emails going again – Dave Simpson wrote: It looks to me like an early morning thaw in winter. This probably explains why you are the only oke drinking cuppachino.
Me: Because of Sheils’ notes I can tell you: It was 18 August 1974. And that was cold tea. I’m amazed I was the only one drinking – probly you okes overdid it the night before.
Steve Reed: Hill – larious !! I wonder whose feet and prize winning bell bottoms are on the left. Nothing could beat a Sunday morning debrief on the lawn on a chillsome Free State morning.
Simpson: Do you know Peter, I actually remember that day on the new dam at Sarclet, down there in valley in front of Ian and Bev’s new house. It was the first time I had ever been water skiing. I was totally wind-gat to say the least, as the water was minus plenty, but I though this will be no problem – get up on the skis and have little or no contact with the water.
Well, needless to say, my nuts nearly froze off and my body was just about in the state ready for one of those cryogenic capsules – you know, those things that some Yanks get into before they die with a plan to wake up in about 300 years. Not much chance of that here, with all the load shedding going on.
On the positive side, I did learn to water ski in double quick time, as after that, I never did have a problem on the skis. Was this really in August, the coldest month of the year?? What madness!!
Me: Hosed myself at the cryogenics and load shedding! Imagine strolling into the cryo chamber to re-awaken granpa and the whole place stinks of vrot!! I’m going to stick to my original idea of pickling meself . . . internally.
Reed: Cannot believe your bravery / madness entering those waters in August. Also laughed out loud at both tales!
The Church of England, Vrystaat Outpost of the British Empire Division, in its small sandstone building in Harrismith – off the beaten track, not even in the shadow of the tall, imposing Kerk of the Chosen People in the square which sat smack in the middle of Warden Street, interrupting the flow of traffic, forcing ox-wagons and – later – automobiles to go AROUND it – had a big problem:
Dwindling membership and a severe shortage of people able to serve the Queen and the Home Country – oh, and the Lord – as deacons.
Not a new problem, this shortage had occupied the minds of these good Anglican, Anglophile Colonialists even before the darned Nationalists had taken over Colonial Rule in 1948 and the death of their dear King George in 1952. Long gone were the days when the mayor and a few councilors might occupy these pews (and speak English at town meetings!). Everyone who was anyone now sat in the Kerk pews of a Sunday and listened to thundering donder n bliksem sermons of power and guilt (and what one could quite legitimately do to the sons of Ham) up the road.
Part of the problem was those families who might cough up good English deacons sent their sons away. Hilton, Michaelhouse, St Andrews, Treverton. You know, good Church schools (yes, some of them might be Methodist, but one has to make do out here in the Colonies). Trouble was, these good schools’ chapels cured them of any desire to spend more Sundays on cold, hard wooden benches. So what to do?
A thought: What about young Clive Oswald? An approving murmur started up among the little group of Church elders, a quiet buzz . . . He had recently returned to the district to join his father and mother on the farm. Young, good-looking, polite, capable; why, it was like manna sent from . . .
“Has his shadow ever darkened the door of this church!?” boomed a voice.
Belonging to Joan Simpson. Dairy farmer; Long-serving deacon; Anglophile; Known for sleeping on her bed on the open porch of the farmhouse she shared with her sister Vera. Year-round, even in Harrismith’s freezing winter. And for delivering milk in big metal cans on the back of her grey Morris Minor pickup – made in England, what. And for wearing khaki trousers at all times. Occasionally a dress to a MOTH do or high church. She’d served in the war, and was still now serving in defence of what was right.
Well, that settled that question. Tabs Fyvie was safe. England expects every Church of England in the Provinces to do its duty and die quietly, fizzling away with dignity.
Joan is probably in this picture somewhere:
Luckily Joan probably hadn’t spotted Tabbo patronising the Anglican Bazaar, or she might have mollified her stance and he might have been sentenced to carry the collection plate for decades.
I was telling you earlier that the Road Safety slogan in days of yore was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk, Thank You Very Much and this was proven half true one night when I told Tabs ‘Listen, I think you’ve had a few too many and the best thing to do is to let ME drive.’
It was all Bess Reitz’s fault. She was buggering off to America and insisted we drink beer at the Holiday Inn . .
. . and that we then repair to her garage opposite the Town Hall to drink beer. We were all sad to see her go so we had drunk more than usual.
It was OK though, the cops wouldn’t catch as us we had a lookout in the tree on the pavement outside the garage in the form of John. Where a normal person would climb up a tree till the branches started thinning, John climbed up into the twigs till his head popped out from the very top and kept a 360° lookout shouting ‘Where are the coppers!?’ and ‘The coast is clear!’ and ‘Ahoy!’
Now it was true I had been with Tabs all night drinking and he could have said the same of me, but it was me talking, making my sensible suggestion. And anyway Pierre agreed with me and said he’d fetch me from Gailian after I’d delivered Tabbo safely home.
Tabs was perfectly rational and amenable to my eminently sensible suggestion. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ll drive to the top of forty two second hill and then you can drive.’ I was perfectly rational and amenable to that suggestion and we set off down Warden Street.
Tabbo had a green two-door Datsun SSS 1800 (Geoff Leslie had famously called his red Datsun 1600 his ‘Triple Ess Ess Ess’) and that thing fucked off went fast. We touched the tar twice on the way down Warden street and flew up 42nd Hill at a hell of a rate of knots. I was highly relieved when Tabs pulled over as promised and I took over, proceeding at a more sedate pace.
Soon after, I turned sedately into Gailian and the road took a sharp left and I didn’t. Changing down into second I let out the clutch but I hadn’t taken my foot off the gas, so we leapt forward into the only deep ditch in the veld for miles around. Tabbo bit a huge chunk out of the dashboard. I was OK as the steering wheel stopped me from doing the same. Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet. Or more accurately, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet *. OK, the wearing of seatbelts hadn’t yet become popular.
As it turned out, speed hadn’t been the problem after all – it was the sudden stop that dented Tabbo.
Fortunately for us, Pierre was right behind us and took us to hospital where the local vet stitched up Tabbo’s lip and he ended up looking quite handsome after that. As the doc said Vasbyt Tebs, he said ‘Hit it Doc!’ but gripped my hand tightly as he said it. It was True Valour in the face of adversity.
The sudden stop and the hospital afterwards were NOTHING. We now had to face the hard part: Telling Stella. They were in bed in the dark, we couldn’t see them, we could just hear Stella.
She asked if we were OK. Hector was silent.
* I looked it up: The first U.S. patent for automobile seat belts was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York not long before our escapade. In 1885. So we weren’t used to them yet.