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 and tilted his chin up 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
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!
Hijacking – The 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;
Streaking – When 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;
Drifting – Although 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.
Selfies – I took my selfie in 1973 in Oklahoma, which was WAY before it became popular.
OK, this Robert oke did it in 1839, and this lady had better equipment – in both ways.
Kidnapping – Tuffy started kidnapping in 1970 but these fellas kidnapped this bride 100yrs earlier in 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 . . .
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.
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.
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;
A decision to make a park on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of Harrismith town was made by the newly-established town council in 1877 (the council having been established just two years earlier). Mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Mr. Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk Mr. A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and a variety of other trees (up to 38 species) in what park enthusiasts described as “a bare, crude piece of ground” but which was probably really open highveld grassland.
The troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected the suspension bridge seen above, near where the Hamilton sandstone and iron bridge is today (named after Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the then Orange River Colony):
Tree planting commences on that bare piece of ground:
The river was narrow and shallow at the time and so an attractive little lake with a central island was added and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty’ (as for trees, so all local life was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”!). The swans did quite well, cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but they met their end at the hand of ‘some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun.’ As the trees grew, so more and more birds roosted in them, large heronries eventually being established. Predictably people complained and as predictably, the council ‘did something about it,’ shooting the birds and causing a big stink when their carcasses dropped into the lake!
In 1887 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the Queen of England’s silver jubilee (along with thousands of other things named ‘Victoria’ that year around the world in a mass-hysterical colonial spate of arse-creeping!). The park itself was called the President Brand Park (when?), similarly to curry favour, no doubt – this time local favour, not far away ‘little island called home’ favour.
More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts:
At ‘a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance,’ the park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the Orange River Colony.
In 1907 the river was dammed by a weir just downstream of the park, thus creating a wider and deeper river for the full length of the park, greatly adding to its charm and allowing for swimming, more boating and bigger boats – even the first motorboat in 1918, owned by Mr E.H Friday. Later a boat house and a landing stage were erected by the Boating Syndicate who advertised ‘Boats for Two and boats for Four and boats for All’ in 1922. The Syndicate graduated to a motor launch capable of taking 14 passengers slowly along the river, including full-moon evenings where people would sing the songs of the day accompanied by ‘the plaintive sounds of the ukelele.’
On the edge of the park nearest town sportsfields were laid out, starting with a cricket oval and an athletic track, then rugby, soccer, softball and hockey fields, and jukskei lanes.
The park was extended across the river and a new suspension bridge about 300 yards downstream replaced the one the military had erected. The thrifty town council using some of the metal from the original in the replacement. Jolly good. In time, a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.
An impressive entrance gate of wrought iron between sandstone pillars was erected and named the Warden-Milne gate in honour of those who had done so much to get the park established.
Personal memories of the park were about cars – cars before we were actually allowed to drive! On the town side in Steph de Witt’s black Saab. Actually Gerrie Pretorius’ Saab but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ We would hurtle around the atletiekbaan at speed , drifting sideways left then sideways right long before ‘drifting’ had a name. One night we hugged the final bend coming into the home straight and there was a moerse big bloekom stump in the headlights right in front of us! Someone must have seen our tracks and thought ‘I’ll put a stop to this!’ or ‘Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys!‘ How Steph missed that huge log I do not know, but we hosed ourselves and roared off. Instead of Yee Ha! we’d say Arrie-ee! (from a joke about camels . . )
On the other side of the river it was in Tim Venning’s light blue Triumph 2000. Actually Dr Dick Venning’s Triumph, but ours for the night – ‘borrowed!’ Tim behind the wheel, laughing his head off as we roared around in a cloud of dust late at night, drifting sideways most of the time.
We were good kids all in all though, of course. Nostalgia makes it ‘naughtiness,’ ‘mischief.’ Nowadays people would slate the ‘Hooliganism Of The Youth Of Today!’ Maybe adults did then? Tut tut, how wrong they were . . and are.
atletiekbaan – 440 yard athletic track – a cinder track
moerse big bloekom stump – huge ‘blue gum’ eucalyptus log or stump – about half a metre to a metre in diameter and three to five metres long. If we’d hit it, the SAAB would have been moertoe
moertoe – varktap
varktap – damaged
Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys! – I’ll show them! Ha! You missed!
Booze opened wonderful opportunities for us as kids in the olden days. As our hawk-eyed parents became bleary-eyed and witty and hilarious, so their surveillance levels dropped and we could get on with doing more interesting things than we could when they were sober.
So it was at the MOTH picnic one year on the far bank of the mighty Vulgar river down in the President Brand park where, after a lekker braai and quite a few pots the folks were suitably shickered and plans could go afoot.
The older boys formed a syndicate which consisted of them hiding and the younger boys being sent in to do the dangerous stuff. See if you can get us some beer from the pub, was the thinking. So (some of or all of) Pierre, Fluffy, Tuffy and I approached the MOTH barman Ray Taylor – as always alone at the bar, teetotal. The other old WW2 servicemen and their wives a little way off making a lot of noise. Uncle Ray, quiet as ever, was easily distracted by my accomplices and as he was being his kind and obliging self to them, I slid a full case of dumpy beers off the makeshift bar counter and turned round, hugging it vertically straight in front of me against my chest. I walked straight away with my back to Uncle Ray into the darkness of the poplar and oak trees towards the river.
Under the suspension bridge the receivers of stolen goods waited. Etienne Joubert, a Brockett and a Putterill, I seem to recall. They took the loot and told us to move along then. We were too young to be allowed to partake; we were simply a small part of the supply chain!
Etienne remembers: “I remember this incident well. We drank them on the river bank upstream. We had female company as well, but best we do not dwell on that subject. There was also unhappiness about the brand that was procured………
Dear old Uncle Ray with his Alsatians . . Twice I went on walks with him up our beloved Platberg!! He was an interesting man, who behind a façade of dullness was very wise!!
Stories like this bring back a thousand other memories……!! Cheers vir eers, Et
Another memory of The Far Side – of the river: Roaring around the dirt roads between those big trees in Dr Dick Venning’s light blue Triumph and in his Land Rover, Tim Venning at the helm. Hell for leather, running commentary all the way, huge grin on his face.
Uncle Ray was attacked by baboons on one of his Platberg walks. Not sure if his dog/s were with him, but he said he fought off the babs with his walking stick. We were told he had suffered “shell shock” in the war.