In 1969 a bunch of us were taken to Durban to watch a rugby test match – Springboks against the Australian Wallabies. “Our” Tommy Bedford was captain of the ‘Boks. We didn’t know it, but it was to be one of his last games.
Schoolboy “seats” were flat on your bum on the grass in front of the main stand at Kings Park. Looking around we spotted old Ella Bedford – “Mis Betfit” as her pupils called her – Harrismith’s English-as-second-language teacher. Also: Springbok captain’s Mom! Hence our feeling like special guests! She was up in the stands directly behind us. Sitting next to her was a really spunky blonde so we whistled and hooted and waved until she returned the wave.
Back at school the next week ‘Mis Betfit’ told us how her daughter-in-law had turned to her and said: “Ooh look, those boys are waving at me!” And she replied (and some of you will hear her tone of voice in your mind’s ear): “No they’re not! They’re my boys. They’re waving at me!”
We just smiled, thinking ‘So, Mis Betfit isn’t always right’. Here’s Jane. We did NOT mistake her for Mis Betfit.
“corrections of corrections of corrections”
Mrs Bedford taught English to people not exactly enamoured of the language. Apparently anything you got wrong had to be fixed below your work under the heading “corrections”. Anything you got wrong in your corrections had to be fixed under the heading “corrections of corrections”. Mistakes in those would be “corrections of corrections of corrections”. And so on, ad infinitum! She never gave up. You WOULD get it all right eventually!
Stop Press! Today I saw an actual bona-fide example of this! Schoolmate Gerda has kept this for nigh-on fifty years! (this is in 2020)
Tommy’s last game for the Boks came in 1971 against the French – again in Durban.
Two or three years later:
In matric the 1972 rugby season started and I suddenly thought: ‘Why’m I playing rugby? I’m playing because people think I have to play rugby! I don’t.’
So I didn’t.
It caused a mild little stir, especially for ou Vis, mnr Alberts in the primary school. He came up from the laerskool specially to politely voice his dismay. Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! he protested. That was optimistic. I had played some good rugby when I shot up and became the tallest in the team, not because of any real talent for the game – as I went on to prove.
ou Vis – nickname meaning old fish – dunno why
Nee man, jy moet ons tweede Tommy Bedford wees! – Don’t give up rugby. You should become our ‘second Tommy Bedford’ – Not.
Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world, and in Durban colonial circles. Sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.
It was quite a year. I had shot up, my balls had dropped, and I became the tallest blonde in the team. Coenie Meyer was the only other one, but he was a stocky centre and I was a lanky lock in the serious half of the team, the half that did the hard work and won the ball – only for the frivolous half to donate it to the opposition, starting the whole process all over again! Us bum-sniffers suffered while the pretty-boy backs got all the glory. Before this hormonal reshuffling, rugby had not been I.
But truth be told, our real strength lay in an outstanding flyhalf called De Wet Ras; and in great teamwork, determined tackling and a fierce desire to do well by ‘Sir’ – as we called Bruce Humphries, our tennis-playing coach.
We were coached by a bespectacled tennis champ called Bruce who inspired us to give our all. His sidekick Ben backed him up and supported us – a kind soul was Ben Marais. We beat all-comers and moved on to play against bigger teams. We drew one game against Bethlehem Voortrekker 0-0, our ‘winning’ De Wet Ras drop kick sailing high directly above the right upright, so the ref did not award it. We beat them 8-3 in a re-match.
We were the Harrismith under thirteen team of 1967, playing in bright orange, looking for all the world like mangoes complete with little green leaves on top and some black spots below!
At the end of the season we were unbeaten and happy.
But then we read in the newspaper, the Engelse koerant, The Friend of Bloemfontein:
Free State u/13 Champs: 140 points for and 0 against!
And they weren’t talking about us – it was an u/13 team from Virginia. We thought: Free State Champs? Like Hell! We also thought: Where the hell is Virginia? That doesn’t sound like an egte Free State dorp.
Bruce Humphries phoned them and challenged them to come and play us. ‘No, we’re Free State Champs,’ they said, ‘Can’t you read? You’ll have to come to us!’
Off we went to Virginia in Bruce’s new 1966 white Ford Cortina and Giel du Toit’s tweede-hands black Mercedes 190 – about 1959, and Ben Marais’ blue VW Beetle, undetermined vintage.
There we watched their second team play Saaiplaas, a little mining village team with an egte Free State dorp name. We cheered Saaiplaas on and exhorted them to victory! I can still hear our hooker Skottie Meyer shouting mockingly – he was full of nonsense like that, onse Skottie – “Thlaaiplaath!! Thlaiplaath!!” They beat the Virginia seconds 3-0, handing them their first defeat of the season.
Our turn next, and the Saaiplaas boys did their best to be heard above the din of the enthusiastic local Virginia supporters. It was a tight match but we had the edge, our left wing Krugertjie being stopped inches from the left corner flag and our right wing Krugertjie pulled down inches from the right corner flag. Yep, identical twins, find them in the pic. The difference at the final whistle was a De Wet Ras drop goal from near the halfway line. 3-0 to us to complete a bad day for ex-Free State Champs Virginia. Which they pronounced Fuh-Jean-Yah.
What’s Next? Now Bruce Humphries had the Free State’s biggest fish in his sights: Grey College Bloemfontein. No, they didn’t really think they’d want to play us, thank you; and anyway they were off on a tour to Natal that week, thank you. ‘Well’, said Bruce ‘You can’t get back from Natal without passing through Harrismith, and you wouldn’t really sneak past us with your tails between your legs, would you?’
So the game was on! That day the pawiljoen at the park was packed with our enthusiastic supporters and cars ringed the field. Our followers’ numbers had grown as the season progressed and excitement at our unbeaten tag increased. No Grey College team had ever played in this little outpost of the British Empire (yes, we were that, once!) before.
Another tough game ensued, but a try just left of the posts by the tallest blonde in our team was the difference: We beat them 8-3, all the other points being scored by our points machine and tactical general De Wet! Die Dapper Generaal De Wet!
Beating the Rest When it came to selecting an Eastern Free State team, the other schools introduced a twist: Not only did you have to be under thirteen, you also had to be in primary school! This excluded a few of our boys, who were in Std 6 (Grade 8). Only four of our team were chosen. So we challenged them to a game. Bruce told them it would do them good to have a warm-up game against the rest of us before they went to the capital of the province, Bloemfontein, to play in a tournament. Having been chosen as reserve, I was lucky: I could still play for ‘us’! Plus we ‘innocently’ added Gabba Coetzee to boost our depleted team – with their knowledge and permission. He was in Std 6 and just too old to actually be under thirteen. He was a legendary machine of an eighth man! An Iron Man, actually. His matric 1972 shot put record stands to this day, nearly fifty years later.
Ho Hum! Depleted Harrismith 17 – Oos Vrystaat 0
On the LEFT: Bruce Humphries (coach); On the RIGHT: Ben Marais (assistant coach)
All smaller heads Left to Right: Dana Moore, Attie Labuschagne, Leon Fluffy Crawley, De Wet Ras, Redge Jelliman, Skottie Meyer, Hendrik Conradie, Hansie Jooste, Irené Tuffy Joubert, Coenie Meyer, Peter Koos Swanepoel, Kruger, Kobus Odendaal, Kruger, Max Wessels
– I wonder what that trophy is that De Wet is holding? I cannot remember what that trophy might have been for. ‘Handsome Vrystaters Floating-on-Air’ Trophy maybe?
We got word that Bruce Humphries passed away in about 2011.
Go Well Sir! We'll never forget that 1967 rugby season. We soared high and grew our self-esteem that year. Thank you!
Fresh from the City of Sin and Laughter, OFS, where I’d spent my first seventeen years, I arrived in New York with great expectations.
I was READY – more than ready! – to see the big wide world. After landing we – the gang of South African Rotary Exchange students -were bussed to a hotel in Queens. Someone – a Rotarian, I guess? – checked us in and then left us to go to bed for the night. Early the next morning we’d be boarding different planes to the various states we’d been assigned to.
Go to bed?! Fuhgeddaboudit!
But most did! I was horrified. “Excuse me, no WAY I’m going to bed”. Only one other guy (was he Gary or was he heading to Gary, Indiana?) joined me and we went to the night porter. “Right! Where can we go for a night on the town, sir? We want to go for a walk, which way shall we head?”
Oh, I wouldn’t advise you did that, he drawled, I’ll get the hotel bus to take you someplace.
So off we went, noses plastered against the windows, fascinated. Our personal chauffeur dropped us off at a brightly-lit truck stop and asked when we wanted to be fetched. “Three Ay Emm” we said, pushing our luck. Check, he said without blinking. So we sat and watched a New York night go by drinking beer and eating burgers n fries till he fetched us as arranged.
After three hours sleep, we were taken back to JFK where we split up. Some of us boarded a HUGE helicopter for the hop over to La Guardia airport from where I would be going on to Oklahoma, OFS – uh, USA.
The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.
It was 1969 and we were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had launched a seuns toer and then discovered they didn’t actually have enough seuns in Kestel to toer. So they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School’s seuns: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes, and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?
We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: A fine Hotel on the main street of the small metropolis of Karasburg. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.
We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. His relaxed response had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.
Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner or manager, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.
He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting the peaceful liberal ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.
But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!
Early next morning we hightailed it out of the metropolis of Karasburg and headed for the nearby Finger of God. Was it going to wag at us sternly for our little alcoholic misdemeanour?
seuns – boys
toer – tour
kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’
vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?
Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!
1973, on my way back from the States, I fly to New York on a Monday in December and ask for a flight to Johannesburg via London.
‘Sorry you can’t. Your ticket is non-transferable, and the next SAA flight is via Rio on Friday’. The old man had paid for my ticket on his shiny new Barclaycard and had put it over 12 months, so one last payment was still outstanding.
Ooh shit, four days in NY with no money. Well, about $19. I got a $25 a month allowance in Apache from the Rotary club. Seventeen South African Diederiks Ront it was back then. And sixty cents. R1 was worth $1.42 – how times have changed if you’re reading this in 2020!
I put my suitcase in a locker, put a quarter in the slot and take the key.
Hop on a bus to Grand Central Station in Manhattan to look for the SAA office / kantoor. ‘That’ll be $2’ says the bus conductor.
At the SAA office / kantoor I get, ‘Sorry, can’t help’. Hey asseblief man! ‘OK, we’ll try’.
Back to JFK airport and sleep on the floor. The damn benches spitefully have armrests for each seat so you can’t lie down on them. Fitful sleep on the hard floor broken by a huge sit-on vacuum and polish machine that roars up to me at 3am. ‘Move along there’, says the cleaner driving the vengeful beast.
Tuesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA office run, but now I’m rather peckish so I stroll around Manhattan looking for something cheap to eat. I find a burger for $3. Not cheap in ’73, but that includes as much beer as you can drink, so I think OK. Big glasses, though, so I could only drink two. Then I wander the Manhattan streets with a nice beer buzz going. Going up the Empire State building was an amazing experience.
Wednesday I do the same locker-bus-SAA-hamburger-with-beers run but this time when I go into SAA at the end of the day they tell me ‘Good News, you’re free to go!’ To celebrate I book into the YMCA without my suitcase so I can have a shower. ‘That’ll be $11’ for the smallest room I have ever slept in: Just barely bigger than a small single bed.
Thursday I’m squeaky clean on the bus back to JFK. My ticket is now ‘transferable’ and I take the first plane to London: Air India. I grab a discarded newspaper lying on a bench on my way to board. It’s a jumbo jet – my first!
Settling into my seat I read: “Air India has just been voted ‘Worst Airline in the World’ – Again”. Their cabin crew is on strike so admin staff are ‘standing in for them’ – by doing nothing. A delightful Irish lass is sitting next to me. Much older – she was probably all of thirty – she feels sorry for me so buys me a Pommy cold pork pie on the way out of Heathrow. Tastiest pie ever.
I’m on my way to meet a connection Don Inglis who once lived in Harrismith and is now in London for a year, so he knows the place. Turns out he has a rugby match playing for some Saffer team against the London Irish, so we scurry around Buck House circle and somewhere else where someone lived or died or married someone, and head off to near Wimbledon for the game. Five rugby okes are squeezed into his little Austin something, and we’re reading a map. I’ve been there one hour and I’m saying ‘Left, I think.’ At the ground the players huddle in a cold shed to change and notice they’re a couple of boerkies short can I play? Sure, I say, but only half the first half, then I have to catch a tube to Heathrow.
Thank goodness (it’s sleeting outside) Don says rather don’t risk missing your flight. So they run out onto the mud with one blade of grass every ten yards without me and start puffing out steam and shoving some fat Irish blokes around.
Between scrums Don shouts out which tubes and buses I should catch and I leave before the halftime whistle to head south after a year in foreign climes. I’m very much looking forward to getting home now.
Once in the air the SAA koffie poppie gives me lip when I order a third beer so I’m feeling at home while still thousands of kays away.
Diederiks Ront – SA currency; Our finance minister’s name was Diederiks
office / kantoor – office / office
asseblief – puh-leez!
Saffer – South African
boerkies – South Africans
koffie poppie – SAA air hostess
The old man’s Barclaycard was brand new. Maybe he was persuaded to get one by a glass of sherry and a blonde?
I recently (2019) packed some clothes for my 90yr-old Mom as she was going to stay in a home for the aged for a while. Get my suitcase down from on top of my cupboard, she said. It was the suitcase I had parked in the JFK locker 46 years ago! And it was probably old when she loaned it to me!
1971: Rugby in Bloemfontein, first test Springboks vs the Frogs, the French. We drove over in Tabs’ car to watch.
Apparently: . . . this test is remembered for a famous tackle by Bourgarel on a charging Frik du Preez. Frik was charging down the touchline, all cylinders firing, on his way to what look like a certain try. Bourgarel, however, had other plans. The little French wing came from the side, fly-tackling Frik; dumping him unceremoniously over the touchline to the disgust of the crowd, who even came-up with a chant for the Bourgarel as a consequence. ‘Boe-ga-rel, gaan na die hel!’
One of the teams must have won, but I remember that test for something different: After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back to Harrismith when the beer ran out and a kroeg – no way you would call it a pub – in the dusty metropolis of Senekal beckoned.
Tabs remembers us playing darts and drinking maybe quite a lot. By the time the barman threw us out Des had bonded deeply with one of Senekal’s left-behinds, and when we suggested we leave for home rather than go home with Deliverance for a braai, Des told us in no uncertain terms that WE could go, but HE was not leaving his lifelong mate – of three hours – in the lurch. There would be no abandonment, said Des with his nose in the air and his eyes closed – you know how he gets.
ONE fing we must NOT do, we were told, also in no uncertain terms, by Des’ Brokeback Mountain mate when we got to the small house on the wrong side of Senekal, is wake his wife. Lemme tell you carefully, you must not, no marrer whut you do, wake my wahf, you hear?
Wooden floors, five drunk ous stumbling around, I started to think this goon doesn’t actually have a wife. Conan meanwhile, is scratching around in the chest deep freeze. He hauls out what looks like a roundish, rock-hard lump of blood in a plastic checkers packet, and suddenly I get a clear image: He DOES have a wife and she IS in the house! In that deep freeze! In fact, he’s offering us a piece of her for a braai! I’m tallying you, we’re part of his alibi!
Des, I urge, we should go, this is going to take forever, I’m tallying you. But it’s like Des told us: WE can go, but HE’s not leaving his lifelong mate; his china; his Senekal Soulmate.
It’s midnight in midwinter in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not warm. Eventually a fire gets going – sort of – and the icy red lumpy piece of deceased wife sits on it, refusing to melt. Its like ice vs small fire and ice is winning. An alternative hazy recollection is the oven was turned on and the lump placed in there. Exact facts are in dispute among us hostages decades later. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome?
Meantime, Jack Nicholson has found some dop and we have to drink, and luckily this puts him to sleep and mellows the Glutz, who loves him less sleeping than awake; so we’re able to persuade him to make a bolt for it, hitting the Senekal dirt roads till we find the tar to Harrismith.
Stervis has a hazy recollection of a lump of red meat being put into an oven, not on a braai; and of the Wildman pulling out a gun, Clint Oosthuizen-style, and taking potshots at us as the getaway car spins madly down the driveway, slewing sideways and throwing up stones which put Rambo off his aim. Luckily the resulting dust plume obscures us from view and saves our lives. I like Stervis’ version.
Tabs has a slightly different recollection which the years have not made any less exciting: His version is also wilder than mine: He remembers this Clyde making threats against anyone wanting to pomp his Bonnie, who he thought we may have seen – maybe she was present? Having to protect his wahf’s honour made our Clyde mutter he was going to fetch his gun. We took the break and ran for the car. Out of the corner of his eye Tabs, now the driver of the getaway car, noticed one of us was quite a way behind in this desperate race. As the car peeled out, wheels spinning, Des leapt the fence Olympic hurdler-style. His short cut got him to the moving car, the door was flung open and he dived inside, saving him from a feit worse van deaf.
To this day I can experience that weird, out-of-body sensation of “WTF are we DOING here? Am I in a bad movie or in a bad dream?!”
Memories are dodgy things. Tabs pointed out in 2021 that it could not have been 1971 as we were both still in school. It was 1975 – I have fixed it here, but I’ve left this post as is so you can read about Bourgarel le brave Frog!