Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia school sport

Two Cross-Country Runs – Two Seconds

Never ones for orthodox, disciplined, organised affairs – or maybe: having grown out of enjoying organised affairs, a small group of us started running in the early mornings. We’d meet and run the short course above the hostel, past the jail and back. We called ourselves Mossies cos we got up at sparrows-fart to run. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, myself – who else? We were in Std 9. 1971. It was summer; daylight came early.

We chose a bird name as the organised runners were being coached by a teacher called ou Makou, so they were the Makoue. Muscovy ducks. Their star was Stefan Ferreira.

After a while, a match-up was arranged; a challenge. We were determined to win this showdown: Us vs The Establishment! At the last minute a third team was entered by Dana Moore; he said they hadn’t trained, so were calling themselves the Pikkewyne. Penguins.

The course chosen was new to all: Up, around and down Queens Hill. Only about 3,5km google earth tells me. That was probably a standard distance for school cross-country, as Oosie was in charge. Oosie always made sure things were done right. The maths teacher! White coat, black glasses . . something like this. Oh no, wait, that’s not Oosie: That’s a science lab, so that’s Oscar Boehmer, our science teacher.

– Queens Hill – about 3,5km –
– Kevin a few years earlier –

The Pikkewyne were given a good head start, and good thing too, as we soon caught them while still on the climb. They were huffing and puffing! The pace seemed way slow so I soon moved to the front and started pushing harder. On the way down I saw Kevin Crawley watching. He must have come back to town on leave as he had finished school. He said, ‘Good going, you’re lying second!’ and that surprised me. I thought I was well ahead. ‘Only Dana’s beating you,’ said Kevin. Ah! Of course! How could I have thought Dana was among the huffers n puffers!? His ‘unfit’ was always better than most people’s fit! I pushed harder down the hill. The finish was now visible ahead. As I got within a few hundred metres another surprise: I caught a glimpse of Stefan Ferreira just behind me over my right shoulder! He stayed a metre back as I pushed again, even harder, nearing the finish. A number of cars had been parked on both sides of the road and the straightest line to the finish was hard against the cars on the right, but that would mean ‘scraping’ Stefan off against them. Dilemma. I moved left to make room for him to also run past them. Well, longish story short: he pipped me at the post! I came second. Damn! Consolation prize was: WE came first. The Mossies won the team competition.

Our next big X-Country day was an inter-school event on the slopes of Platberg. A far more serious course – about ten km and a lot more climbing. It was the route of the famous annual mountain race except for y’know, that actual ‘mountain’ section.

– Platberg – about 10km –

The start and finish was on the tar road outside the high school and the girls hostel.

As we got to the first steep section, where the yellow arrow points, the pace slowed right down. Once again I was impatient. I didn’t want to go ahead, but this was too slow! I went ahead. Soon after we turned down I noticed there was one guy near me, the rest had dropped back. At a barbed wire fence I glanced back as I hopped through and noticed he was barefoot. Ah! I thought, I have a plan for that! I pushed hard and aimed for the donga where the blue arrow points; I knew it well, it was very rocky and uneven. I planned to make a getaway there. I was wearing my asics tigers. I loved those shoes with their thin hard soles and super light tops. When I hit the donga I pinned my ears back and ‘put foot,’ leaping from rock to rock and flying down, leaving my pursuer in my dust.

Or so I hoped. As I emerged from the donga onto the flat veld leading to the country club road he was half a metre behind me. Uh oh! I knew I had a problem. I had run those 800-odd metres as fast as I could go, and – barefoot – he had absorbed the surge. Respect! He stayed just behind me on the gravel road and drew level with me as we turned left onto the tar road. We ran shoulder to shoulder up the gentle incline.

– the Koos vest –

When we first appeared in sight of the finish I heard a disappointed groan from the crowd. They were hoping to see one of our distinctive orange vests. They thus thought the two leaders were not from Harrismith. They didn’t know my rebellious nature had me wearing my own favourite white vest that I’d sewed a Scout badge onto and painted a peace sign on. Then they started recognising me and an encouraging shout went up. ‘Dis Peterrr!’ Once again there was ear pinning and I let rip with everything that I had.

And got left in the barefoot fella’s dust. Second again. To make it worse, he was from Vrede, our main rival dorpie! When I got my breath back I went looking for him to congratulate him. I joked ‘Oy! Couldnt you see I wanted to win in front of my mense?!’ He grunted and scowled and turned away. Oh well. Vrede humour is probably different to this rooinek’s!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Leon Fluffy Crawley wrote: Yep great memories… Lovely piece on your blog.. Confessions… I was part of the early morning run… I was staying in the hostel after Mom Pollie moved down to Ladysmith.. Std 9….that’s where we met at the hostel.. early morning and did a stint before school…. I did not do the races…. You were the athlete… Great athlete… I must have bailed out at some stage… Great to see Kevin’s name there as well.
We had a great youth period in Harrismith… I pity not going back there more often after school as Pollie stayed in Ladysmith – which then became my “home town.” I missed a lot of that period of my life in Harrismith!!!! 
Well keep safe… At least the keys are in the lock waiting for stage 3 – Fluffy

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Eyewitness Account

Thanks to coincidence, luck and connections, I have an eyewitness account to the time my good friend Tuffy fell out of a helicopter!

Chris Greeff is one of the most connected people I know. He mentioned that John Lee is a parabat. I said: My two schoolmates did parabats in 1971 (Pierre du Plessis) and around 1975 I’d guess (Tuffy Joubert). He asked: Tuffy Joubert – that became a Recce – and raced Rubber Ducks with Maddies?

I said Yep. He’s a Harrismith boykie. So Chris sent me a pdf file: Read page 10, he said.

Interview – Major Peter Schofield by Mike Cadman 21 August 2007

Reconnaissance Regiment – Project Missing Voices

Schofield on arrival at Recce base on the Bluff in Durban:

Then I had lunch and went looking for the climbing course. Now, it wasn’t a very long walk but I walked along the length of the camp where there was a helicopter hovering at about a hundred feet. And I stopped on the edge of the hockey field where this was taking place and watched this, and out came a couple of ropes and a couple of guys came whizzing down in sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more came whizzing down sort of abseil fashion. And a couple more.

Then one came out, and came into free fall. And he literally, he got hold of the rope a little bit, but he just fell a hundred feet flat on his back wearing a rucksack and a rifle. And I didn’t even bother to walk over to him, I thought, He’s Dead. He can’t fall that far and not be.

And obviously the ropes were cast off and the chopper landed. They whipped him into the chopper and flew away. I didn’t know where to, but it was in fact to Addington Hospital, which is about three minutes flight away. And, I thought well this must be quite something of a unit, because basically they carried on with the rest of the course as though nothing had happened.

I thought, Well, I better introduce myself to the senior people here and see what’s going on. So I walked over and met the senior members of the course, and it was being run by a bunch of senior NCOs and I was impressed by the lack of concern that anybody showed for the fact that the guy had just fallen a hundred feet from a helicopter. A guy called (Tuffie?) Joubert. And Tuffie is still alive and kicking and serving in Baghdad right now.

And I said, What the hell are you doing? How did he fall over there? They said, Well nobody’s ever done it before. I said, OK, show me what you’re doing. And they were actually tying the abseil ropes direct to the gearbox of the rotor box in the roof, I think it was, in the Puma. Which gets to about a thousand degrees in no time flat. So if they had gone on long enough, they’d have broken at least one if not all four of the ropes with people on them. I said, Well let’s change that. And anyway you’re not abseiling properly so let’s send the helicopter away and let’s do some theory on abseiling and then we’ll go and do it off a building or something that stands still for a while before we progress to helicopters.

Then I went back to report to the commanding officer, John Moore, that I wasn’t really terribly satisfied with the way things were proceeding on this climbing course. He said, Oh well, have you done it before? I said Yes, I’ve done a hell of a lot of it, I was a rock climbing instructor apart from anything else. And he said, OK, well take over, run the climbing course. So I did just that. And again I was so impressed with the fairly laid back attitude of everything.

=======ooo000ooo=======

me & Tuffy Joubert in his Durban recce days
Tuffy Joubert (right) with me in his Durban recce days

I told Tuffy and he replied in his laid-back Recce way:

Good morning Koos,

Trust to find you well; This side of the coast we are all well and we think we have everything under control.

Maj Peter Schofield was a Brit, he was part of the Red Devils if I recall correctly; came to South Africa and joined the Recces. His first day at work on the Bluff he had to take over the Mountaineering Course that included abseiling. As he walked out to see what was going on, “Yes, I fell out of the helicopter”. He was not impressed.

He lived in Harrismith for a few years after retiring, Pierre knew him. He passed away a few years ago here in Cape Town.

No I have not heard or seen his talk.

Lekker dag verder, enjoy and go for gold – Groetnis – Tuffy.

 

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

One Fine Day in April

Around 1965 or thereabouts, I got an early morning phone call filled with excitement and urgency: “Koos! Come quickly! Come see! There’s a snake in the hoona hock!”

Well, I was thrilled! This I had to see. You can live in a dorp and hike in the veld often and very seldom see snakes, so I hopped onto my dikwiel fiets and pedaled furiously. It was about a mile to the Joubert’s house. Down Hector Street, west along Stuart Street past Scotty’s house, past the MOTH Hall, then downhill in Piet Uys Street to their house on the spruit that ran between them and the meisieskoshuis.

As I pulled up the whole family was there to meet me, Aunty Joyce, Uncle Cappy, Etienne, Tuffy and Deon, laughing and shouting “Happy Birthday!”

There was no snake. I’d not realised it was the 1st of April.

~~~oo0oo~~~

hoona hock – chicken coop (actual Afrikaans hoenderhok)

dorp – village

veld – fields, grasslands

dikwielfiets – sophisticated mode of transport, a black balloon tyre bicycle

spruit – stream

meisieskoshuis – girls hostel

==== another time I forgot the 1st April ====

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

World Firsts

Or – Firsts in the Vrystaat (well, sort of . . . Firsts For Us! There you go).

In our little world:

  • We invented Hijacking – of the Orange Express (check post)
  • We invented Streaking – in Kimberley (check post)
  • We invented Drifting – on the athletics track in the park (check post)
  • We invented Selfies – in Oklahoma (check post)
  • We invented Kidnapping – on birthdays, anyway*
  • We invented self-driving cars

=========ooo000ooo=========

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!

Bicycle Dikwiel deluxe.jpg

HijackingThe 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;

train-hijacking

StreakingWhen 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;

DriftingAlthough 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.

This church saw some good drifting in its day

Selfies – I took my selfie in 1973 in Oklahoma, which was WAY before it became popular.

ApacheOK73 (8).JPG

selfie-1839-robertcornelius  serious-selfie

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:

bride_kidnapping-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.

=========ooo000ooo=========

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;

ous – handsome young rakes; cool cats;

 

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Talk about Chalk and . .

. . double strength gorgonzola!

In 1971 I decided I wanted to do the Dusi. Charlie Ryder (who gave me his boat, a fibreglass Limfy K1 with nylon deck and his left-feather paddle) told me it was tough, I’d better train.

So I did.
Every morning a few of us (Louis Wessels, Tuffy, Leon Crawley, who else?) got up at 5am, cycled a mile to the boys hostel and then ran the X-country course. About 3km up a hill past the jail, across, down through a donga/stream bed and back. Probably a 20 minute run. After school I would cycle to the mighty Vulgar River and paddle Charles’ boat (which I left “hidden” under a willow tree) for about a km or two. The cycle back home was uphill.

I’m not even sure I told anyone I was I was aiming to paddle the Dusi! I must have, surely? They knew about the boat anyway.

I have never been as fit in my life, before or since. Running I felt like I could fly. I would run hard, then even harder and still think “I could just carry on like this!”

Today I re-read Graeme Pope-Ellis’ book. The part about his training in 1971.

He ran at 4.30 am for two to two-and-a-half hours; He ran hard.
In the afternoon he paddled for two to two-and-a-half hours; He paddled hard.
Plus he did half an hour of hard, targeted gym work.

My total training was an hour a day and only parts of the running was done hard. The cycling and paddling were leisurely. No pain; No pain!

I didn’t have a clue what “train hard” meant! Talk about chalk and cheese! Quite an eye-opener.

I didn’t do that race in 1972. My boat was stolen shortly before – around New Year. I hitch-hiked to the race and followed it down through the Dusi and Umgeni valleys (with friend Jean Roux), sleeping in the open and bumming rides with paddlers’ seconds. Graeme won the race. His first win. He went on to win it 15 times.

Later I got to know Graeme and many of the guys who dedicated their lives to winning the Dusi. They trained like demons. Some of them did beat Graeme. Occasionally. But usually Graeme did the winning.

Me, I became a tripper! One of the trips was with Graeme and other fast paddlers who geared down and bumbled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in leisurely fashion. My style!

~~~oo0oo~~~

In my first Dusi in 1983 I politely waited for the okes in a hurry to move on over the flat water in Alexander Park and when I go to the weir I paused to tie a shoelace. Jerome Truran (world-class whitewater paddler) was spectating that year. He spotted me and said “Hey Swanie, you do realise this is a race, right?”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

The Harrismith Park

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):
img581.jpg 

Tree planting commences on that bare piece of ground:

img557.jpg

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.

img519

More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts:
img579

img509

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.’

img559

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.

img563
They named the lake
img684
img573
img727
– the Wilge in high flood –

Thanks to Harrismith Historian Biebie de Vos for most source material, and to SA Watts’ military history article


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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

Later, a zoo was established in a corner of the park.

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Wonderful stuff, booze

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.

img565

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

South West Africa Tour

The Kestell bus was like a half-loaf, but still the metropolis of Kestell couldn’t roust enough boys to fill it, so we Harrismithians had been invited along. Johan Steyl announced in the hall one assembly that Kestell was inviting Harrismith boys to join their ‘seunstoer’ to South West Africa. It would be fifteen days in the July holidays, and the cost would be twenty five South African Ront. Leon ‘Fluffy’ Crawley, Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots, Pierre du Plessis, Tuffy Joubert, Piet Steyl and me, plus a few others said YES! and then our parents said yes, so we were off!

– an actual pic by Fluffy, care of mother Polly’s Kodak! –

It was boys-only, a seunstoer, but Mnr Braam Venter of Kestell took his daughter along. She was about Std 4 we were Std 7 to 9. She was very popular and soon became like the tour mascot, second only to Wagter the tour dog – who was actually a found holey corobrick with a dog collar through one of its three holes and string for a leash.

The short bus had a longitudinal seating arrangement. Long rows running the length of the bus so you sat facing each other, sideways to your direction of travel.

We all bundled in and set off. After a few hours we had the first roadside stop. Mnr Venter lined us all up outside the bus and said ‘Right, introduce yourselves,’ as the Kestell ous didn’t know us – and we didn’t know them. Down the row came the names, van Tonder, van Wyk, van Niekerk, van Staden, van Aswegen, vanne Merwe, van Dit, van WhatWhat, Aasvoel, Kleine Asenvogel, Marble Hol. Fluffy standing next to me murmured ‘Steve McQueen’ but when his turn came he let out with a clear ‘Leon Crawley’ so I said ‘Steve McQueen’ out loud. Without a blink the naming continued before I could say ‘Uh, just kidding’, so I became ‘Ou Steve‘ for the duration.

Aughrabies Falls
– Aughrabies Falls – by Leon Fluffy Crawley –

Our first stop was Kimberley, where we camped in the caravan park; then on to the Aughrabies Falls on the Gariep River, stopping at the roaring dunes near Hotazel in the Kalahari. On from there to the borderpost at Onseepkans.

~~~oo0oo~~~

When we entered SWA we headed straight for a pub. The first pub we found. Us fourteen to sixteen year-olds. Read about that here.  

We went to the Fish River Canyon. Like all canyons, it was billed as the biggest, longest, deepest, whatever in the (insert your area, your country, or ‘world’ here). We stood on the rim and gazed down. Then Pikkie Loots and I couldn’t stand it; so – against orders – we zipped down the pathway, slipping and sliding down as fast as we could. Before we got to the bottom we decided we’d get into big kak if we took too long, so we reluctantly stopped and returned to the top, slowly.

– Steve Reed’s pic from 1993 when he did the full hike –

We camped next to the Vingerklip, while it still stood (it fell down nineteen years later on 8 December 1988, so its obviously it wasn’t our fault, nê). About 30m high from the vlaktes at the base, the little neck it balanced on was only about 3m by 1,5m, making it rather precarious.

SWA_mukorobvingerklip-before-it-fell
– vingerklip as we left it – promise! –

Later we camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

– a Welwitschia plant in the Namib desert – pic by photographer Crawley (Fluffy)

SWA_Brandberg

On to the Brandberg, where a long walk would take you to some rock paintings. I chose not to make the walk. Pikkie did, and remembered: ‘the terrain was barren, hot as hell, and rock strewn. The rocks had a rich red-brown colour, and I thought it was amazing that the local indigenous people had painted a white lady, which according to legend was the Queen of Sheba, who they would probably never have seen! Some people wanted to pour water on the paintings but I think Braam stopped them and of course today I realise that he was a hundred per cent right in not letting us do it. If we all poured water on it it would have been washed away by now!’

– new Okakuejo gate –

We got to Etosha National Park after dark so the Okakuejo gate was closed. We didn’t pitch our tents that night to save time, simply bedding down outside ready to drive in first thing the next morning. On spotting us the next morning the game ranger said Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek.

– Namutoni camp, as we saw it! Fluffy’s pic again –

On our way back, we passed Lake Otjikoto, the ‘bottomless lake’:

SWA_Otjikoto lake
SWA_Lake Otjikoto
– cichlid fish, Tilapia guinasana
– that’s us at the ‘bottomless’ lake – Fluffy the photographer – with his Ma Polly’s Kodak –

The Hoba meteorite next. Weighing about 60 tons, made of iron and nickel, it is still the largest single intact meteorite known, and also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of ferronickel known on Earth’s surface. Estimated to have fallen 80 000 years ago, it was discovered around 1920.

SWA_Hoba meteorite
– this pic from July 1967, two years before we saw it –
– 1969 –

On the way out of SWA we reached the South East corner of the country, heading for the border with the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, when we spotted something tangled up in the roadside fences. Turned out to be a few springbok, some dead, some still alive but badly injured. As we spotted them one of the farm boys yelled out ‘Ek debs die balsak! He cut off the scrotum, pulled it over the base of a glass cooldrink bottle. What? we asked. When it had dried he would break the glass and he’d have an ashtray, he explained. Oh.

The alive ones were dispatched and all were taken to the nearby farmer who gave us one for our trouble. It seems some hunters are indiscriminate and less than accurate and the buck panic before the onslaught and run into the fences.

SWA_springbok
– looking at them I would never have guessed they had potential ashtrays a-hanging behind them! –

That night we made a huge bonfire on the dry bed of the Nossob river or one of its tributaries and braai’d the springbok meat. It was freezing in July so we placed our sleeping bags around the fire and moved closer to the bed of coals all night long. Every time we woke we inched closer.

A wonderful star-filled night sky above us.

~~~oo0oo~~~

edit: Updated since Fluffy found his 1969 pictures of SWA. Taken with Ma Polly’s Kodak camera. So now our story has real pics, not just internet pics. – Pikkie says: Even reading it a second time brings back great memories! Fluffy asks: Can you guys remember the freshly baked brown bread we bought from a plaas winkel… Twee Rivieren… On our way back… Pretty expensive if I remember well – 17 cents . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

seunstoer – boys tour;

Wagter – Rover

– y’understand?

“Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” – Your Afrikaans Are Atrocious; or Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!

Ek debs die balsak! – ‘Dibs on the ballbag!’ or ‘I lay claim to the antelope scrotum’;

Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek – Right here where you’re camping a lion killed an antelope the night before last;

– another view of Otjikoto ‘bottomless’ Lake – about 100m deep vertically, but then leading off horizontally into caves beyond that –
– a hillock covered with rocks – oh, and boulders – near Aughrabies Falls –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school

I Must Go Down To The Seas Again . .

. . to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking

Maybe Steph was thinking of Masefield’s poem when he suggested we’d done enough short jaunts with our parents’ cars late at night while the dorp was sleeping and good kids were in bed dreaming of homework well done.

Been to Kestell? Tick;

Been to Swinburne? Tick;

Been to Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Had a head-on collision with a hill on Queen’s Hill? Tick;

Drifting laps around the atletiekbaan in Pres Brand Park? Tick;

Donuts on the high school netball courts? Tick;

What was there left to do? Maybe this was the first sign of his lifelong love of the sea – in time to come he would sail a huge ocean-going catamaran and go deep-sea fishing on his skiboat off Sordwana. In those far-off days of our youth, all that was yet to come.

Whatever – (let’s face it, more likely Steph was just thinking ADVENTURE! REBELLION! ADRENALIN!) – he started us plotting a biggie.
It was certainly him who came up with the bold idea:
I know. Have we been to the sea? Does the Vrystaat even have a sea? NO!! Let’s go to Durbs, dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and bring back a bottle of sea water, and – as always – be back before sonop.

RIGHT!!

Ford Corsair
– Ford Corsair –

We must plan:
– We need the white Corsair, not the black Saab; It’s faster.
Here’s what it looked like except Gerrie’s was white. And four-door. Otherwise like this.

We must leave much earlier. We can’t wait for our parents to fall asleep; We need longer.

But not too much planning:

– I don’t remember discussing fuel or mileage or consumption. Those weren’t really fashionable topics in those days.

So Steph strolls into his Mom Alet’s bedroom, the one nearest the long getaway driveway, to talk to her as she lies reading in bed in their lovely sandstone home The Pines. At a given signal we start wheeling the Corsair out of the open garage and down the long driveway to Stuart Street. The driveway is downhill – that helps – and made of two long concrete strips – that doesn’t help: the wheels fall off the edge GghgGghgGghg! SHHH! shhh!

And they’re off!
There’s no beer this trip. This is more serious. It’s a journey, not a jaunt. We have a mission.

We roar past Swinburne; We roar past van Reenen; We leave the Orange Free State; We enter Natal; We zoom down van Reenen’s Pass; Past Ladysmith and on into unknown territory.

Suddenly: Flashing Blue Lights! Oh Shit! They’re after us. We slow down a little bit. Just to the speed limit. We sit straight in the car, no slouching. We practice ‘innocent face.’ We rehearse our story: Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer. The flashing blue light fills the car – then overtakes us and whizzes past and shrinks into the distance.

We slow down. We think. We reconsider. Wordlessly, we make a U-turn and head back to the big HY, City of Sin and Laughter.

Oh well, it was a good idea while it lasted. And anyway, that story about the bottled sea water is just a myth.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

R.I.P Steph – Our histories are forever entwined. You are part of who I am. My sense of self would be poorer without those short-lived mad crazy daze!

Your long trick’s over and I have no doubt there’s a quiet sleep and a sweet dream for you. Whattalife. MANY a merry yarn we got from you, our laughing fellow-rover!

~~~oo0oo~~~

dorp – our village, The City of Sin and Laughter

atletiekbaan – athletic track; our oval, cinder track

sonop – sunrise, when swimming training started

Ja Meneer, Nee Meneer – Yes Sir, No Sir

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

R.I.P Steph

I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.

I’ll write later.

Here’s how we’ll always remember you, Steph. Us who knew you in the 60’s and 1970 – your matric year.

The fab five strikes! Late at night in Harrismith. Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture
– the fab five strikes! Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture –
– Larry & Steph collapsing – Pierre and me keeping an eye out for the gendarmes –
– Omar Sharif looks stoic –

His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, builder of schools for underprivileged people, generous to a fault, though he would dispute the ‘fault’ part.

Steph funeral 5

Later: JP, his boet, his family, his workers and his colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained and feted us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going.  ‘Kom ons organise dit,’ was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I have written about our schooldays here:

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/raiders-of-the-lost-saab/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/chariots-of-beer/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/woken-by-the-tamboekie/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/an-old-mystery-whose-fault/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/the-night-we-hijacked- the-orange-express/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again/

~~~oo0oo~~~

Also:

We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades *  and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert, our American Rotary exchange student, were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.

One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!

Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.

He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.

Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.

His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous people. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.

Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!

Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:

Larry Visits from Ohio (4)
– Pierre, Francois, Koos, Steph, Tuffy, Larry –

*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought “No you won’t”.

** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pierre at Steph’s funeral:

Pierre at Shady Pines

Shady Pines

Shady Pines de Witt

I pulled over to catch this moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad day:

The moon rising as I left to go back to Durbs

“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”

  • paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist

~~~oo0oo~~~