I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).
I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.
I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had gone to Bethlehem – surely the only town in the world where a big sign sayingFAKKELHOF welcomes you as you drive in? – to see them play. Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored two tries in his very first game in an All Black jersey.
Check the Bethlehem news: ‘en daar was rugby ook’ – with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby!
We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought! You can be sure there’d have been much more rugby coverage had we won!
Rugby writer Terry McLean said: (The) Paul Roos XV was, bluntly, a nothing team. Dannhauser and Fourie had good stances as locks in the scrummage. Lyell at No 8 had bags of pace which he used much too little and Burger, a hooker of some note, took a heel from Urlich, though he lost five in the process. But behind the scrum Froneman was an obsessive kicker and Kotze at fullback defended principally by making meaningful gestures from a distance.
And McLook said: I get heart burn (sooibrand) just reading remarks like this; it has always been one of the most irritating and frustrating things for me about South African rugby. As a provincial player you get one opportunity in your life to play against an international team so why would you waste the opportunity by constantly kicking the ball away. Secondly, it totally eludes me why selectors would pick individuals for a team if that individual does nothing else than kicking. If you want to kick a ball go play soccer.
Later the Silver Ferns played Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloemfontein and my mate Jean Roux and I decided we needed to go and see that game as well. We hitch-hiked to Bloem, arrived in time and watched the game.
Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.
After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the pulley staasie, the cop shop, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with complete indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, ‘Wat maak julle hier?’ and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. ‘There’s a ladies cell vacant,’ he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.
Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffiti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept tentatively, trying to hover above those mattresses, which were also vieslik, and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the tiny little peephole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!
‘Vaddafokgaanhieraan?’ he asked. ‘Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith,’ we said, eagerly. ‘Dink jy ek is vokken mal?’ came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence! They were these ous:
We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.
FAKKELHOF – doesn’t sound like welcome; sounds like go forth and multiply; literally Torch Court
‘en daar was rugby ook’ – oh, there was some rugby (after ooh’ing about all the ancillary pomp)
pomptroppies – drum majorettes
klapped – pasted; smacked
Wat maak julle hier? – what are you doing here?
vieslik – disgusting; sis
Vaddafokgaanhieraan? – Can I help you gentlemen?
Dink jy ek is vokken mal? – Do you think I’m gullible?
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.