Brrr! Vrystaat Winters

Remember those stuffed ‘sausages’ in front of the doors as doorstops to keep the winter chill out? Some doors had huge gaps under them; some of those doorstops even had sausage dog heads, with ears, eyes, a tail and a red tongue.

sausage dog

The ceilings had no insulation and the windows were wooden sash or steel windows, often with gaps that let in the chill;

The black coal stove in the kitchen was lit through the whole of winter, thank goodness; A cruel boyhood confession: I murdered a few flies at this stove in our kitchen! Tore off their wings and turned them into ‘walks’ then tossed them into the stove to die! Yikes!
Here’s an old one, no longer installed, no longer black:

coal stove

In other rooms our bar heater was moved to wherever we were sitting; The glowing red bars would heat the air up to about one metre away. Further than that was arctic like everywhere else. If you sat close your shins could start frying while your back froze. Ours had three bars.
winter bar heater

Rolls of thin ‘Dunlop’ nylon carpets  glued to the floorboards in the passage and other rooms; the concrete floor in the kitchen and breakfast room had linoleum covering;

On the beds lots of blankets, no duvets; If you were lucky your Mom would cut the tassles off the Standard Woollen Mills blankets and sew on a strip of smooth silk-like tape that didn’t tickle your nose! I remember some of our old pillows weighing ‘a ton’. Probably a quarter ton of feathers, a quarter ton of live mites, a quarter ton of dead mites and a quarter ton of sweat and snot! A warmth luxury was having  ‘flannel’ ‘winter sheets’ rather than those smooth thin cold ordinary cotton sheets.

We were lucky we had an electric geyser warming up our bath water. You would wallow in warmth, then start dreading having to get out; Soon, though, the decision would be easy as the water cooled rapidly in those old iron baths with their ball-and-claw feet. Long winter jarmies were such a treat. Cosy. Some of ours were hand-made – machine-sewn by Mom.

Leaving for school in the mornings was jersey on, socks pulled up high, gloves on and then off you go! on your bike; Sometimes even a grey woollen balaclava. Riding down Stuart Street your eyes would water and your nose would run, so gloves and sleeves had to do snot duty; When you got to jail – um, school – you’d slide your hands off the handle-bar grips as they didn’t want to ‘uncurl’! Your bare knees would be frozen yet somehow you didn’t feel them as much as you felt your toes in your socks and shoes! Funny that.

Always coldest when the east wind blew and put a ‘blanket’ or ‘table cloth’ on the mountain like this:

The weather - see the blanket and the east wind

I remember it like this:

bicycle in snow

OK, to be honest that’s Europe and maybe their winters are worse!

We had a horse trough in the backyard about 2m long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep. It was concrete grey but later on it got painted Caltex green. A lot of our stuff got painted Caltex green. The water in it would freeze solid. That ice would thaw a bit by day and freeze again every night. It was OK, though. We didn’t have horses.

In summer the horse trough was good for breeding mosquitoes. I was fascinated by the larvae and had farms of them in ice trays where I could watch them develop and hatch. I was a battery-farmer of mozzies. Free-range hadn’t been invented.

95 Stuart Street back yard with my room and Jock's luxury carpeted kennel
There’s the horseless horse trough
mozzie larvae
mozzie larva (long) and pupa (round). OK, that took this winter post into summer

Pullover Psychology

Deon Joubert came running out of the house and shouted to his older brother Etienne: “Etienne! Mom says you must tracker tray on!”

Etienne knew exactly what Deon meant: It was winter in Harrismith, the sun was going down, we were playing outside, so Ma Joyce was saying he must put on a jersey.

Afrikaans: “Trek ‘n trui aan.”

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jersey, cardigan, sweater, pullover

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Pullover psychology is not as easy as some think. When your Ma said you had to tracker tray on it changed the whole dynamics of the important stuff that was going on right then. The interruption might mean you’re no longer King of the Castle but end up as the Dirty Rascal. And that’s if the dreaded interrupting jersey was brought to you. If you were summoned inside to fetch it yourself that was a DISASTER and you would rather spend five minutes arguing with your Ma about how you weren’t cold than spend the two minutes it would take to run in and pull it on.

Many Ma’s seem to have a strong need to thermo-regulate their offspring and just don’t understand “catching your death” was never nearly as scary to us as losing our place.

Anyway, statistics I just invented prove that of the 487 million kids who have been told they’ll catch their death of a cold, only one ever did. And he recovered.

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Accused of being chicken once, Deon was indignant:

I aren’t a bloody chicken cos I aren’t got fevvers! he protested quite rightly.

Borrowing Dad’s Car Started Long Ago

1024px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art)

Helios gave his son Phaeton permission to drive the Sun chariot around the Earth. Helios was the Sun God, and a son of almighty Zeus.

Talk about “Don’t Spare the Horses”! Typical youth, the lad Phaeton took some sporting chicks along for the ride, lost control of those horses and the chariot ran amok. The world was at risk of being incinerated!

Grandfather Zeus was thus forced to kill him. Zap! He killed his grandson! Zeus could gooi a mean lightning bolt if you pissed him off.

I’m glad the punishment became a bit milder in our day.

Come to think of it, we never did get punished*. Never got caught, though I can’t imagine our folks didn’t have a shrewd idea of what was happening – at least an inkling. In the early days of illicit driving I used to drive the old blue VW Kombi OHS 153 around our large garden at 95 Stuart Street.

kombi2

Round the circular driveway, out into Hector Street and back in again. Back near the garages was the washing line and the Kombi just fit under it. Except I’d forgotten about the airvent on the roof. It caught the wires and pulled down the washing line poles. Some feverish spadework got them more or less vertical again and the old blue Kombi was parked back in its exact spot outside the garage.

Another time I reversed into the tap at the horse trough, the pipe broke and water sprayed out in a long arc. It was evening and the folks were out. Parking the Kombi I hastened to the tap and straightened the downpipe, getting drenched in the freezing water – it was mid-winter. That caused less water to gush but there was still a very visible spout. Rushing down to the front gate I found the stopcock that turned off the main water supply. That fixed it and I went to bed before the folks got home. The next morning I rose very early and turned the stopcock back on. “Hmm, the pipe must have frozen and burst last night” was the consensus at breakfast.

My butt was saved by Harrismith’s frigid winter weather!

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*Farnie Schoeman hastened to inform me not all parents were as tolerant as mine here.

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Later we were showed how to do car borrowing PROPERLY by Steph de Witt!

More than once. And again. And again.

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‘Son borrows Dad’s car’ predictably caused South Africa’s first serious automobile accident – 1903:

firstcaraccidentsa

On 1st October 1903, Mr Charles Garlick driving his father’s new 24hp Darracq with his friend Harry Markham and chaffeur Snellgrove as passengers, entered the Maitland level crossing from an open gate, only to find the opposite gate closed. Before they could open the gate or reverse out of the crossing, they were hit by the Johannesburg Express traveling at full speed.

Snellgrove was thrown clear, Garlick suffered minor injuries and Markham, with his arm already in splints from a previous engine-cranking mishap, had a badly broken thigh.

It was announced that the Garlick workshop would undertake repairs to the Darracq. A new chassis was obtained from Paris and the final result testified to the efficiency of Cape Town’s first motor repairers.

From ‘Early Motoring in South Africa’ by R.H. Johnston

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