Seventy Long Years

On the 14th July 1951 the biggest hugest massivest humungousest stroke of luck to befall him in all his life befell Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel. By far. By a very long long way the biggest.

And he didn’t realise it, still doesn’t.

This morning Mary will wake thinking, I wonder how Pieter is, I hope he’s alright.

Happy 70th wedding anniversary, Mom n Dad.

Ex Freistata Semper Aliquid Novi

Hey Eddie! Thanks a lot.
I had a lovely quiet day at home with lots and lots of messages – way more than I deserve, as I remember only a few birthdays, so I say to them – as I say to you here – hope you have a wonderful day and year too! So many people remember my ruddy birthday. Can’t think why?

Spoke to Mother Mary on the day. She’s well. Also to the old goat, who pretended to hear what I was saying. Sisters Barbara and Sheila both phoned, and a host of others; a call from Janet in Botswana; a long call from Glen and Ali in Aussie; an even longer call from Larry in Ohio; people are amazing. Messages from all over. And all because I was lucky enough to be born on a highly suspicious day on the Gregorian calendar that people tell me is somehow appropriate to me!? Bastids.

And guess what I found out yesterday for the first time in sixty six years? Mary said, “Yes, you made a fool of me that day. You arrived two days late. You were due on the 30th March.” First time I ever heard that! Who the hell would want to be born on a nothing day like the 30th March!?

I’m guessing as Mom’s recent grey cells die off, and she loses what happened yesterday or this morning, some of the ancient ones – up to ninety two years old – are getting a fresh look at daylight, being dusted off and telling their story? Maybe?

Thank goodness I waited those two days, incubating quietly and delaying getting out into the noise. My whole life would have been different if I hadn’t been born on the 1st April. Different; Less fun, I think.

~~~oo0oo~~~

“Yes, you made a fool of me that day. You arrived two days late. You were due on the 30th March.” Then, “Did I tell you that already?”

Poor dear Mom Mary repeated that surprise news in the same phonecall, not three minutes after telling me the first time.

Harrismith’s Automotive Designer

(old post from my early daze blog vrystaatconfessions.com)

Harrismith had a very successful sportscar designer! Sheila reminded me on her facebook. He was a big mate of Polly du Plessis. They called each other Sissel Pud (du Plessis backwards) and Tweedie (de Witt backwards). Verster was captain of the rugby team and Mary Bland’s boyfriend. He dopped a few years and was in JC when she wrote matric. A real gentleman, says Mary. When she left to go nursing he said, ‘My fear is that we don’t meet again – worse, that we’re living in the same city and we don’t even know it.’ Sensitive soul.

Here’s the story of Verster de Witt – or the parts I could fish out:

Two Stellenbosch university pals wanted to make a great sportscar. They were Bob van Niekerk and Willie Meissner. In 1958 Meissner went to England and saw a new technology called fibreglass. He wrote a letter to Bob van Niekerk asking him to come to England to study fibreglass crafting. Bob hopped onto a Union Castle ship and joined his mate. In those days that was called ‘instant response’: The letter took a week; the response took a week; the ship took a month; Bang! Two months later there his mate was, ready to help.

Bob recalls: ‘We had full confidence in our ability to produce the mechanicals and a good chassis, but needed someone to put a ‘face’ on it – a good looking design. As luck would have it, Willie knew a lady Joan, nee Peters, who was married to a stylist working at Rootes who would hopefully stop us from producing a mediocre, unattractive body.’

Mary & Polly in Harrismith schooldays

His name was Verster de Wit, an ex-Harrismith boykie and good friend of our Polly du Plessis and Mary Bland (later Swanepoel). He very soon had them building quarter-scale models with plasticene during the week in their one-roomed flat in Earls Court while he was off working in Coventry on the Sunbeam Alpine. Fridays, Verster would come down to London to inspect the work they had done. When they got to scale model number 13, it suddenly all came together, and ‘a unanimous decision was made to progress to full-scale.’

– Bob van Niekerk racing a Dart –
– a 1962 GSM Dart –

‘We rented a garage in Gleneldin Mews in Streatham and built the mock-up using wooden formers and plaster of paris. The first body came out of the mold in April 1957 and was sold for 75 pounds, which helped to pay for my trip back to Cape Town where Willie had started the Glassport Motor Company (GSM).’

They considered what to name their cars: Cheetah, Mamba, Simba, Zebra, Kudu, Lynx or Tyger? Eventually they called the open top the GSM Dart and the hardtop the GSM Flamingo. On returning to South Africa, they built four prototypes in 1957, and the first production car rolled off the line in early 1958. In total, 116 GSM Darts and 128 GSM Flamingos were produced from 1958 to 1964. Actually, the GSM club tracked down many of them and reckoned there were a few more than that.

The GSM cars were astonishingly quick and agile and won a lot of races. In their first nine hour in JHB, a Dart beat Sarel vd Merwe in his Porsche into second place; they were followed by an MG, another Porsche, a Volvo and an Alfa Romeo!

But perhaps the best story was after they had sold 41 cars by 1959, for racing and road use in Cape Town, they decided they could also be sold in England and Bob set sail with a complete body and chassis kit on the Union Castle liner. In England Bob was introduced to Mr John P Scott at Windsor Garage, West Malling in Kent. Scott agreed to give him a place to build a car and fund all the parts on condition that Bob built the car in 10 days! AND that he entered it in a race at Brands Hatch! AND that he won the race! What a tall – almost impossible – order!

Bob accepted the challenge and worked day and night to complete the Dart by the Friday before the race. On the Saturday, April 18, 1960 Bob found himself in the middle of the grid on an unfamiliar circuit in a brand new and untested car. He steadily worked his way up into first place and won the race! He actually did it! Setting a Brands Hatch lap record that stood for seven years! A delighted Mr Scott then established a GSM production facility in a 5000 square foot factory behind the Windsor Garage to produce the first batch of cars. They couldn’t call them Dart in England, so they used ‘Delta’. Records are vague – it seems somewhere between 35 and 76 GSM Deltas were made in Kent.

The little cars developed a legendary winning reputation in the UK, Europe and SA. To show that they weren’t only about racing, the Flamingo was marketed as the road-going version:

In 1964 they ran out of money.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Aftermath with Verster de Wit: 1976

A GSM club was formed in JHB and they tracked down Verster at his home in Kosmos on the Hartebeespoort Dam. He and his new wife Eva hauled out a suitcase full of his photos and sketches of his design days in England and in SA. They regaled the club members with tales of the hours of dedication and hard work Verster had put into his automotive design career. Another well-known design he had also been involved with – in addition to the Sunbeam Alpine – was the Humber Super Snipe.

In the 1980s the design got another lease of life when Jeff Levy got Verster to help him make a series of accurate replicas known as Levy Darts.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Anyone who knows more, I’d love to hear from you

~~~oo0oo~~~

archive.org

wikipedia

wheels24

motorsportmagazine.com

carmag.co.za

cartorque.co.za

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Pikkie’s Book is HE-ERE!

We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )

OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.

He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.

I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..

Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘

. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:

– 5109m above sea level – the Drakensberg’s highest peak is 3482m –

And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!

.

.

Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.

Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )

~~~oo0oo~~~

Riposte and Touché:

Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!

John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”

Oooof!!

Bad enough we lost the Boer War, but now THIS!!!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Caveman Spies

This is a re-post transferred from my Olden Daze blog vrystatconfessions.com – about growing up handsome and clever back in the old Vrystaat. If not that handsome or particularly clever, then young.

The story is by Harrismith author and historian Leon Strachan. For more pictures see it in Afrikaans here.

Four Spies brothers lived in the Harrismith and Kestell district. These broers had very different personalities; it was said Andries fought for the Spies clan, Hans cursed for them, Frikkie drank for them and Martiens prayed for them.

Leon Strachan has kept this lovely tale of an amazing Eastern Free State character alive.

Andries was known locally as Thor, as his strength was legendary. People soon knew not to mess with him. Somewhere around 1920 a young Andries Spies went hunting jackals on Freek de Jager’s farm. The jackal escaped down an aardvark hole and the dogs could not get it out. Andries shucked off all his clothes and went into the hole butt-naked, head-first, taking a riem and a pocket knife. After fifteen minutes of noise and dust down the hole he came into view again, reversing out feet first. Covered in dust and blood he handed the riem over and said “pull’ – and out came the jackal. One of many instances told of where he did unusual things and performed unusual feats of strength and bravery – and foolhardiness? This story was to have an uncanny follow-up a century later.

He was a boxer, wrestler and strongman, and he was also a very wily showman and self-promoter. Legend has it he would hop on his bicycle, pedal to Bloemfontein – that was over 200 rough miles back in the 1920’s – enter a boxing tournament at Ramblers Club, win it and cycle home with the prize money!

One day in 1929 his neighbour came to him with devastating news: his fiancee had upped and offed with another man. Hugely upset, Andries packed a suitcase and left the farm without a backward glance. It would be ten years before he returned. In those years he was mainly a boxer. He fought in Joburg and Durban. One fight at the Seaman’s Institute in Point Road in Durban so stunned an English preacherman – Andries’ style consisted of a non-stop flurry of furious blows from the opening bell with no thought of any defensive tactics – that he christened him ‘Caveman.’ And the name stuck.

His next port of call was England. He left on a below-decks ticket with just £10 in his pocket and one extra set of khaki clothes. In London in his first fight he KO’d his opponent with his first blow. He could still get opponents after that as his build was not impressive – he looked average and he used that to his advantage, as he was often underestimated. Soon his reputation started preceding him and it grew harder to find men who would fight him, so he crossed the Channel.

A typical story was a fight in Stockholm where the ref tried to stop him as his opponent Anders Anderson was ‘out on his feet.’ But Caveman wanted him out off his feet! So he KO’d the ref! Spectators stormed the ring in fury – so he KO’d a few of them too!

The same pattern happened in Holland, Belgium and Germany: He would knock out a number of opponents, then run out of people to fight and move on. When this happened in Germany, he issued a challenge to Max Schmeling, heavyweight champion of the world: Fight me for 500 marks! Apparently this was all Andries had in his money belt. Eventually Schmeling gave in to his persistence and agreed to fight this Caveman character from South Africa.

American Boxer Joe Louis meets German Boxer Max Schmeling
Heavyweight Championship, New York June 1938 (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Well, this was a horse of an entirely different kettle of tea! In his own words he approached Max in his usual crouched stance and received a mighty short right hook to the head and after that ‘I don’t remember much at all! Except a minute or two of gloves raining on me and then merciful oblivion! The biggest hiding I ever received, but well worth it, as I met the great Max Schmeling. He was a good sport – and after the fight he sent me back to my hotel full of beer and Rhine wine, plus an amazing 1000 marks! Schmeling gave me his 500 marks too!’

In Spain he knocked out ‘The Basque Wrestler’ Antoine Germatte in the first round – drying up any chance of further fights, so he thought he’d try bullfighting. One look at the bull, though and he decided ‘this is out of my league!’

His French opponent Leon Cartout was disqualified for biting the Caveman. After eighteen fights on the Continent, he returned to England, where a raft of better fighters were keen to challenge him as his fame was now such that they wanted to be seen in the ring with him. Things were looking up.

Caveman Spies
– Caveman Spies’ record as a pro boxer – 9 wins, 8 by knockout – 9 losses, 3 by knockout – 3 draws –

Then he caught a bad bout of flu and ended up becoming asthmatic. He got so bad in the English winter he decided it was home time. Back in South Africa he won a few good fights then ran up against the experienced Tommy Holdstock. He lost so badly that he decided to switch to all-in wrestling which had become very popular and was paying well. The showmanship also suited his extrovert and mischievous personality and his remarkable strength.

In a typical rabble-rousing traveling series he fought a Russian named Boganski, who became a great friend. They toured the land. The legend of Caveman cycling to Bloemfontein was well-known, so at each scheduled fight venue he would stop their car outside the town and get onto his bicycle; timing his arrival at the ring just in time for the fight, covered in sweat having ‘just got there all the way from Harrismith!’ This put all the locals on his side like – our poor man now has to fight this blerrie Russian when he’s so tired, having cycled so far!

The showman promoter in him loved public wagers. On the wrestling tour in Grahamstown he bet the local auctioneer, a Mr King, that he could carry a 200lb bag of mealie meal across the town square in front of the cathedral in his teeth without stopping. He did it, donated the bag to child welfare and publicity from the stunt filled the hall for the fight that night!

In Chodos furniture store in Harrismith’s main street the guys were ragging him as they often did about his strength: You can’t really punch a hole through a meal bag! ‘Bring it,’ he said, and walked away with £10, leaving Woolf Chodos and his staff to clean up the flour all over the counter and the floor. He couldn’t resist a challenge or a dare. In 1936 someone said he’d never walk from Harrismith to Cape town in less than ninety days. He did it in seventy three, averaging twenty eight miles a day. This one earned him £75.

Whenever the circus came to town Caveman would be there, ready to shine. Owner and strongman William Pagel‘s feats of strength and his control of the big cats soon made him a household name in South Africa, particularly in the countryside. Small towns loved the circus!

Pagel had a wild mule and offered £50 to anyone who could ride it. Many tried, including Moolman the policeman. Very soon there was Moolman, soaring through the air back into the stalls in an ungraceful arc. Caveman stepped up, jumped on and the mule went wild, bucking, backing up, scraping his legs against the railing, but Cavemans’ legs were firmly hooked under its ‘armpits’ and he rode every move. In the end the mule lay down, exhausted, Caveman still astride it. Get off, said Old Pagel, ‘No, first give me my £50,’ said Caveman. Get off first, said Pagel. He then refused to pay on the grounds that Caveman ‘wasn’t allowed’ to hook his legs under the mule! Caveman threatened ‘Pay me or I shut down the show. Honour your bet!’ Two Alpha males at bay, both famous! Caveman got his due.

Stanley Boswell also had challenges meant to draw the crowds which drew Caveman like a magnet. He had a strongman lifting weights on a wooden platform. ‘Any non-professional weightlifter who can match (exotic strongman name – maaybe Otto Acron?) will win a prize!’ he boasted. The Harrismith crown bayed for their hero, ‘Show him Caveman! Wys hom! Show him!’

– Otto Acron – World’s Strongest Man – he thought – till he got to Harrismith! –

Caveman stepped up, nonchalantly lifted the main man’s maximum weight and looked at Boswell. Boswell, knowing Spies’ reputation, said, ‘No, you’re professional,’ ducking out of his responsibility. Caveman looked at him, looked at the crowd and slammed the weights down, wrecking the stage as the crowd roared their approval.

Stories grow. Seldom will a re-teller tell a milder story than the original! And so Caveman’s legend grew. Not only did he ride a bicycle to Cape Town; when he got there he boarded a ship to America; the ship sank and he had to swim more than halfway across the Atlantic; arriving in America just in time (covered in sweat?) for a fight against Joe Louis! Of course, he bliksem’d Joe, caught a ship back to Cape Town, where he got on his bicycle and pedal’d back to Harrismith to calmly tend to his flock of sheep! Of course . .

In our time in Harrismith – fifties to seventies – Hansie and Pieter Spies were legends in their own right. Nephews of Caveman, they would apparently tell stories of this special and unusual extrovert uncle. In his old age his right hand started shaking – probably the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease. Challenged, he would blurt, ‘Ag, it’s my hand! Leave it alone if it wants to shake! Or I’ll donner you!’

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Century Later

Truth is stranger than fiction! In 2020, just about one hundred years after Andries went down an aardvark hole to drag out a jackal this video appeared on youtube:

It went viral and I saw it on two of my whatsapp groups. Soon after, Leon Strachan messaged me: Hi Pete, Do you remember how Caveman crawled down a hole to drag out a jackal? Pure madness! Well, believe it or not, the people in this video are my neighbours and the man down the hole is a great grandson of Hans Spies – Caveman Spies’ brother!

The strain of eccentricity lives on! Mind you, it is getting diluted. Notice how he kept his clothes on?

~~~oo0oo~~~

The EM Diet

A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!

– Platberg panorama –

Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.

I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations which were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!

Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !

John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:

‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)

Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!

My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’

My attack was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:

‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’

Ooof!!!

I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.

Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.

Fab Five Reunion

Larry visited from Ohio back in 1996. Pierre was in Harrismith; I was in Durban; Steph and Tuffy were living in Cape Town, so they won – we arranged to meet up as the Old Fab Five musketeers down in Kaapstad.

Larry Wingert had been Harrismith’s Rotary exchange student back in 1969 and had returned to South Africa twice before – once in 1976, down through Africa from Greece, mostly overland, all the way to Cape Town; and once in 1985, when he and I had done an overland trip from Maun in Botswana to Vic Falls in Zimbabwe.

Trish and I took him to Mkhuze game reserve:

– in Mkhuze –

and down to Cape Town:

– the Fab Five plus Rope – Pierre, Rope, Koos, Steph, Tuffy, Larry –

Steph took us to his Kommetjie beach house

This year 2020 Steph’s brother JP sent me pics of the magic pub in the beach house

– JP in Steph’s well-stocked pub –

and Tuffy entertained us royally at his and Lulu’s lovely home in Langebaan:

– Larry Lulu me and Tuffy –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Asked what the Fab Five was, I had to think about it. We were a gentlemanly triple-AA gang Educational Club who would meet clandestinely after dark and do creative things to broaden our minds.

The one AA was for automobiles, which we would borrow under an intricate arrangement where the actual owners were not part of the bargaining process; we would then use these automobiles to go places;

The other AA was for alcohol, which we would procure under an intricate arrangement of dispatching a third party who could legally buy the stuff, to a bottle store other than my parents’ bottle store; this we would then imbibe for the purpose of stiffening our resolve. And for laughter and the third AA:

Action! Adventure! Anything but boredom.

– the SAAB re-enactment didn’t happen – we used Tuffy’s bakkie instead – Fab Five plus Frik – Steph Frik Pierre Tuffy me Larry –

One of the founding reasons for launching the august club was we suddenly had a Yank in our midst and we were really afraid he’d go back to the metropolis of Cobleskill, upstate New York and say there was nothing to do in Harrismith. The thought mortified us. We had to DO something!

~~~oo0oo~~~

We were reminded how offended we were late one night on one of our adventures – this one not motorised – we were prowling the empty streets at night te voet – on foot.

And we spotted a policeman driving around drunk! Can you believe it!? That was OUR forte! What was HE doing driving around drunk like us!? So we indignantly phoned the copshop from a tickey box, reported him to the dame on laatnag diens and walked away feeling smug. Next thing we heard a squealing of tyres and the roaring of a Ford F150 straight six. It was him! She had obviously radio’d him and told him! Maybe they were an item!?

We started running as the cop van roared closer. It was the only thing making a noise in the whole dorp at three in the morning so we could easily hear where he was. We sprinted past the Kleinspanskool and as he came careening around the corner we dived under the raised foundations of Laboria – Alet de Witt’s big block of flats. We crawled through and out the other side, at Steph’s house. Steph & Larry went home as did Tuff, a block or two away. Pierre and I had a way to go yet, so we set off along Stuart Street – we could hear the fuzz in the grey Ford F150 with the straight six and the tralies over the windows roaring around in Warden Street. He never stood a chance of catching us. We were fleet of foot and we could u-turn within one metre!

~~~oo0oo~~~

te voet – on foot; saving fuel for the environment

tickey box – street phone booth

dame on laatnag diens – lady on late night duty

Kleinspanskool – junior primary school

tralies – burglar bars

Snow’s Here!

Pictures coming through from friends in lockdown in Harrismith and district

The top photo is the view from friend Koos Beukes’ stoep of the Maluti mountains on the Lesotho border. In the middle ground is Qwa Qwa kop. What a magnificent view!

The others look like views of the Drakensberg from the N3 highway. Shared on whatsapp by Lise vdMerwe thru sister Barbara.

For eight winters that was our view on the way up to skiing holidays in Lesotho.

– sent by Ina van Reenen –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Lookback – 6

This lookback to 1972 came about because of a photo from 1967 which triggered memories!

First the old photo, sent by Mariette who got it from Janetta – both of them feature. Taken in the Drakensberg on a weekend to beautiful Thendele above Royal Natal National Park.

front Klippies Kritzinger, Janetta Badenhorst, Henfre Papenfus, Mariette van Wyk – back Chris Britz, Daphne vd Westhuizen

One memory led to another and then we ended up here (ca.1972 but written at vrystaatconfessions.com in 2014):

Harsh Rejection, Deep Scars

In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow, Chris Bester, was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! OK, maybe not.

One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.

We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox.

People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.

Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said ‘Nice enough, but no range.’ So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe?

The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours to sing for our province and the rejection cut us deep.

It became mine & Gabba‘s standing joke over the decades that followed.

Rugby HY 1972 Gabba crop.jpg
Gabba, disappointed songbird –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:

We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 7.2.1.8 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also, if we’d known the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mother Mary under Lockdown

She’s reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. ‘I can’t follow the plot but I’m enjoying the descriptions of the Thames, the muddy banks, the river traffic . . ‘

Apparently there’s a Miss Haversham in the book – she was let down by her to-be on the day of her wedding – she stayed in her room – kept her wedding dress on – ate the wedding food. Mom says Annie called someone in Harrismith ‘Miss Haversham’ but can’t remember who. She had wild hair. I suggested Mrs Fitzgerald, but she couldn’t remember her.

She had a fall on her walk with her friend Barbara yesterday, but ‘went down gracefully and haven’t got a single bruise. I just lay down gently on the tarmac and waited till two ladies on the staff came out to help me to my feet.’ She hadn’t thought of the obvious, so I had to point it out: ‘Mom, they’ll all think you’d been drinking!’ That amused her.

After the fall the 91yr-old dear skipped her piano session, but today she got back to her usual schedule, and played before all three meals. She has found a few new songs to play, she says.

She told her friends the joke I had told her about the Las Vegas strip club that had a sign out for the lockdown period: ‘Clothed till 30 April.’ Says they enjoyed the joke. Asked if I had been to that strip club when I went to Vegas! I said ‘Ma-a! I went to see Petula Clark sing.’ She couldn’t remember who Petula Clark was! Wow! Those cells must have been blitzed in one of her TIA’s. It’ll come back to her. I’ll sing ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway Darling’ and she’ll be wow’d. She’ll also remember Petula always kept her clothes on.

As she does every time, she asked, ‘How are Jessie and Tommy? Send them my love’ (two of her grandchildren, 22 and 18 – my kids).

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Vrystaat Shepherd’s Cottage

Shepherds’ cottages in Lesotho are often quite primitive affairs, used itinerantly as their flocks graze in that area; then moving on to pastures new, where – especially in winter – a new shelter may be built, or an old one re-roofed with available grass or shrubs.

We enjoyed their hospitality there when we went up to celebrate the new chef at the castle above serve his first formal meal. A lovely experience!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Songs Mom Still Plays – 7

CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO From the film “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941) (Lyrics: Mack Gordon / Music: Harry Warren)

Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo? Track 29, boy you can give me a shine. I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo, I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare. You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four, Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore; Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina; When you hear the whistle blowing eight to the bar, Then you know that Tennessee is not very far. Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rolling, Whoo,Whoo, Chattanooga there you are. There’s gonna be a certain party at the station, All satin and lace, I used to call funny face. She’s gonna cry, until I tell her that I’ll never roam, So Chattanooga Choo Choo, won’t you choo choo me home!

Recorded by: Glenn Miller & His Orch. (vocal: Tex Beneke & The Four Modernaires) – 1941 Glenn Miller & His Orch. (Film Soundtrack) – 1941 Cab Calloway & His Orch. – 1941 The Andrews Sisters (with Vic Schoen & His Orch.) – 1941 Johnny Long & His Orch. (vocal: Paul Harmon) – 1941 Kurt Widmann Mit Seinem Orch. (vocal: Ruth Bruck) – 1941 Carmen Miranda with Bando da Lua (feat. in the film “Springtime In The Rockies”) – 1942 Bill Haley & His Comets – 1954 The Modernaires – 1954 Karel Vlach & His Orch. – 1955 Ray Anthony & His Orch. – 1956 Al Saxon (with Ken Jones & His Orch.) – 1959 Cyril Stapleton & His Orch. – 1959 Ray Charles – 1960 Martin Denny – 1960 Ernie Fields Orch. – 1960 Oscar Peterson (Instr.) – 1960 The Checkmates – 1961 Floyd Cramer (Instr.) – 1962 Si Zentner & His Orch. – 1962 Hank Snow – 1963 The Tornados (Instr.) – 1963 The Shadows (Instr.) – 1964 The Fabulous Jokers – 1965 Harpers Bizarre – 1967 Billy Strange (Instr.) – 1968 Joe Loss & His Orch. – 1969 Syd Lawrence Orch. – 1969 Ted Heath & His Orch. – 1972 Enoch Light & The Light Brigade – 1973 Haruomi Hosono – 1975 James Last & His Orch. – 1975 John Hammond – 1975 Joe Bob’s Nashville Sound Co. – 1976 Vic Lezal’s Professionals – 1976 The Dooley Family – 1976 The Million Airs – 1976 Tuxedo Junction – 1978 Rita Remington – 1979 Taco – 1985 Denis King – 1986 Mercedes Ruehl (feat. in the film “Big”) – 1988 Asleep At The Wheel – 1988 Barry Manilow – 1994

Also recorded by: Sammy Davis Jr.; Teresa Brewer; Tony Rizzi And Pacific; Larry Elgart & His Manhattan Swing Orch; Johnny Bond; Boston Pops Orchestra; Harry Connick Jr.; Ray Conniff; Bette Midler; Matt Monro; Jimmy Caro; Udo Lindenberg; Xavier Cugat; Stéphane Grappelli; Rick Van Der Linden; Al Russ Orch.; Rune Öfwerman Trio; Ron Russell Band; Harry Roy; Klaus Wunderlich ….. and many, many more.

Songs Mom Still Plays – 6

MELODY OF LOVE [Melodie D’Amour] Henri Salvador (m) 1903 Leo Johns (Eng l) 1949

as recorded by – The Ames Bros 1957; Eduardo Almani & his Orch ’53; David Carroll & his Orch ’55; Leo Diamond ’55; The Ink Spots ’55; Joe Loss & his Orchestra ’57; Edmundo Ros & his Orchestra ’57; Jane Morgan Nina & Frederik Henri Salvador

Melodie d’amour, Take this song to my lover; Shoo shoo little bird, Go and find my love. Melodie d’amour, Serenade at her window; Shoo shoo little bird, Sing my song of love. Oh tell her I will wait (I will wait) If she names the date! (names the date) Tell her that I care (how I care) More than I can bear. (i can bear) For when we are apart, How it hurts my heart! So fly, oh fly away, And say that I hope and pray, This lovers’ melody, Will bring her back to me. Melodie d’amour, Take this song to my lover; Shoo shoo little bird, Go and find my love. Melodie d’amour, Serenade at her window; Shoo shoo little bird, Tell her of my love. Oh tell her how I yearn, (how I yearn) Long for her return, (her return) Say I miss her so, (miss her so) More than she could know! (she could know) For when we are apart, How it hurts my heart! So fly, oh fly away, And say that I hope and pray This lovers’ melody Will bring her back to me. Melodie d’amour, Serenade at her window; Shoo shoo little bird, Tell her of my love. (Contributed by Peter Akers – January 2010)

~~~oo0oo~~~

KINGSTON TOWN Harry Belafonte

Down the way, where the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the mountain top, I took a trip on a sailing ship, and when I reach Jamaica I made a stop. But I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town. Sounds of laughter everywhere, and the dancing girls swing to and fro. I must declare my heart is there, though I’ve been from Maine to Mexico. But I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town. At the market you can hear, ladies cry out while on their heads they bear, acky rice, salt, fish are nice and the rum is fine any time a year. But I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town. Down the way, where the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the mountain top, I took a trip on a sailing ship, and when I reach Jamaica I made a stop. But I’m sad to say, I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town. Sad to say, I’m on my way, won’t be back for many a day. My heart is down, my head is turning around, I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town.

Songs Mom Still Plays – 5

‘When the Sun says Goodbye to the Mountain’ – (1936 M: Larry Vincent / T: Harry Pease)

The Masqueraders, Dir. George Scott Wood V. Sam Costa Recorded 27th November 1936; Also recorded by: Geraldo, V. Monte Rey Comedian Harmonists; Roy Fox; Primo Scala & His Accordion Band; Susan McCann 1983

Original lyrics:

When the sun says goodnight to the mountain

And the gold of the day meets the blue

In my dreams I’m alone on the mountain

With a heart that keeps calling for you

The voice in the trees

The song in the breeze

They bring memories of love we knew

When the sun says goodnight to the mountain

I am dreaming, my sweetheart, of you.

Transcribed from John Wright’s 78 RPM Record Collection (Transcribed by Bill Huntley – May 2013). Our lyrics were different: eg: ‘says goodbye’ – ‘brings back sweet memories of you’

Lockdown Lookback -4

Here’s a stirring tale of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and my family. It also obliquely references a lockdown and social distancing. In fact a much longer hard lockdown than we have endured: From 13 October 1899 to 17 May 1900, the people of Mahikeng – which the Poms called Mafeking – were locked down and besieged by the locals during the Anglo-Boer War. Theirs lasted 217 days.

In Oct 2018 I wrote: Whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet singing Pencil Thin Mustache I think of my uncle Dudley, oops, my cousin Dudley.

Dudley Bain was a character and my second cousin. I had known him over the years when he used to visit his old home town of Harrismith, but really got to know him once I started practicing optometry in Durban. He was very fond of his first cousin, my Mom Mary – and thus, by extension, of me.

Dudley worked in the Mens Department of John Orrs in downtown Durban back when there was only downtown. Anybody who was anybody worked in downtown. Anywhere else was “the sticks”. Even in 1980 I remember someone saying “Why would you want to be out there?” when optometrists De Marigny & Lello opened a practice in a little insignificant upstairs room on the Berea above a small gathering of shops called Musgrave Centre.

Dapper, hair coiffed, neatly dressed, often sporting a cravat, Dudley had a pencil thin moustache and definite opinions. He was highly chuffed he now had a pet family optometrist to look after him when I first hit downtown and then Musgrave centre.

– dear old Dudley – spot the moustache –

Fitting his spectacle frame was a challenge as he got skin cancer and his surgeon lopped off ever-bigger pieces of his nose and ears until he had no ear one side and a tiny little projection on which to hook his glasses on the other side. He would hide these ala Donald Trump by combing his hair over them and spraying it carefully in place. I am glad I wasn’t his hairdresser.

He would pop into the practice frequently ‘to see my cousin’ – for me to adjust his frames by micro-millimetres to his satisfaction. He would walk in and demand ‘Where’s my cousin?’ If the ladies said I was busy he’d get an imperious look, clutch his little handbag a bit tighter and state determinedly, ‘I know he’ll see me.’ They loved him and always made sure I saw him. He’d ‘only need a minute; just to adjust my frame, not to test my eyes,’ and half an hour later their knocks on the door would get ever more urgent. Then they’d ring me on the internal line, and I’d say ‘Dudley, I got to go.’

I would visit him occasionally at their lovely old double-storey home in Sherwood – on a panhandle off Browns Grove. Then they moved to an A-frame-shaped double-storey home out Hillcrest way, in West Riding.

We had long chats while I was his pet optometrist and I wish I could remember more of them. I’ll add as they come floating back. I’m trying to remember his favourite car. One thing he often mentioned was the sound of the doves in his youth. How that was his background noise that epitomised Harrismith for him. The Cape Turtle Dove . . here it is:

from xeno-canto.org

~~~oo0oo~~~

Dudley married the redoubtable Ethne, Girl Guides maven. I found this website, a tribute to Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide – so that’s what made me link this post tenuously to our lockdown:

Olave St. Clair Soames, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E., World Chief Guide, died in 1977. In 1987 her daughter and granddaughter, Betty Clay and Patience Baden-Powell, invited readers to send in their memories of the Chief Guide to The Guider magazine.

They wrote:-
Everyone who knew Olave Baden-Powell would have a different story to tell, but if all the stories were gathered together, we would find certain threads which ran through them all, the characteristics which made her beloved. Here are a few of the remembrances that people have of her, and if these spark off similar memories for you, will you please tell us?

Here’s Ethne’s contribution:
3 West Riding Rd, Hillcrest, Natal 3610, South Africa
When I was a newly-qualified teacher and warranted Brownie Guider in Kenya in 1941, our Colony Commissioner – Lady Baden-Powell – paid a visit to the Kitale Brownie Pack. Due to an epidemic of mumps, the school closed early and Lady B-P was not able to see the children, but she took the trouble to find me and had a chat across the driveway (quarantine distance) for a short time.

A year later at a big Guide Rally at Government House in Nairobi, the Guides and Brownies were on parade, and after inspection Lady B-P greeted us all individually, and without hesitation recognized me as the Guider who had mumps at Kitale. Each time we met in the future, she joked about the mumps.

My next encounter was some twenty years later, on a return visit to Kenya, in 1963, with my husband (that’s our Dudley!), our Guide daughter D (Diana) and our Scout son P (Peter). We stayed at the Outspan Hotel at Nyeri where the B-Ps had their second home Paxtu. We soon discovered that Lady B-P was at home, but the Hotel staff were much against us disturbing their distinguished resident. However, we knew that if she knew that a South African Scout/Guide family were at hand she would hastily call us in. A note was written – “A S.A. Scout, Guide and Guider greet you.” Diana followed the messenger to her bungalow but waited a short distance away. As lady B-P took the note she glanced up and saw our daughter. We, of course, were not far behind. Immediately she waved and beckoned us to come, and for half-an-hour we chatted and were shown round the bungalow, still cherished and cared for as it had been in 1940-41.

Baden-Powell house Nyeri Kenya
– ‘Paxtu’ at Nyeri –

It was easy to understand her great longing to keep returning to this beautiful peaceful place, facing the magnificent peaks of Mount Kenya with such special memories of the last four years of B-P’s life. From her little trinket-box, Lady B-P gave me a World Badge as a memento of this visit which unfortunately was lost in London some years later. Before leaving Nyeri we visited the beautiful cedar-wood Church and B-P’s grave facing his beloved mountain.

My most valued association with Lady B-P was the privilege and honour of leading the organization for the last week of her Visit to South Africa in March 1970. Each function had a lighter side and sometimes humorous disruption by our guest of honour. The magnificent Cavalcade held at King’s Park, PieterMaritzBurg deviated from schedule at the end when Lady B-P called the Guides and Brownies of all race groups to come off the stand to her side; they were too far away. A surge of young humanity made for the small platform in the centre of the field where she stood with one Commissioner, a Guide and three Guiders. Without hesitation, Gervas Clay (her son-in-law) leapt down from the grandstand two steps at a time and just made Lady B-P’s side before the avalanche of children knocked her over. Anxious Guide officials wondered how they were going to get rid of them all again. The Chief Guide said to them, “When I say SHOO, go back to your places, you will disappear.” Lo, and behold, when she said “SHOO, Go back!” they all turned round and went back. You could hear the Guiders’ sighs of relief.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Steve Reed wrote: Hilarious – I reckon every family worth its salt should have had an uncle like that. Something for the kids to giggle about in secret at the family gatherings while the adult dads make grim poker faced humorous comments under their breath while turning the chops on the braai. And for the mums to adore the company of. Good value.

And funny Steve should mention that!

Sheila remembers: “After Annie’s funeral, in our lounge in Harrismith, Dudley was pontificating about something and John Taylor – married to Sylvia Bain, another cousin of Dudleys – muttered to me under his breath ‘Still an old windgat.'”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Family tree: (Sheila to check): Dudley Bain was the eldest son of Ginger Bain, eldest son of Stewart Bain who came out to Harrismith from Scotland in 1878. My gran Annie Bain Bland was Ginger’s sister, so Mom Mary Bland Swanepoel and Dudley Bain were first cousins.

~~~oo0oo~~~

windgat – John would have meant it as windbag

Lockdown Lookback -3

Another random re-post from way back called: “Uh, Correction, Mrs Bedford!” from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com – chosen as I was recently sent 48yr-old evidence by a classmate!

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 his last game.

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 English-as-second-language teacher and – 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.

Tommy Bedford Springbok

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.

jane-bedford-portrait

“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!

– genuine rare Harrismith Africana !!! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Much later:

In matric the 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 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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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;’

~~oo0oo~~~

Meantime Jane Bedford has become famous in her own right in the African art world, and sister Sheila and Jane have become good friends.