Africa, Books, Family & Kids, Nostalgia, Travel Africa

We’re Famous!

Us Blands have published a book. One of us was the author and one was the photographer.

OK, it was tenth-cousin Hugh that actually did both!

Mind you, I do play my small part in keeping this particular trappist monastery afloat by testing eyes there mahala every second month! Who’da thunk I’d ever help the Catholics? Holy me! Thank Allan Marais for that. If it wasn’t for us Hugh might not have had Marianhill to photograph.

– marianhill monastery –

Well DONE, cousin Hugh! That is quite an achievement; your book is stunning.

Here’s another beautiful book by Hugh:

. . this one includes sister Barbara and husband Jeff’s Umvoti Villa homestead, now inhabited by niece Linda and husband Dawie, MissMadam Mary-Kate and Meneer Dawie jr:

Hugh has driven thousands of miles around KwaZulu Natal photographing things that interest him. If you like old buildings, graves, churches, farms, railway stations, shops, government and church buildings, houses in towns and cities, hospitals, monuments n kak, seek no more! Go here. 70 000 images!


mahala – free

You can get your own copy of Hugh’s books here or here.

Africa, Life, Nostalgia

1966 and all that

I was reading about 1966 – when the Beatles got blasé and the British pop music invasion of the USA waned.

Yankee marketers stepped in:

Pop abhors a vacuum, and just as the originals (The Beatles) ‘disappeared’, a full-page ad in Billboard promoted a ‘different sounding new group with a live, infectious feeling demonstrated by a strong rock beat’. The Monkees, a four-man group, assembled after ‘research and development’, to star in a Hard Day’s Night-type TV series. The timing was perfect. Touted as ‘the spirit of 1966′, the four good-looking group members reproduced the elements of the Beatles’ unified 1964 camaraderie. It was a great record, but it also contained a clear message: if the Beatles weren’t around, they would be cloned by the industry, and the younger teens would hardly care: A typical comment: ‘I thought the show was great. It’s kinda like A Hard Day’s Night but it’s even better because it’s in color and we can see it every week.’ How very American.

I was appalled.

I scribbled to one of my many Rock Star wannabe friends:

The kak started earlier than we might think.

My first ontnugtering to ‘Re-Hality’ TV and ‘fake news’ -type shenanigans in my sheltered ignorance was in 1973 when I went to watch the Dallas Cowboys play in Dallas and found out that not all the players were Texans! In fact very few were Texans, they were bought and paid for from sommer anywhere. A year or two later there was even a Dallas Cowboy called Naas Botha!

Then I found out the amateur college football team we supported – OU – Oklahoma University – also had players from anywhere and they were anything but amateur! Everything was paid for under-the-table, and cash and cars were handed over left and right to these ‘amateurs’. A few honest journalists would actually call them ‘shamateurs’.

Then in South Africa, along came Louis Luyt who thought What A Good Idea! and he proceeded to cock up our rugby.

I had forgotten the story about the Monkees. They were a purely manufactured group, chosen for their looks and put together like a soap opera; Scripted. Nothing real, or spontaneous or natural about them. The Beatles had actually been real. They actually had started like other good bands, in a lounge in someone’s home in some obscure suburb. Like even the Gramadoelas in Tshwane.

Nowadays made-for-you-tube and made-for-social-media is the norm!

Peter Brauer wrote: The difference with the Gramadoelas group of Tshwane is that we were chosen for our undoubted, unrivalled talent and pin-up good looks. Insufficiently rewarded for years of the hard slog that us musos have to go through before hitting the big time . .

Me: A breakdown is probably imminent. I mean breakthrough. Hang in there,

What you need is a gimmick. Can any of you grow your hair? I thought not. Can the chick wear outfits like Cher? Maybe include a lot of vloekwoorde in your act like Die Antwoord? When last did you smash your equipment?

Have you strangled a rooster on stage?

Think. There must be something you can do.

Brauer: Where would biting a chunk out of a toilet seat rank in babe magnetism?

Me: I must say that is quite bad-ass. How do you keep repeating it on stage, though? You ous missed your chance to drown in your own vomit at age 27 like real rockers.

Brauer: A nightly dose of tequila and repetition on stage is a cinch . .

Me: Ja, but I’m worried you’d run out of teeth to send scattering across the stage after a while. So the impact wouldn’t be as dramatic.


Our thread ended threadbare, we didn’t solve the pressing issue at hand, of the day: How can a Tshwane Rock Group achieve fym? ‘Course, Brauer could always fall back on the real talent in the family and provide backup to his talented vrou:

– the Warbling Brauers belt out a rude song full of untruths . . . –
Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Life, Nostalgia, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

More Books Coming!

Janet spoils me! She got me a beautiful book written by legendary Botswana character Cronje Wilmot back in the fifies – reprinted recently.

And now two more coming! One by legendary Botswana character Lloyd Wilmot – Cronje’s grandson:

– Lloyd Wilmot’s Book – Embers of a Campfire –

. . and yet another book by the amazing Veronica Roodt:

. . and here’s Janet the Humphrey herself:

– getting all mechanically-minded –

Update 6 November: They’re here! Safely shipped down from Botswana by Carla Bradfield and then Gail Bradfield to my door! Yay!!


Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

The Goatitudes 4. Bear Witness

The old man gets The Witness delivered to his gate daily. He has fetched it at the gate at around 5am for decades. His 96yr-old legs started protesting against this chore so he recently roped in the kid next door. For R20 a month the kid now hangs the packet it comes in on the back door.

The paper – as The Natal Witness – was first printed in 1846 and it has been going continuously ever since. Today the old man tells me has read it for 91 years, since he was five. His Dad used to sit on his ‘captain’s chair’ holding it spread out in front of him and Dad used to creep under the paper, lean against Oupa’s boep and ask ‘Wat’s daai? En Wat’s Daai? En Daai?’, pointing at pictures and words.

When he moved to Harrismith he subscribed to it through the local bookstore.

Ah, but now he remembers: After a few years the lady there said The Witness was stopping delivery. The schlep of delivering a single copy to the station late at night, hot off the press, for it to be railed from Pietermaritzburg to Harrismith was just not worth it. So no longer would The Natal Witness fly along the rail, past Chievely, Estcourt and Weenen where the Boer War was fought and Churchill was captured, die blerrie rooinek. Through Ladysmith which was besieged and relieved; Nor up the Drakensberg mountains over rail bridges my Great-Grandfather built, through van Reenen, through Swinburne, over the sandstone bridge over the Wilge River to Harrismith station; up to Havenga se boekwinkel, fresh for delivery to Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, formerly of Pietermaritzburg, The Natal Witness’ home town. No.

So he subscribed to The Star, which came from Johannesburg, but now he got it one day late. So his reading of The Witness, which he continued once he got back to PMB some twenty years ago, was not continuous.

Still, it FEELS as though he has read it for 91 years.


Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Religulous Reminiscing

When Mom turned ninety schoolfriend Mariette van Wyk Greyling wrote and started a long, rambling and nostalgic back and forth between us, paraphrased and embellished here:

She wrote: Goodness, you all look so good. I simply cannot believe your dad is in his nineties. He looks exactly the way he used to look when we were at school. Remarkable genes. Thanks for sending.

– Ah, sepia looks better! – Mom’s 90th Bday –

Please wish your mom happy happy from me – if she still remembers me: The daughter of TP who taught them to sing ‘and the dogs say goodnight’ – Louis Armstrong.


Oh, Mary will remember you alright! We only had a few families we’d hang out with, kuier with and sing with, and for a while there that was Theunis and Martie. They both still often talk about the factory and the characters who worked there. Stan Moseley was one. I learnt recently that Petra Bissett worked there a while. That factory your Dad ran was a HUGE part of Harrismith in its day.

Later: I phoned Mom; Mother Mary; Mary Methodist. She never ceases to amaze! I said : Do you remember going to Theunis and Martie van Wyk’s home and listening to Louis Armstrong?

I didn’t have to say another word. She said: I heard it just yesterday! Someone played me Satchmo singing “What a Wonderful World” just yesterday! It was so good hearing it again after all these years. Theunis had a record player and he used to play it good and loud and Satchmo said “and the dogs say goodnight” instead of “and the dark sacred night”! Mariette was in your class and then there was Anita and Boeta. And you know Martie’s really not well; She just cries and cries.

I asked: Where did you hear about Martie? She said: Oh, Dossie Farquhar tells me everything. Dossie was Mom’s bridesmaid. She’s in the same home as Martie in Bethlehem. She is Dossie de Villiers now; She has two sons in Bethlehem, Neil and someone. Dossie phoned me for my birthday and she’s also turning ninety this week, so I’ll phone her on her cellphone. No-one sends cards anymore. I got four: Yours from Jessie and Tommy; Sheila’s that you all signed that was originally a card to Sheila from Annie in 1974. And two others.

‘No-one sends cards anymore.’ And now Dossie won’t even be phoning. She died recently. Fewer and fewer friends remain once you live this long . .

Mariette wrote:

Your mom is incredible! What a pin-sharp mind! Goodness. If only my mother could speak to her it would mean the world to her. None of her old friends have been in touch. I mentioned to you that I dread the twice weekly phone calls because she just cries and cries. One-way conversation. But she is trapped inside a body with no motor functions – only has hearing and a fairly sharp mind. Binswanger’s Syndrome. Absolutely tragic! Can there be anything more cruel!? I cannot imagine it.

Where did the name Mary Methodist come from? Just because of her church denomination? Sounds good though.


Mom is ‘Mary Methodist’ cos she was the Methodists’ johannes kerkorrel for a hundred years. We had to go to church every single Sunday morning for two hundred years solid. And we had to wear shoes. I was born on a Friday on a hill above town (in a manger, I think, though I may have that part wrong). That very Sunday, two days old, I had to listen to the whole church service, plus go to Sunday school and make notes and this continued every Sunday for four hundred years uninterrupted. I am going SO straight to heaven where I’m going to be the pearly gate-keeper. The holiest oke called Peter always gets that job.

We were well compensated, though. We got to hear Mom playing the piano at home. She would play her classical pieces, her popular music for their inebriated guests – including Theunis and Martie – to murder in song, and she’d practice her hymns for Sunday. My halo is only starting to fade now, fifty-footsack years later.


Mariette wrote:

When I was fourteen my father wisely gave me the choice of church or no church. He wasn’t the church type. ‘Ek gaan nie daar sit met daardie skynheilige spul nie’. I chose not to go. And turned out quite alright. Hence the fact that I was never popular with the bybelkunde lot.

Did your dad go to church?


Theunis TP van Wyk was a wise soul. No, Dad never went to church, but nor did he take any stand. Mom would have been devastated if he’d interfered and he didn’t. We went happily to church and – especially – to guild, as it was social and fun and after dark. A gathering of rooineks – except the poor Anglicans who had to go to another church and worship the queen, shame. Oh, and the poor Catholics – mostly the new immigrants from Holland, Portugal, etc who were mostly in die Engelse klas. They had to go and kiss the Pope’s ring, shame. There wasn’t any fire and brimstone from our pulpit and the dominees even downplayed the Methodists’ famous hatred of drink. Turned a blind eye out of respect for Mary Methodist behind the orrel, maybe! Her being a purveyor of booze as her day job. Also, there were so few bliksems gooi’ing pennies into those velvet-lined wooden collection plates I think they thought, “We’ll take sinners, we’ll take rokers, we’ll take drinkers, we’ll take drank smouse, we’ll take ANY contributors!” Just like Jesus. They would even have taken lawyers, though I don’t think we got any of them. The dearth probably wasn’t quite as bad as the Anglicans, but still dire. Have you seen where I wrote about the desperate Anglicans?

Mariette wrote:

So what happened? Did that beautiful building survive? No Anglicans for evermore in Harrismith? Loved that building. What a loss.

Confession: when we lived in England I went to the Church of England Sunday school a few times. Only because my best friend Beatrice Evans went. But then the appeal of spending Sundays driving around the Yorkshire Dales with Theunis in his new blue Zephyr won the toss.


Oh no, the old sandstone Anglican church is still there, and its congregation of rooineks limp along as always. Heydays may pass unnoticed, but weddings and funerals still have to have a place to happen! The only outcome was – Tabs didn’t become heilig! He wasn’t consecrated. I saw him the other day just before he went off on a groot trek thru Zimbabwe and we had a good laugh about how he ducked a bullet there. Joan Simpson saved him!

– The door that was not darkened . . –

As for your slipping into an Anglican church: Going to church where your best friend (other than Jesus) goes is a time-honoured tradition that only a lelike church would ever interfere with. As the NG Kerk did with Cappy Joubert after WW2.

The Yorkshire Dales! I’ve seen movies made there. And the bicycle Tour de Yorkshire shows wonderful footage. Sure looks beautiful.

Was Theunis’ blue Zephyr like this?

– Mariette said yes . . a ‘winged zephyr’ just like this –


Until the sessions and the discos arrived thanks to Round Table, there wasn’t any alternative fun in the dorp really. The Sunday School picnics in the park, on Lud Coetzee’s farm on the Swinburne road and at the foot of One Man’s Pass were a highlight of our year. As was standing on the back of Michael Hastings and Charlie Crawley’s flatbed Chevy truck with an orrel on it, driving slowly around town at night singing Xmas carols! Little old ‘Uncle Wright’ Liddell pumping the pedals to belt out the noise. He was our johannes kerkorrel before Mary inherited the mantle. Leon Strachan says for a while he was the only Engels-sprekende Nat in Harrismith!

What did Martie do? Trek n hoed aan, or stay at home? I’d say you were unpopular with the skynheiliges for TWO reasons: One: Not going; and Two: Doing so well at school! That woulda pissed them off.


Mariette wrote:

Martie did the kerk en hoed thing. Theunis let her be. Gave him time with his aviary birds and woodwork.

I was confirmed as a Methodist for some or other reason but never knew about the Methodist dislike of drink. Shows you what a farce that whole confirmation thing is. Had to ‘read’ a bunch of stuff, and then was confirmed.

I remember you had a bunch of fun with the extramural Methodist activities. The only NG Kerk event I didn’t miss for the world was Die Kerkbazaar. Yum. All those lekker koeksisters, toffee apples, fudge and melktert. Sjoe, makes me very lus now. Somehow the Woolies koeksisters and melktert just ain’t as nice.


So you briefly became a Methylated Spirit? How’s that! So did Cappy Joubert. When he got back from World War 2 the NG Kerk – his church – kyk’d him skeef when he arrived in his South African army uniform. So he hived himself off to the Meths boys and stayed there for evermore, hugely enriching the lives of us rooineks. His generosity and involvement and sense of humour and moral compass influenced a generation of kids in our dorp.

I learnt my bible stories very mildly from the enchanting Stella Euthemiou. We sat at her feet and gazed up in awe and wonder. Everyone fell in love with Stella! A dominee’s son who left Harrismith in about 1962 – Lincoln Michell – found my blog recently and he also remembered worshipping Stella back then, fifty years ago! She almost got us to heaven, but we had the six other days and twenty three hours to maak things reg and get unholy again. She had to start afresh every Sunday!

The only bible story we really learnt without a shadow of doubt was the holy unerring infallible fact that we got gifts at Christmas time. The old oke in red with the white beard got a lot more coverage and adulation than the younger oke in white with the brown beard, I can assure you.

We had another three gorgeous older girls at Sunday School: Shirley Mason, Anne Euthemiou and Lynn du Plessis. When I first heard “Shirley, Goodness and Mercy were going to follow me all the days of my life” I knew exactly who they were and verily, I was pleased.


Mariette wrote:

Anne Euthemiou, Lynn du Plessis and Martie Marais were all gorgeous. Saw a photo of Anne and Martie at one of Barbara’s famous get-togethers a few months ago and they still look fabulous.


Famous author Chris van Wyk also had dreams on hearing that bible passage and in 2006 he wrote a wonderful childhood memoir called Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a Childhood Memoir. He grew up in Riverlea and his lovely smile reminded me of fellow Riverlea character Gerald Durrell (‘yes, like the famous animal and zoo author‘ he’d say) who ran the Riverlea Eye Clinic when we used to go there as optometry students in Jo’burg in 1976 and 1977.

Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood – Golden Gate area? –
Shrubs beside a cascading stream

I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:

– spot on! – an image locked in my brain for forty or more years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.