From British Pathé newsreel archive – 85,000 films of historical significance. From 1896 to 1976, fascinating footage of major events, products, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, science and culture, most related by hilariously pompous and self-satisfied Poms.
“Insanity like yours should be recorded,” I said to Charles in 2015. “You might not think so, and your children might not want to read it, and even your grandkids might yawn. But your great-grandkids WILL be fascinated . . . or their kids.”
He said ‘Let’s meet,’ and so it was that for the first and last time in my life I had tea at Rose’s Tearoom in Kloof.
Which worried me. Mr Lion Ale suggesting we meet for tea. Especially when he actually ordered tea. And this was not Rosie’s Cantina. I cleared my throat and was about to say what I had rehearsed: You have paddled down one river 49 times for 49 years in a row. This perseveration needs to be analysed in case it is contagious. We need to save future generations from such insanity, but Charles pre-empted me. In that way that he has, Chas earnestly said, ‘Well, this is very opportune, you know. Next year is the fiftieth Umko,’ and proceeded to turn the focus less on himself and his amazing paddling, organising and mentoring career, and more on the river and race that he loves. So the rest of 2015 and the first two months of 2016 I wrote and he helped edit Umko 50 Years, finishing it in time for the 50th Umkomaas Canoe Marathon where it was given to around 300 paddlers who did that historic race.
So we had to re-start the process.
Charles did that race, his 50th, but ‘only’ his 49th finish (he broke his boat in 1970, thank goodness, then got married to make up for it). Not learning anything, he went on to complete his 50th – and then two more. So after the 2019 Umko I cleared my throat again and this time he listened; and so we started writing what I called The Book of Charles, Chapter 77 (years old), verse 52 (Umkos). Later he and his long-suffering wife Barbs came up with a much better title. We started by meeting every Tuesday morning. My manager Raksha Singh at work rolled her eyes and cleared my appointment book till 11am Tuesdays. At first we met at Ninos for breakfast, later we settled down on my stoep, where the coffee is cheaper.
Roses came into the story again in July 2019 when a deadline was missed; Charles’ excuse was: ‘Got a couple of English Roses here. They leave on Sunday.’ Granddaughters. Over the two years many other excuses have come fast and thick: We’re walking in the Drakensberg; I’m going to Dermot’s funeral; Writers’ block; Have to mow the lawn; My bakkie needs a new windscreen; The Chief Whip (aka The Typing Pool) made me do ____ (whatever) she was often blamed; We’re moving house; I’m hiking the Baviaanskloof; etc etc. Weak excuses when there was work to do.
Rory Lynsky, old friend of Charles’, got involved from early on and was a huge help. He did stuff we would never have even thought of, like genealogy, checking stuff for accuracy, punctuation n shit. Also he coined the lofty title for our scribe: ‘The Bard of Everton.’Chas and I asked other geriatrics for help and some did. Others: ‘Budge has burst from his South Coast obscurity. Had a phone call. ‘Twas difficult to follow the inebriated diction. He wants to contribute. We’ll see if push turns to shove.’ It didn’t. Rasmussen – another old paddling friend – pledged to try, but pre-emptively pleaded an ancient and addled brain.
The earliest time I saved what he’d written on my computer was August 2019. We were not what you would call a well-oiled machine. Nor would you call us efficient, driven, focused or any of those corporate-speak words. But we did have a lot of fun.
Especially when Barbara started taking an interest. Her rise in the then three-man organisation was swift. She moved from expressing a desire to not be mentioned at all – to be strictly the typing pool only – to becoming chief puncture-rater, liberally sprinkling commas throughout the manuscript, to co-editor with Rory, to eventually appearing in fourteen of the sixteen chapters.
We have to mention Rory Lynsky again at this point as he was the only oke who knew what he was doing. Luckily he was far away in Aussie, so we could continue with our weekly or twice-weekly high-powered meetings that would start with coffee then move on to “I thought YOU were going to do that.” Rory and Charles have known each other since before the rinderpest was a sniffle, so not only was his journalism, editing and published author background handy, he could add stories and fact-check Charles, as he was right there in a number of Charles’ adventures! Charles even took some of his advice, but Rory is polite, so when he asked why exactly the story of three other ous paddling down another river at another time was relevant to this book, Chas just blithely ignored him. My role as cheerleader, compiler and picture-inserter meant all I said was, “It’s your book, Charles, it has got to be your book. People have got to hear the voice of the Charles, Chas or Charlie they knew and know, leaning back and saying ‘Life’s Not So Bad,’ as he pops open another frosty.”
Barbara was a major asset once we’d corrupted her. At first she was all censorship, and, commas, comma. At one point she wrote a resignation letter of sorts: “Pete, I don’t do commas anymore, as you and Charles don’t feel they are very important. It kills me as I read over chapters, and I dare not put in a comma where I feel there should be one. Months ago I thought I had been retrenched from the punctuation job after Charles said of my corrections, ‘Gee Barb, it looks like a bloodbath!‘ It’s been quite peaceful since then.”
(all our corrections were red pen and ink, as Charles avoids the computer where he can, hence ‘bloodbath’).
Once, Charles scurried in looking excited. ‘Quick!’ he said, ‘Get the kaalgat picture in. Barbs has said it’s OK for us to use it!’ Up till then as self-designated Sales Executive I had been pushing for more swearwords, racy pictures, nipples and tales of bachelor conquests, but Charles had been dubious and nervous, fearing possible Catholic repercussions. He had tried sneaking a few things in to see if Barbara would notice. Now the floodgates were open and sales were set to soar. A New York Times Best-seller listing loomed and we discussed upping the print run from fifty to a hundred. Especially when ‘Abandon hope all ye maidens . . ‘ went into the chapter called The Restless Years.
When lockdown came we changed gears. Charles said ‘This reminds me of Arnold’s stormy weather strategy on Uzulane: Haul down the sails, batten the hatches and open a bottle of Tullamore Dew.’ I responded, ‘That’s exactly what we have to do! Chill. Think. Reminisce. Drink. Limit our worrying and Be Grateful. And in your case: Edit. Revise.’
Milestones in the writing: Charles got rid of two his boats that he’d had since Noah was into boats: A green vinylon-decked Limfy and a blue fibreglass-decked whitewater boat from Gordie Rowe. Both were just short of fifty years old. Then their 45yr-old Everton home went! Luckily for him, Barbara let him keep the fifty year marriage, the biggest milestone while we were scribbling.
A red letter day: On Tuesday 12th February 2021 I texted Charles: ‘The Full Manuscript version XXIII has been converted into eucalyptus pulp format ready for the red ink inspection.’
Sundry rejected covers and titles:
We decided to do an index of all the characters who appear in the book, a kind of Rogues Gallery. Many of them I suspected to be illiterate; many of them I knew to be dead. This way they could look up their name, check where they appeared, and more easily decide whether to sue Charles or not; I wanted to make it easy for them cos they’re so old. So Chas listed all names – six pages. It was too long, we needed to compress them into columns. Lack of skill once again came to the fore, but luckily when discussing Patricia Stannard one morning and how helpful she’d been in the Umko book, Chas mentioned that she’s a librarian. I knew we had our answer. I am a big admirer of librarians. Skilful, useful, underrated people. ‘Ask Patricia to do columns for us,” I urged. He did. She did. And she made them so they work even when we inevitably have to add in names dredged up in long-forgotten stories that come to light over coffee and Barbara’s home-made rock cakes. Perfect. The cakes and the columns.
Talking about adding names, how do you finish a book sub-titled Odyssey of an Adventurous Beancounter when he won’t stop having adventures? He wanders off to walk 120km along the Wild Coast, then climb the Drakensberg, then hike the Baviaanskloof. I have to squeeze in the new stories, bumping pictures off pages and generally causing havoc due to a slight shortage of skill in what to do in such cases. If we could include half the swearwords I muttered slaving over a hot desktop on the book we’d have a runaway bestseller.
The messaging back-and-forth while writing:
The Editorial Board had to communicate. Here’s an early example of a successful Old-Bullet Memory-Mining Operation. Most of these produced no mineral-bearing ore. (Nor any scandal-bearing ‘ores, come to that):
18 April 2019 I wrote: Hi Rory – Hope this finds you well. I haven’t badgered you for a long time now and that must end. In 2015 I set out to badger Charles to get his story on paper, but he side-stepped and turned the exercise into a book for the 50th Umko. We have now re-started the Charles Fred Project and we have a better chance of success this time as Barbara has joined the team! There’s a bit more focus and discipline now. We’re looking for any memories of times with Charles – not just Umko-specific. Any memories, paddling-related or not.
19 April 2019 Rory John replied: Morning squire. So old “Fred” is going to get the full Monty treatment. Looks promising if the family are on board. I gave it some thought in the wee hours of the night and after ceiling-staring I think I have a story which only Bren and Barbara would recall. It has nothing to do with A) canoeing, or B) shooting poor unsuspecting buck. I’ll put something on paper. It may need some embellishment, and when in draft form Barbara may need to vet a few details as it took place a long time ago. Questions: Does he know about this project? – What is your time line? – What length story? – Would you like photos with it?
19 Apr 2019 Me: Hi Rory & Brenda. ‘shooting poor unsuspecting buck!’ I’d temporarily forgotten about his murderous instincts! We’ll have a chapter on bambi slaughter in the mountains of the Eastern Cape! Barbara will conspire with us I’m sure. She’s the stabilising force in the project.
Your Questions: 1. He knows and is involved. This does not mean we cannot spring a surprise or two; 2. When you can; 3. Any length; 4. Photos would be great – a paper book may have photo limits, but in an ebook there’s no limit;
17 May 2019 Rory John: Morning Pete. I’ve started writing up a story, but some way to go. I thought I’d just let u see what I’ve completed to date and if this is the sort of thing you’re looking for. The story does get more eventful. End of June okay with you? (note: Rory was concerned about deadlines, not knowing that at the end of June 2021 we’ll probably still be plugging away).
18 May 2019 Me: Exactly right! Perfect! Keep it going! End-June is fine. PS: Allie Peter has written on bambi slaughter. It’s gruesome and relentless. Dead warthogs and mounted baboon bums feature . . .
21 June 2019 Rory wrote: Morning Pete. I attach my contribution with photo. I passed it by Bruce Webber as a courtesy since it was his place we were staying at, also to check for accuracy after 37 years. He enjoyed it! The photo was taken at the Webbers after the Tshani Marathon as Charles enthralled his young audience of Catherine, Joanna, Anthony and Maurice with tales of derring-do. The foursome are now 40yr-olds – how time flies.
21 June 2019 Me: Hi Rory – Thanks v much! I’m sure Charles Fred will be very chuffed. I’ll send it on to him and Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip Barbara for their perusal. Once Charles gets through all the many stories we’ll have to start choosing chapter headings and how to run a thread through the whole autobiography. It has been a fascinating exercise so far and the hard bit is still to come!
An example of feedback to the Editor-in-Chief, Censor and Chief Whip after one of our high-pressure morning editorial meetings: 8 August 2019: Me: Great. Thanks Barbara. Good decision. I look forward to reading it. We went over the hunting scandals and I have the obituaries to add to it. We were very focused this morning, and our wandering far and wide was kept to a minimum.
Gallivanting: 12 November 2019: Rory wondered if we were still awake, having to ask again if we had received some of his work. I replied: Yes, that was wonderful. We went over it only this morning. Very irresponsibly, The Bard was off gallivanting and doing totally unnecessary and uncalled-for things like family business and trudging from shebeen-to-shebeen on the Wild Coast near Mtentu with some fellow vagrants. He has lost focus on the main objective: The Book of Charles! Barbara has been very busy too – side-issues like family, friends, churches and ashrams – and when she’s not around, productivity suffers. Charles will tell you he needs to issue orders, meantime she’s the Chief Whip.
An Alarming Scandal: 21 Nov 2019 Research into Charles’ Pommy ancestry revealed an acute shortage of baptisms! Rory’s genealogy sleuth John Powell in England searched for piousness in vain: ‘Looking for Mason baptisms was a completely unsuccessful exercise, I must say. Were the Masons perhaps Baptists (no baptisms) or, more likely, Methodists?’ . . . I felt I had to hasten to alert his good Catholic wife in an effort to forestall an annulment: Hey Barbara, have you had Charles baptised? Maybe a ceremony in the waters of the Umkomaas is needed?
Money Troubles: As so often on these big money projects, a financial dispute rose its ugly head. 11 Dec 2019: Me: Hi Barbara. Charles is writing about the first Umko race and needs some excerpts from the Umko book. I managed to find some of the stuff he wanted, but unfortunately it will need to be re-typed! Charge him per word.
Barbara: Hi Pete. He doesn't pay his accounts!
Me: A delinquent !? We'll just attach his boats at KCC . .
Charles: They wouldn't be worth attaching.
On 27 Dec 2019 we had a Major Breakthrough!
Barbara wrote: Dear Rory, Thanks for your practical suggestions some of which we miss because we go backwards and forwards and have read it many times. When I was typing a section for Charles I also said to him, “You mention Barbara – no one knows who Barbara is. Those things are important or they frustrate the reader. Rory replied: The same thought crossed my mind. I wondered when we would hear more about ‘Barbara’ while the lads were engaged in all these Boys Own adventures. I look forward to a Chapter entirely devoted to Barbara from The First Meeting to the Altar. (Editor-in-Chief Swanie please Note).
Ha! I wrote to Rory: The cat is among the pigeons. Charles is grappling with this. Initially he was under orders not to write about Barbara, but we have discussed it before – and had a long discussion over coffee this morning. He will now write all he wants while – initially anyway – not revealing it to The Chief Whip. “In public” he will continue with all other aspects of the book – there’s plenty to keep him busy. After that . . ons sal sien. I personally think she’ll be fine with what is actually a fun tale of their eyes meeting across a crowded licencing office, match-ups plotted, Comrades races, restaurant dates, a modern, less conventional wedding, a honeymoon featuring underwear, etc. There’s no doubt it will have to be faced! Like The Approaches, followed by No.1 rapid, he will simply have to paddle through it and write about Number One.
Delinquency and Dancing Winds: 10 August 2020 Barbara:Charles is off tomorrow to walk in the Champagne area of the Berg. I was wondering why he wasn’t making much of a contribution towards the group’s food, but then saw him packing a box with six beers and a bottle of white wine. With the ban on the sale of alcohol, this is pure gold. I enjoy these times when he goes away. We get on well but it is good, as Kahlil Gibran says, “To let the winds of heaven dance between you.” I know just what I will do with the next few days.
Puncture-ation: Deep discussions were held on punctuation. Commas and apostrophes were debated the most. Barbara:I’ve been reading a book on punctuation written with a lot of humour by someone who calls herself a stickler for correct pronunciation and punctuation. She dithers outside a charity shop that has a sign in the window which reads, “Can you spare any old records”. There is no question mark! Should she go in and mention it? “But what will I do if the elderly charity shop lady gives me the usual disbelieving stare and then tells me to “Bugger off, get a life and mind your own business?”Well, Barbs knows my sympathies lie not with the author, but firmly with the old charity shop lady!
Nativity Nonsense: 12 Nov 2020 Barbara wrote: Hi to you two from a very tired typist. Recently I was retrenched from the job of proof reader when I tried to put about a hundred commas into one chapter and things have been quiet for a few weeks, but tonight I have been back on the job of typist with a very exacting task master next to me trying to get me to type a timeline for him. The meticulous ‘Virgo’ at his best.
Rory, I include you in this ‘just to keep you in the loop’. I say this facetiously, as Charles and I are very critical of these buzz words and we have laughed at this. The end is in sight for this ‘bestseller.’ All we do now is sit back and wait to be acknowledged as a finalist in the Pulitzer prize. Except he can’t get that because he is not American. Anyway, Charles wants to know if he has missed anyone in his acknowledgements. Enough nonsense for now. Good night.
Rory John: All looking good. I like the timeline for 1966. Were the two events linked? “Met Barbara” – “World’s first heart transplant” – ?? As for acknowledgements – BARBARA should be Highlighted in Rhinestone.
Me: Hear hear – Long service medal, VC with Halo and a Pugilist Prize.
Barbara: Hi to you both, once again. I must reply to the last email. Rory, I take it that having my name in Rhinestone, is some acknowledgement of my efforts as typist. Thanks for that, although I don’t quite understand the use of that word. Pete, I do try to polish my Halo, but it is still very tarnished and sits cock-eyed on my head. Your mention of me getting the Pugilist Prize reminds me of a conversation between Charles and I which made me laugh, although I don’t think it was supposed to:
I was telling him a story from my childhood. My mother and her two sisters were Catholics, so the children of those three sisters had a religious upbringing. Every Christmas, the four little girls (the two boys were probably already showing signs of agnosticism or atheism) would put on a Nativity Play. We organised it ourselves and had rehearsals and I think the adults enjoyed it. It was usually performed on Christmas night. My cousin, Sylvia, was the leader and so she chose the prettiest role – she was the angel, Sharron was Mary, my sister Irene was St. Joseph. I was saying to Charles that I don’t remember what part I played, when he said, “You were probably Herod.” So you see Pete, you weren’t far off the mark. Until the next time.
Me: That really cracked me up. I had a long hearty chuckle at that. Luvvit! In our Nativity Plays stretched over my (it seems) one hundred years in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits, it was of some concern to me that I never rose above the station of being a sheep. I wanted to be a shepherd because of their cool long wooden crooks painted gold – not even aspiring to be Joseph or anything, just a shepherd. But a sheep I was destined to be. I suffered but I dared not complain. The threat of arousing FC’s ire was ever-present. In our church, FC was more often considered in actual practice than JC. JC was fine, but FC actually delivered the goods!
Then: An Actual Book!
I was eager to have one amateur copy of the book printed and be damned. Without any professional designer or printer involved. ‘Take a chance on saving the money.’ I said to Charlie, ‘We’ll learn something from the exercise before we commit to making lots of them. Maybe we’ll collapse with laughter and embarrassment and realise we do need an expert. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out fine.’ Charles was bok for it: ‘Order TWO!” he commanded boldly.
The April day that the ‘test’ books arrived, Charles was in the wilderness trudging the Trappist Trail, doing penance for being half a catholic. You have to trudge for miles and miles from one monastery to another monastery and live like a monk till you come right. Or something. I’m not clear on the details of why one trudges when transport is available. Maybe he has to do it to compensate for those trudges when he goes from one shebeen to another shebeen on the Wild Coast?
I was going to await his return but he clambered to the top of the cross on top of the steeple of the monastery at Centocow to get signal and phoned me: ‘Go ahead and open it,’ he commanded boldly. I did. It looked great until I noticed it was only half a book. It ended at chapter nine, and we had sixteen chapters. I hastily opened the other copy. Darn! Same half. If it had been two different halves we could have breezily said, ‘Yes, Charles’ Memoirs Appeared in Two Volumes,’ but no such luck.
Finally, the book arrived. We thought. This time it was three chapter headings and twenty six pages of text short! Whoa! Now we were rattled. A double and triple check was done and we pressed PRINT again. Third time lucky, right?
Indeed! The final saga was learning how to insert page numbers, we held our breath and ordered thirty copies, which arrived in two boxes, safe and sound:
Bakgat by Charles Mason ISBN number 978-0-620-93270-7 (print). Read online here.
One hundred and twenty seven years ago today – 22 July 1894 – the Concours Les Voitures sans Chevaux, was held in Paris. A city-to-city motoring competition which is sometimes described as the world’s first competitive motor race. Loose translation: ‘The Race of Carriages without Horses.’
The contest was organised by the newspaper Le Petit Journal and run from Paris to Rouen in France. It was preceded by four days of vehicle exhibition and qualifying events that drew large crowds and created much excitement. Eight 50 km qualifying events were held leading up to the last day when the main 126km race was held.
The editor obviously thought about what he wanted. He wanted cars that were “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey.” Good points all. This meant, for example, that if you had to take a mechanic with you on your journey, you were ineligible for the main prize. Darn right.
The first driver crossed the finish line in a blistering 6hrs 48mins, but he did not win the main prize. His steam-powered vehicle needed a stoker! That’s a nuisance, driving with your butler’s bum in your face as he shovels coal, so he failed the ‘easy to drive’ requirement.
Second, a mere 3mins 30seconds later, was competitor number 65, a 3hp petrol Daimler-engined Peugeot. This made him the winner of the main prize. He looks thrilled.
Third, thirteen minutes later, competitor number 28, a 3hp petrol Daimler-engined Peugeot face to face (vis a vis).
The seventeenth and last finisher took thirteen hours to do the 126km course. 102 had entered, but 78 had not shown up for the qualifying events. These included 25 powered by unfamiliar and improbable technologies such as “gravity; compressed air; automatic; electricity; gas; hydraulics; liquid; pedals; propellers; and levers.”
Here’s a Mr Michaux passing through a busy street in Mantes-la-Jolie, racing amongst horses and pedestrians, en route to Rouen where he finished 9th in his 3hp Peugeot phaeton.
I was thinking: What do we have nowadays that compares? When do we see grown men acting all serious while looking ridiculous to the common man? I think old okes on bicycles dressed in lycra, puffing past thinking they look even semi-normal? Any other contenders?
Do go and look at wikipedia. There’s LOTS more. My home page opens to wikipedia’s main page every morning. There’s always something fascinating to see.
Jessica arrived as Jessica Gambushe, her name give to her by her Tummy Mummy Tembi Gambushe. Tommy arrived as Tommy Ngobese, his name given to him by the local magistrate.
When their adoption papers came through – wonderful papers with “legally they are asof uit u gebore” written on them in black and white! – we started to arrange new birth certificates, passports, etc at home affairs. We loved their names, and kept them, naturally; We also decided to keep their surnames as middle names, so Jess became Jessica Gambushe Swanepoel and Tommy became Tommy Ngobese Swanepoel. But Tommy’s had a twist. Much as we loved his first name, Aitch suggested we name him Thomas and then he could decide to be Thomas, Tom or Tommy in time to come. He has loved that. He was Thomas at school and formal occasions, he prefers Tommy at home.
They were both too young to argue, so although we consulted them formally, they just looked at us with a Can I Have Some More Cooldrink? look on their faces.
Years later, a different story. They had now been subjected to pale schools and their middle names had undergone scrutiny by pale people. Why is my middle name Gambushe / Ngobese? Change it if you don’t like it, I’d say, I still say. Go to home affairs, fill in a form and get it changed, don’t moan.
Back when Aitch was around I’d have to ignore a slight eyebrow arching in the background as madam overheard this. She had heard that story for many years when she would moan about her name Patricia! I would say . . you guessed it: Go to home affairs, fill in a form and get it changed, don’t moan. Lead balloons have soared higher.
Sheila kept a diary in high school. It’s amazing reading such detailed notes of long-forgotten happenings. Last time it was a trip up Mt aux Sources. This time it’s a winter trip to the warm sub-tropical south coast of KwaZuluNatal by a family of Vrystaters.
Pennington, Monday 5 July: – Walked to the beach alone. Stayed for a while. Walked home (± 1 mile – the distance from our beach cottage to the beach). Left for Hibberdene with the whole family. Elsie & Richard Scott were there. Barbara went with them. Went on to Port Shepstone. Went to see Upsie Sorenson, a friend of Dad’s. Walked around a bit in town. Spoke to Lilly du Plessis. Went to Margate. Spoke to Philly and the whole Mikkers family. Swam in the sea with Philly. Went to Port Shepstone to the Sorensons. Chatted to Upsie and his daughter Ingrid. Had tea. Stopped at Park Rynie went to Scottburgh. Bought stuff. Came back to Umdoni Park/Pennington. Went to the café. Went to Uncle Joe Geyser’s sister’s house near our cottage. Met Danie & Pearly (Geyser) du Toit and Pieter Geyser. Went home, had supper with Mom, Dad and Koos. Bathed. Went for a drive. Came back. Barbara & Richard were here. He left. Chatted to Barbara.
Tuesday 6 July: – Had breakfast with the family. Walked to the beach with Mom & Barbara. Swam in the rock pool. Went to the café. Walked to the Caravan Park. Spoke to the Macgregors. Met Glenda & Joan Brand. Went to the beach with them. Spoke to Denise Brand, Glynis and Brian Fisher. Went for a walk alone. Sat on the beach alone. Walked to the café. There were six guys there on three motorbikes. They had met Barbara. They said they are having coffee at our place. They gave me a lift home on the buzz bike. Had lunch with the family. Then the guys, Mike, George, Charles, Terry, Dogs and Kevin arrived. Sat and chatted. Went down to the beach with them. Nine of us on three bikes. I was with Terry & George. Went to the café. They brought us home. Stood and chatted outside. Went to the Happy Wanderers Caravan Park at Kelso with the family. Sat at the boys tent. Had supper in the café. Chatted to them all in the café. Went to Park Rynie with Terry on the buzz bike, Barbara went with Mike. They brought us home. Chatted for a long time. They left. Mike brought Koos back.
Pic of us three taken in Harrismith around about then:
oops, posted this a bit late, but what’s a couple days after fifty years!?
vrystaters – citizens of the province of song and laughter – the Free State
I was telling you how to go about it if you wanted to go on an expedition here, (and also, sort-of, in a modern sense, here), but I may have forgotten to tell you how to make leather. Just in case I did forget, here’s the recipe.
First, slaughter your animal. I know, squeamish, are you? A lot of things you need to do when going on an expedition where there aren’t any shopping malls involve slaughtering an animal: Washing your clothes? slaughter an animal and get the gall bladder; Making soap? keep the fat from all the animals you slaughter; Need a boat? kill two buffalo bulls.
So now you must skin your animal, lay the skin flat and cover the fleshy side in salt or sand, to dry it out and delay decomposition. In a few days the hide will become hard and tough. Now soak the hide in water: this cleans off dirt and softens it up again. Scour it to remove any remaining flesh, then soak it in urine to loosen the hair, which can then be scraped off. Mix poo and water into a slurry, and soak your skin in that: enzymes in the poop will cause it to ferment, softening it and making it more flexible. You can help this process by standing in your poop slurry and kneading the skin with your feet — sorta like crushing grapes.
You now have rawhide: hard when dry, supple when wet. Useful for binding: to attach a blade to a stick and make an ax, just wrap a strip of wet rawhide securely around both and let it dry. It contracts and fits very tightly indeed.
But we were making leather, so now you need to collect the bark or wood from trees high in tannin. Look for red- or brown-colored hardwoods. To extract tannins, shred your wood or bark and boil it in water for several hours. Stretch the animal skin out and immerse it in your tannic solutions of gradually increasing concentrations for a few weeks. During this process, the stretched-out skins trade their moisture for tannins, altering the hide’s protein structure to make it more flexible, more resistant to rotting, and water resistant.
And that’s it: In just a few short weeks, you have produced leather! Now you can make yourself some shoes, harnesses, boats, water bottles, whips, and protective armor.
And they’ll last! Have a look at this leather shoe from Armenia. Made in 3500 BCE – that’s 5521 years ago!
from How to Invent Everything by Ryan North – Riverhead Books 2018
“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” – Baba Dioum
Of course, that’s only if we don’t Kill What We Love. We’re very good at that, too.
The places I always think of that we killed cos we loved them are on the KZN north coast. Farmers would go to the beach with their tents for their fishing holidays, camping under the trees in the dense coastal forest. Then they built cottages, then their friends built cottages; then they built roads then the roads got tarred (about then we visited in 1963); then came flats, then high-rise flats and concrete paving and the rock pools had to be enlarged and deepened with concrete walls. Next thing you have a city right on the beach. There’s water, then a strip of sand and then concrete. No more dunes, no more forest.
Wonderful blogger The Bushsnob got me thinking of this when telling of his trips to the Masai Mara in the 1980’s. Lots of people love the Mara, so much so that he reckons we now have 118 lodges and camps and lodgings around the game reserve! That means MANY vehicles on the roads!
Soon we’ll need a parking lot.
‘You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone . . . ‘
Here’s what Joni Mitchell means by a ‘tree museum’ – we concrete the world, then leave tiny, ever-smaller islands of (sort-of) what used to be. This is a botanic garden she knew in Hawaii:
Baba Dioum – Senegalese forestry engineer, joint winner of the Africa Food Prize.
I met Jaynee J through optometry. She had launched a hugely successful large-format glossy trade magazine VISION which changed the way eyeball marketing was done in Africa. So I had to meet her.
And there she was: This gorgeous blonde Pomshell laughing, thriving and swigging champagne! Succeeding and enjoying. Larger than life. Full of adventure, mischief and mirth. Unforgettable!
She got hugely involved in things optometric and ophthalmic, becoming famous in no time. Then suddenly one day Jayne’s focus changed. Oh no! She was no longer solely focused on us Eyeball Mechanics! She had a lot of strange new men in her life. What was going on?
Then I saw: She’d launched a similar magazine for vets. Veterinary surgeons. Testicle Mechanics. Now when I’d visit her, weird okes would rock up at The Rock with scarves tied round their heads. Everyone knows where a scarf goes. Around your neck. But these ous were on motorcycles. Holly DaveySounds they called them – and they had a weird sound. I dunno, a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was always good enough for me.
Ever-versatile, our Jaynee J had transitioned from eyeballs to dogs balls. Detailed descriptions followed of primitive de-nackering surgery in Mocambique vs high-tech de-nackering surgery in Sandton. I think she enjoyed my empathetic squirming.
Ever-mobile, she moved from Lonehill to the Reeds to the Rock to Vilanculos. Every place she moved into was The Best and Wonderful and became a place where great meals were served with champagne. Always lashings of champagne. ‘Hold the bottle at 45°and you won’t waste any!’ None was wasted.
Recently Jaynee J had a big round birthday and her kids Jessie and Jason gathered a bunch of tributes and made a video for her. Lots of lovely people saying lots of lovely things. All true, like this tribute.
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.
“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.
Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.
We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;
Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.
All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.
Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!
One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.
After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:
A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!
Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body; – https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review – and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.
(A re-post -I went looking for my ‘missionary’ post to link to, and couldn’t find it. Turns out I’d posted it only on my seldom-visited Apache Adventures blog. So without apology, I thought I’d also post it here).
The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?
A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elr*ck wore a string tie, a 10 gallon stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters. He was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.
Soon he invited me to join him on a ‘men’s retreat’ to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife and come back and tell her you’re the boss” shit. I mean, this was 1973!).
I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state (and get out of school – I mean I’d already DONE matric!).So we hopped into his muddy pinky-brown wagon with ‘wood’ paneling down the sides – it looked a bit like the ’53 Buick Roadmaster in the picture above, or this Chev Brookwood maybe?
We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving like Thelma and Louise. Hey, you think they based the 1991 movie on us? We should get royalties, surely?
Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk uninterrupted for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men & boys just like him, all fired up for the Lawd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat: ♫“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫ We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.
We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be.
So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans? We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n hair ‘n pelvis ‘n organs this 18yr old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.
I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.
~~~oo0oo~~~ footnote: Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.
(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.’
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.’
‘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.
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.
Friend Larry had a beautiful old Tudor-style home, almost 100yrs old. He had a fire in the basement which caused huge damage. He sold to renovators who said they’d restore it, not demolish. Larry was hoping that happened.
It did. It got beautifully restored, renovated and sold as a family home. Being on a busy road in Akron, Ohio, and having apartments and businesses as neighbours, it may have become offices, but the renovators stuck to their word! I do note they say the basement is ‘unfinished.’
Fully Updated ‘Highland Square’ 3162 square foot brick tudor home. Includes large family room with recessed lighting, built-in cupboards, fireplace, hardwood floors. Upgraded kitchen with new cabinets and center island, first floor laundry, 4 bedrooms with 4 full bathrooms. Dryer, Washer, Dishwasher, Waste Disposal, Microwave, Oven, Range, Refrigerator.
ca.1996 my good friend Larry sent me a Magellan hand-held GPS after we had hosted him for parts of his trip to SA that year. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was fun, we’d stand outside while it took its time finding up to nine satellites; it would give us our location (about 300 South and 300 East); and we could re-trace a path we had driven, but we didn’t really see much use for it at first. I kept playing with it, fascinated, thinking ‘Oka-ay, now what?’
Then came frog atlassing! We were active in bird atlassing in quarter degree squares, but frogging was different. Easier! All we had to do was tape-record the frog calling, add a few details like weather and habitat, record the location on the GPS and send in the “sighting” (hearing). That was really cool. No maps needed.
For recording we had a directional mike and a cassette tape recorder. My first one had a fold-out parabola mike, the new one looked more up-to-date, just like this:
Although we felt like early adopters in 1996, much had been happening already. The GPS project was started by the U.S Department of Defense in 1973, with the first prototype spacecraft launched in 1978 and the full constellation of 24 satellites operational in 1993. Originally limited to use by the United States military, civilian use was allowed from the 1980s.
In 1989, Magellan Navigation Inc. unveiled its Magellan NAV 1000, the world’s first commercial handheld GPS receiver. These units initially sold for approximately US$2,900 each. We had the 2000 – wonder what Larry paid!?
In 1990 Mazda made the first production car in the world with a built-in GPS navigation system.
Garmin seemed to become the most commonly-seen GPS units in SA, as I recall it. Now cellphones – smartphones – have it all built in, no need for a separate GPS. No need for a separate anything, almost.
Camera, TV, map, compass, email, music player, music library, PC, internet browser, scanner (paper, credit cards, barcodes), fax, bank, credit card, remote control (for TV, DVD, games, drones, model cars, cameras, etc), business card, airline ticket, light meter, spirit level, distance measuring tape, calendar, guitar tuner, recipe book, library, e-reader, field guide, tune recogniser, advice columnist, demonstrater of how to fix anything and build anything, video phone, video camera, live streaming camera, plant, insect and animal identifier, newspaper, photo album, photo editing, notepad, book writer, dictionary, online shopper, timer, watch, alarm clock, walkie talkie, data store, games (board, active and interactive), keys (house, car), torch, voice recorder, calculator, radio, ANYTHING. Everything!