Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
I took Mom to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg. She’d had some visual phenomena and her description of a curtain falling over her vision against the wall made me decide she must be seen right away. My good friend and colleague Owen Hilliar gave me the duty roster and I phoned the surgeon on duty – Dr L – and arranged to see him Sunday morning 08:30.
What a nice man! He listened to her stories. Unlike her usual eye man, Dr A.
So for a case history on this wonderful 91yr-old qualified nursing sister, and myopic glaucomatous pseudophake, Dr L now has the following information:
There are patterns in my vision on the walls and on the ceiling. Like the patterned ceilings in Granny Bland’s house in Stuart Street in Harrismith. I was born in Harrismith see, and did my midwifery in Durban. We went to Durban as we thought maybe we’d meet some nice boys there. Dr L’s eyes widen and he looks at me. But I met my husband in Harrismith; he worked for the post office and he got on very well with my mother and she told me ‘Peter Swanepoel is taking us to the Al Debbo concert in the town hall.’ My grandfather built the town hall; and he sat between me and my mother and that’s how we met. Unfortunately his good relationship with my mother didn’t last. My grandfather and his brother were stonemasons from Scotland; they built all the bridges for the railway line from Durban to Harrismith; What? OK, Ladysmith to Harrismith. When they had been in Harrismith a while they said ‘We like it here; the air reminds us of the old country,’ so they stayed and built a hotel each, the Central and the Royal – but first it was the Railway hotel – every town had to have a railway hotel. Then they changed the name by royal decree to The Royal Hotel. Or with Royal permission. The one brother had seven sons – she holds up seven fingers in front of Dr L’s face – and the other had nine. NINE – holds up nine fingers. And only one of them had a son. Dudley. He was a bit of a sissy – here my eyes widen – but he had the only boy. Thank goodness he then had sons to carry on the name, although one died in a bike accident. Now Granny Bland had five sons and only two of them did anything; one died of malaria in East Africa. Bertie, I think. When? In the First World War; the others just hung about, didn’t do anything even though they had been sent to very good schools. Hilton or Michaelhouse, one of those; I mean, what did my father know about farming? Nothing. His father just bought him a farm and sent him farming. He tried sheep, that was a failure.
Erm, I interrupted . . No, don’t worry, the dilation will still take a while says Dr L.
See, he wants to know, says Mom and carries on. I was proud of her! She was on a roll! We even found out the Shetland pony’s name was Suzanne.
Anything else about your eyes, he asks when she pauses for breath. Just the patterns and colours on the walls and ceiling, says Mom – no mention of the ‘curtain’ which had made me arrange the appointment in a hurry. And this time she didn’t say she has to remove her son’s glasses to read. Oh, and Oupa Bain went blind; I can remember the older children reading the newspaper to him.
After peering in and then checking V/A’s 6/36 and 6/18 and pressures – low, Dr L re-assures her all is well in her eyes and the patterns may be happening in her visual cortex.
We’re free to go, with huge relief. No trip to Durban. I’ve been nil-per-mouth since midnight, so I must remember to drink lots of water to catch up, says Mom happily.
Monica said ‘Don’t worry Mary you needn’t play today,’ but I protested: No Way, you have to play! How else will you earn your keep? So she gamely fired up her stootoot – isithuthuthu – and beetled off to the dining room where her friend ‘Mauritius’ was in her wheelchair, waiting for supper.
She rocked straight into Somewhere My Love, so fast that I missed it. I video’d her next song, ‘It’s Only Words’ (what’s it called?); and she said ‘Supper Time’ but I pleaded One More Please; Play for your supper.
What was that? I asked at the end of it. ‘Deep In My Heart’ she said – and then I’m so sorry I stopped filming, as she said, ‘It’s by Sigmund Romberg from The Desert Song’ and she told me more, that I can’t recall, but that ‘it was beautiful; very special’ I do remember.
I went looking . . .
Ah, here’s the trailer: You can see why Mary would have loved it back in 1954! Many of the songs are familiar; she played them; the reel-to-reel tape played them; and the Goor Koor sang them – all in the lounge at 95 Stuart Street in the Free State village of Harrismith!
And then the best song: The Drinking Song from The Student Prince! Sung in the movie by Mario Lanza.
It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream. Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.
So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.
So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.
We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:
They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!
Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!
I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.
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.
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.
I was reading about 1966 – when the Beatles got blasé and the British pop music invasion of the USA waned.
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.
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.
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 . .
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?
you strangled a rooster on stage?
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: