Birds n Ballies

. . and a lower quota of Booze.

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.

– Dave’s dove –

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.

– Crispin scans, Dave holds his bazooka at the ready – turn a blind eye to the bottom left corner –

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:

– not Dave’s camera –

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

Here’s an adventure Dave and I shared back when we were bachelors, not ballies. That time it was beer n boobs, not birds n ballies.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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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~~~

Launch Aborted

After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.

I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.

At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.

On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.

The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.

I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.

While I was contemplating thus, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’

Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.

~~~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.

High as a Kite (if you want to . . )

Faster than Light (if you want to . . ) – Moody Blues “The Best Way To Travel”

I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t?

But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane – with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it – was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”

We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and my pilot Blom behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.

Up One Man's Pass - Down ZigZag Pass

“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight. “Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.

Years later I’m married and Aitch, having checked that my life insurance is up-to-date (kidding!) gives me a magic birthday present: A Hans Fokkens paragliding course in Bulwer KZN. We arrive on Friday night and check into an old house on the mountain side of the village.

Hans disagrees with Douglas Adams who said in Life, The Universe and Everything, There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Hans says you don’t throw yourself at anything with his wings, nor do you jump off the mountain. You FLY OFF THE MOUNTAIN! He tells me how airflow works and how wings fly and then feeds us from a huge pot of stew and we sleep. Luckily I had been through ground school before; years before, when Colonel Harold Dennis taught me how heavy things fly in Oklahoma.

The next morning we’re on the hillside getting air into the wing and learning to lift, turn, run and FLY! The first time you lift off you think No-o! Yesss!!

Soon I’m able to take off at will on the beginner slope and we move up the mountain. I love the fact that you pack your own wing in a backpack and carry it up the mountain yourself. My first flight was fantastic but short, basically straight down and a rough and tumble landing. My next flight is way better, way higher and way longer, as this time Hans attaches a walkie talkie to me and can tell me what to do. “Lean right! Hard right! More!” comes over the speaker and thus he keeps me in a thermal and I keep climbing. Fifteen minutes in the air, rising 100m above the take-off point! 

Aitch had gone off to read her book and chill, so no pics were taken of my soaring with the eagles and the lammergeiers!

Wonderful, silent, wind-in-your-hair flight at last!

bulwer paraglide
– this pic is not me but it was just like that! –

After that amazing and unforgettable quarter of an hour, I descend slowly, and by watching the wind sock I can turn into the wind at the last moment and land like a butterfly with sore feet.

Beyond stunning!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

My Canoe Club

Sure I haven’t paddled in decades and hadn’t been back to the club most of that time, but when I did go back in 2015 and 2016 they welcomed me back like old times (or old timers!).

Recently some members posted a few photos of the club and surrounds, emphasising what a special place we have on the right bank of the Umgeni near Blue Lagoon where it enters the Indian Ocean.

On top of this, we run the best canoe marathon – The Umko! What a lucky club.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Let’s Watch The Comrades, comrades!

This year’s Comrades Marathon has been CoVidded – no go. This was the 2013 Comrades ultra-marathon. The route runs past our doorstep, and I have a houseful of hooligans, so I hatch a plan . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Cataracts and Mountain Bikes

Steve Reed sent a query aus Aussie in 2015: Any ophthalmologists on the east / North rand come to mind? My 71year-old brother Doug sounds like he has cataracts. Wants to know who to go see. He does not trust his optometrist anymore who keeps giving him stronger glasses (?what?). So he wants to go and see someone who is not the butcher of Bedfordview.

A reply From deep behind the boerewors curtain – even deeper behind it than Bedfordview came a dodgy reply, shamelessly rigging the tender in favour of family – a distant cousin: Clive Novis good for cats (this was his cousin Brauer speaking).

Five years later (2020) I was clearing out old emails and followed up to Reed and Brauer: Did Doug have his cat tracks whipped out? Surely yes, cos if you see a cataract surgeon . . .

Reed replied – and got the subject onto mountain bikes: Yeah he had ’em done. Some peer pressure from his wealthy cycling mates who were proudly pitching up without their spoogoos but yes he was getting myopic shift. His optom sent him after she could not improve his VA any more. After a lot of pre-op anxiety, his pressures spiked post-op – could not see and had to have a fair bit of treatment before it all settled down.

So wisely, he succumbed to peer pressure for the cataracts but not the $12 000 carbon fibre bikes. He is a wise man and his decisions are measured.

I responded, ignoring Doug’s drama and honing in on what was important: Bikes. Liewe bliksem. I bought my first bike in Westville for R150. Loved it. Then I bought a really nice GIANT hardtail for R2500. Now that bike I really loved and was very happy with.

– dignified cyclist on hardtail GIANT –

But no. A canoeing mate went huge in the MTB industry (he still runs MTB trails) and he and Aitch decided Koos needs a better bike.

Koos did not need a better bike. The reason Koos wasn’t winning races was he was stopping to look at the scenery and pushing up hills. All hills. I still push up hills. All hills. It is undignified to ride up hills. Cyclists only look dignified going downhill.

– fancy KONA – Tom approves –

So a spanking smart KONA arrives, made in Canada, shock absorbers all over the place. High-level Shimano gearset. A computer to tell me what I did. Never switched it on. I know what I did and I’d rather not record it.

Fuckit! Rumour had it at R17500. Not high at the time relative to what some were spending, but fuckit, R2500 spent years ago was my comfort level. Then I still had to buy cleats to click into the pedals. Now I walked like a doos when pushing uphills.

I faked joy and rode it. It was a softer ride, sure, but I was happy with the GIANT’s ride. Anyway, I’m a natural diplomat, Aitch had paid, be polite, thank you, love. It’s marvelous. Yes, it’s MUCH better than my old bike. Yes, I’ll be MUCH faster now.

And then I remembered a bit of empathy for Doug: Oper-fucking-rations. I don’t want none. ‘Pressures spiked post op’ – gives me the jeebies.

~~~oo0oo~~~

boerewors curtain – imaginary line separating normality from antediluvian thought processes; separates KwaZulu Natal from the throat-clearing hinterland, such as Tshwane, Gramadoelas, Boksburg, Benoni, Vanderbijlpark, Gotpietersrus, Bedfordview

spoogoos – glasses; spectacles; eyeglasses; from the isiZulu izibuko

– R190 000 –

$12 000 – R200 000 Souf African Ront so min of meer; R10 000 more than my Ford Ranger

so min of meer – fuckit

fuckit – goodness gracious me

doos – with an odd toe-up gait cos of cycling shoes

oper-fucking-rations – surgery; definition of minor surgery: surgery on someone else

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.

New Book Coming!

Johnny Vassilaros is a courageous mensch. And an author. And I can’t wait! If you love Durban, get your copy. Write to – littleboatsandbigfish@gmail.com –

Foreward by Advocate Peter Rowan
I have known Johnny since 2003. I have spent many long hours with him, in meetings, in consultations, in Court proceedings, in open debate and in argument (even between us). He is a man of the utmost integrity. He is a man of high intelligence, a man of conviction and undeniably strong character. He has values and standards to be admired, a man of good, fair and even judgement, a family man, a music lover, a historian and environmentalist. A spade is a spade, and he calls it that way. Nothing in the civic domain is done for his own ego, or his own pocket. What he does is motivated by distinguishing between principles of right and wrong, and then, resolutely pursuing what is good for the situation that lies before him. He is disciplined, tough and unrelenting in pursuing his goals.

The nucleus of this book is the story of the Durban Paddle Ski Club, of which Johnny found himself as chairman, during the most taxing period in its history, and which was to have a profound effect on the plight of a most valuable public asset – Vetch’s Beach. This book has many interesting stories to tell. It brings colourful characters back to life by their amazing and often insane deeds in their pursuit of big fish on their little boats. And then, the anecdotes, historical facts about Durban, the pioneers of this city, shipping, the once dreaded “Bar” and shipping disasters off our coast, only a few life spans ago. For the fishing fanatics – just read it!

– Johnny Vassilaros and Pete Rowan – men of principle –


But this book is more than that. It also covers a most serious topic, that being the biggest and most expensive and controversial coastal development in the history of this city – the Point waterfront development. Having read the book, all I can say is “Wow!” The meticulous attention to detail and irrefutable accuracy on the facts is immaculate. Yes, some 250 pages are devoted to the tragedy of Vetch’s, where those who would like to know what truly happened, should read and read again. Johnny does not mince his words. He slaughters politicians, prominent municipal officials and powerful businessmen, decimates major role players from certain water sports clubs, all so justifiably, through their unethical deeds committed throughout the long Point waterfront years. If you don’t know who these individuals are, read about them in this book.

But the author doesn’t go at people simply for the sake of doing it. He acknowledges good and good people and good deeds. He despises bad or useless incompetent people, and most of all, reveals the wrongdoings, the corruption and skulduggery, all of which, we see aplenty in his book. He also provides more irrefutable facts, explaining how all this has led to the loss of the watersports clubs’ premises and the cost to the ecosystem at Vetch’s. 

Johnny writes both from the head and from the heart. He adds comment which is well founded, and where he castigates the unfortunates and criticises others, he does so because it is relevant to the story he unfolds. His words amount to fair and justifiable comment and criticism, made for the public good, all within his constitutional rights and freedom of speech. The events that he describes involved matters that could so easily have been laid to rest around a table with sportsmen and women, as we were all meant to be, acting reasonably,  in the interests of all our wants and needs of our respective sports. That’s what reasonable and civilised people with any sense of decency and good sportsmanship would have done.

But that was not to be. Not this bunch with whom we had to deal. Six individuals, who, as a committee, snuck off and formed a “Point Watersports Club”, with a “constitution” not remotely relevant to the aims and objectives of the water sports clubs, and, most importantly, in total contradiction to a legally-binding agreement they had all previously signed. And, staggeringly, with no mandate from their members and without any of them having any inkling that this was going on. And yet, this continued for years and the members still say nothing to this day.

How much in litigation costs did all of this amount to for the clubs, and ultimately the members? Johnny raises this in his book. I would conservatively estimate that between this “PWC”, whoever they may be, the DUC and the Durban Ski Boat Club, must have paid in the region of R5 million if not more. Look at what it cost the Paddle Ski Club and Save Vetch’s Association to save the beach, whilst others stood by – millions. What a waste! And how much irredeemable human and tangible destruction took place whilst all of this was going on?

And for me, one of the most dramatic standout points. How and why and on whose mandate did Hall, Kidger and Donald come to give away, in 2015, all the clubs’ rights to invaluable freehold property, to arguably own the highly valued land on which they were to build their clubhouse? Were these self-appointed directors simply dancing to the tune of the developer, giving away land that was worth millions, without a murmur? One can only be left wondering whether anyone was ever rewarded, for this act of “high treason”. No matter how one looks at this, it stinks. Rotten to the core. Should we not all be digging deeper into this? If we do, some people might just land up in jail. Johnny’s book lays this bare. Read it with care.

There is one last thing that needs to be published. The man I chose, during difficult times to put my money on, ahead of a multitude of erstwhile friends, the Geriatskis, and all of those who paddle with them. When I teamed up with the Geriatskis, paddling and socialising with them at DUC, it became one of the most motivating factors in my life. It was pure fun and pleasure. What camaraderie, banter amongst, what I imagined true friends to be! But when crunch time came, when it was clear that Hall was leading them down the garden path, and I started to ask questions and take a strong stance, where were these people? It seemed easier for them to step back and drift with the tide or blow with the wind.

Taking a strong value judgment call or a moral stance, or simply for the stark ecological sake of saving the beach, was not for these folk. But they paddle across that stretch of water, saved by others making huge sacrifices, day in and day out – conscience free, having done nothing to save the reef they so guilelessly now use. They went along with Hall because it was convenient and expedient. As tough and as sad as it has been breaking away and being excised from a strong group of wonderful erstwhile friends, and sad as the lonely situation is that I have now found myself in, I would suppose a gregarious fellow by nature, I wouldn’t swap Johnny Vassilaros and his solid principled fishing ski guys as friends for any one of these fickle souls – in my view, may they forever hang their heads in shame every time they paddle across the Vetch’s basin. Read about it.

I associate myself with all the facts set out in this book and with the words of the author, having been part of the action and privy to the multitude of documents and the voluminous court papers, which I still have in my possession. I am in the privileged position of being able to support or refute either the content of the book or any further comments that may arise. I challenge those who disagree with the content to revert, by way of constructive written exchanges, and back their views with adequate proof. I also challenge any one of you to take us to Court on whatever cause of action you may wish to rely upon.  

I salute this man, Johnny Vassilaros, for his tenacity and his courage in disclosing the truth. He is a man who I would want alongside me if ever we were to go to war. 

Advocate Peter Rowan SC       (Durban February 2020)

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bain of Harrismith

My granny Annie had an older brother Ginger. He was the oldest of the seven Royal Bains and a great sportsman. They owned the Royal Hotel and were not to be confused with the Central Bains, who owned the Central Hotel!

This old report was reprinted in the 1997 Hilton vs Michaelhouse sports day brochure: 

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

Drop goals were four points and tries were three in those distant days. I like that the one side was “smarter with their feet” . . and that that beat “pretty passing”.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I’m a nurture over nature fella, but a century later Ginger’s great grandson repeated the slaughter of the Michaelhouse girls . .

Careful Where You Step!

Recording and reminiscing; with occasional bokdrols of wisdom. Possibly.

Random, un-chronological memories after marriage, children and sundry other catastrophes.

– this swanepoel family –

My pre-marriage blog is vrystaatconfessions.com. Bachelorhood! Beer! River trips! Beer!

bokdrols – like pearls, but handle with care

~~~oo0oo~~~

Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me.

Speaking of Bullshit . .

This is American football. At Super Bowl time. And Keith Knight of The K Chronicles gets it. It could just as well be soccer, rugby, olympics or any of the scams that ‘professional sport’ is these days . . and has been for a long time.

My additional South African punchline would be “The fact that these sports get funding from our Lotto as “charities”: PRICELESS!!

Steve Reed wrote drily: Now hang on Koos. (Sure its a $10 000 ticket, but) I heard today that under your seat you will find a goodie bag. This contains earmuffs, hand warmer, a radio, Chapstick, mittens, tissues and a bandana! Definitely worth it.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Our friend Louis used to say ‘Dis My Gat Se Deksel’ which means ‘This Is My Arsehole’s Lid’ meaning ‘This Takes the Cake’ or – ‘This Beats Me’ or – ‘How the Hell Do You Explain That?’ or – ‘What a Scam!’

Shit Birders Say

. . and that I wish I had said . .

To a person uninstructed in natural history, his countryside or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall”THOMAS HUXLEY – English biologist

“Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting and – above all else – envious. I know many who are generous, witty and delightful company – but they’re no fun!”BILL ODDIE;

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment…and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn”HENRY DAVID THOREAU, author, poet & philosopher – I once had a pigeon shit on my shoulder while collecting money for charity – shaking a tin – outside the Jeppe Street Post Office In Johannesburg; does that count?

“God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages”JACQUES DEVAL , French playwright

“If you bird, you will see stuff”THE ORACLE, birder

“A weird screechy howl, which rises in a nerve-shattering crescendo, to peter out like a cry of a lost soul falling into a bottomless pit”AUSTIN ROBERTS, original author, Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa – talking about the Manx Shearwater? or me when dipping out yet again on an African Broadbill?

I don’t GO birding. I AM birding!”– FAANSIE PEACOCK, birder – (always! I agree with Faansie, an amazing birder with the best possible name for one!)

Use what talents you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best”HENRY VAN DYKE, American author – who hereby gives me permission to sing in the shower and while driving . .