MAHEM

M.agical A.vian and H.ysterical E.xpedition to M.emel

I decided to look for elusive gentlemen farmers Des and Ian by launching a stealth visit to the Memel district, choosing the Memel hotel as my base.

I settled on the stoep with a cold beer and asked if anyone knew Des Glutz? Well, they all did and had lots to tell me. Just wait right there, said Rudi the friendly hotelier, He’s sure to pop in, it’s Friday.

Various bakkies arrived and men in khaki wearing boots or velskoens trooped into the bar. Then a Nissan parked right in front of me and under the chassis a pair of bony feet in blue slip-slops appeared, followed by a pair of bony legs in faded navy blue rugby shorts with plenty of ballroom. His face and neck were covered by beard but I could see this was my man. He’s kinda unmistakable.

– my view of the ropy Nissan –

I accosted him from my prime spot on the stoep: ‘Excuse me, what you think you doing? You can’t come in here dressed like that!’ Well, then he knew I was from far, cos he most certainly can and does go into the Memel pub dressed like that. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me with his chin tilted up and his eyes half closed, you know how Des does that. Then he kicked for touch: Wait, I’m just going to tell these fuckin old fossils I’ll be late. He ‘stuck his head in the door and cussed his three slightly older drinking pals, telling them he’d be outside; then he came back to stare at me. Took a while to see through my new beard, then he said Coppers, is that you? He always called me Coppers after a Clifton primary schoolmate oke called Copchinsky. He also called policemen copchinskys.

As people arrived everyone greeted Oom Des and he had a cussing and a slur for each of them. Except the ladies. Hello my sweetheart, I still love you but I’m worried about your heart, he says to one, Come here and let me listen to your heartbeat. She leans over him and he nestles his ear in her boobs and rubs back and forth going Mmmmmm. Hai Oom Des, she says and rubs his head affectionately. Incorrigible. No change. And no improvement. We had a wonderful evening before he left for home, late, but with a pizza for Mercia as a peace offering. I discovered a few things that Memel evening: One was that the mense of Memel love the oke.

The next day I drove around the well-known Seekoeivlei nature reserve; Des was off to pretend to buy bulls at a vendusie with one of the fuckin old fossils.

Des and Mercia have a lovely spacious home in town and Oom Des decreed that a braai would be held there. Unfortunately I hopped into his bakkie to go there, mid-conversation, so I had no beers, no car. Soon after, another apparition arrived with a snow-white beard. The Bothas Pass hermit had emerged from his cave, bearing enough beers for an army, plus a bottle of brandewyn. Ian Stervis Steele, who I had not seen for many decades. What a night. About ten people, about a thousand beers and a gallon of brandewyn; lots of mutton chops, pork ribs and boerewors, a huge pot of pap and a very lekker sous. Very good oldtime music and Des at the head of the table till WAY late. Generous hospitality and much laughter.

Stervis, myself and a local couple stayed the night with Des and Mercia and their four dogs, the most notable one being a pekingese / sausage dog cross. Pitch black and chubby, about ankle-high, with that Pekingese-style smashed flat beak. Name: RAMBO. If you weren’t careful it would lick you. I got the comfy couch in the lounge.

The next day I was off-peak and had a snooze back at the hotel and booked another night. In the afternoon I drove out to Normandien and Mullers passes and then visited Des. For tea this time. Then back to the hotel where Rudi cooked me a huge T-bone and I had an early night, dank die hemel, Memel.

I saw stonechats, mountain wheatears and amur falcons; and the beautiful Klipspruit valley.

Before I left on this drive I called in at the butcher for some fatty biltong. The owner enquired what I was doing in town and I said I had been sent on a special mission to find and fix a man called Des Glutz. He and two customers in the shop roared with laughter and told me in no uncertain terms that there was no way I could ever live long enough to achieve that.

~~oo0oo~~

mahem – the sound this bird makes

mahem – grey crowned crane

bakkie – pickup; ute; status symbol

slip-slops – Glutz fashion footwear

fuckin old fossils – people slightly older than Des

Oom Des – old codger

mense – people; folk

braai, boerewors, etc – ritual burnt offerings; various animals sacrificed

brandewyn – sacramental drink served in braai ritual in tall glasses; distilled from grapes or peaches, they say

dank die hemel – Memel ‘sanks heavens’ ritual chant

~~oo0oo~~

Memel is maybe named after a Memel in East Prussia where they fought a battle in 1257, even before Des was born I’m told. The name means silence, but that has been broken since Des moved to town and since Memel joined with Zamani to become Memel-Zamani.

Sally Forth

It takes five days to go the 250km* to Harrismith from Westville. This is because you visit friends along the way. First, there were leaving formalities with amazing friends and supporters Petrea and Louis Lodder:

First stop Jenny & Tabs Fyvie in the Tala valley; My luck it was Justin’s 40th and Caitlin had baked a cake! Hayley also arrived and there was a flock of very deja-vu Fyvie-Mandy looking kids running around. What a busy happy extended family household! Tabs and Jen are hugely experienced travellers and campers, so I got a bit of Kruger Park advice and info, Kruger being one of my intended destinations. We did an inspection of their alucab camper with rooftop tent on a double-cab Landcruiser. I’ll pick their brains again when it comes to solar power, batteries and fridges.

On to the Rosetta Hotel as it was getting late. They were having a St Patricks night – lucky me again. I washed down a huge eisbein with sherry, a large Windhoek draft, a pint of guinness for Oirish luck, and a glass of house red – *burp* – then to bed in a huge warm room. In the morning I swallowed their substantial all-in breakfast.

To Mandy & Carl Reitz on their farm The Bend on a big bend of the Tugela river and a view of the high Drakensberg from the Sentinel to Cathkin Peak. What a fantastic three days I spent there. We laughed a lot thinking of how clever and beautiful and irresistible we were in those far-off alcohol-fueled days when The Bend was our mecca for sex drugs n rock n roll and variations on those themes.

I did lotsa farming with Kai in my normal fashion: Sitting in the passenger seat and nodding. Kai knows better than to take farming advice from me – he has had experience of me as a temporary deputy farm manager! He drove me all over his farms and the district and we took walks in the mud – they’ve had good rains. A special sighting was a large grey mongoose – the ichneumon or Egyptian Mongoose – running into cover; too quick for my camera.

Durban friends Greg & Roly Bennett had been to their old farm Oppermanskloof on the Geluksburg road to scatter their Mom’s ashes. I met them near Bergville where Roly and I had a great laugh remembering our young n clever daze; – His seconding us on the Dusi canoe marathon, doing a fine job on the first overnight stop, handing us cold beers, deckchairs and a hot meal; sheer luxury! On the second night we couldn’t find him: He had disappeared into the pub leaving us to fend for ourselves; – Water-skiing on Hazelmere dam where I dropped the tow rope as I rose out of the water behind Greg’s 220hp Yamaha outboard; The boat made a tight u-turn and came back to me. When I told them I’d pulled a muscle Roly roared with laughter and said, Swanie you couldn’t have pulled a muscle, you must have pulled a fat! Skinny bastid – he still doesn’t have calf muscles.

Next through Geluksburg and up Middledale Pass into the Vrystaat.

A lovely welcome from Leon & Elsa Strachan on their farm Nesshurst where again I was shown all over and fed and entertained royally. I forgot to get a pic of their beautiful big guest çottage on the banks of their dam.

I must ID that interesting plant. Then I got to Harrismith to Pierre and Erika du Plessis to stay in their lovely home. I have been so spoiled by Erika, and Aletta and Paul, her two helpers. Yesterday I heard a scream from Aletta in the garden. I rushed out to find she’d been stung by a wasp jealously guarding his spider prey on the lawn!

Next post: A fascinating trip to Memel.

~~oo0oo~~

  • * 250km as the vrou cries – or crow flies – a bit further if you insist on going ‘on the ground’

Xudum in Okavango

(A re-post with added pictures, as I throw out paper photo albums after copying and uploading. Major un-cluttering happening as I prepare my home for the past sixteen years for sale. Next chapter about to begin!)

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip. We had been before, in January 2000. This post has pictures from both trips.

– . . . in the Xudum area, east of the Sandveldt Tongue –
Xudum airstrip (2)
– Xudum landing strip in high water – a 2020 picture –

After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

Xudum drift

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps, earning my keep as a guest of the lodge managers. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree.”

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

Here’s Trish’s paper album – photographed and discarded:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later Xudum was taken over by super-luxury company ‘&Beyond.’ OTT luxury, and R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic – but still luxurious – tented camp it was when we were there. Should ‘conservationists’ really be using miles of glass and wooden decking and flooring in the bush!? Methinks rich spoilt children are doing the designing for Daddy’s company and perspective has flown out the canvas-zip window and crashed into the plate glass floor-length picture window.

In May 2019 it burnt down. Had it been canvas there’d have been less pollution from the fire and the re-build.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A Visit to the Neighbours

The BepiColombo probe used a flyby past our neighbour and ‘Twin Planet’ Venus to slow it down on its way to Mercury. And it took a picture as it whizzed past:

Launched in 2018 the aim is to get it orbiting Mercury by 2025. These are long-term projects! This month it reached its target planet and beamed back its first images of Mercury.

Taken from an altitude of 1000km above Mercury’s surface, this image is way better than what we had before from our only two previous missions to Mercury: NASA’s Mariner 10 in the early 1970s, and Messenger in the early 2000s. But this is just the first encounter. The probe will now take another four years and five flybys to slow down enough so it can get into stable orbit around Mercury, the closest planet in the Solar System to the Sun.

– more here and here

Launched aboard an Ariane rocket, the BepiColombo mission is a joint effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). After a three-year-long journey, the probe has finally reached Mercury. Four more years to go.

Once in a stable orbit in 2025, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, both onboard the probe, will be released. They will eventually study various aspects of Mercury, including its core, magnetic field, exosphere, and surface processes, to better understand the planet’s origins and evolution, according to the ESA.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mtentu Paradise

Friend Rohan owns Detour Trails and arranges the most amazing bespoke mountain bike holidays all over Africa. We joined him Easter 2010 on a ride from the Mtamvuna River to the Mtentu River. At least I did. Aitch drove the kids to Mtentu in the kombi (or maybe in friend Craig’s Colt 4X4 – not sure).

Both hands on the handlebar, so no pics of the ride. I only fell off once, and no-one saw. On the way we stopped for a refreshing swim in a clear deep pool in a steep valley.

Once we got to the magnificent Mtentu River mouth (see the feature pic above) I abandoned my bike and joined the family for lazy hiking, while the keen MTB’ers rode out and back each day.

An easy stroll across pristine coastal grasslands took us to where the Mkambathi River drops straight into the sea at high tide.

At low tide the falls (very low flow here) drop onto the sand of a beautiful beach. Tommy knows there’s bait under here somewhere for his fishing!

– the little bay half full – at Spring low tide the whole bay is beach –
– the falls at high tide – another time – also low-flow winter –

Everyone loves this little bay. Aitch, Jess and Tom each had a spell where they had the whole beach to themselves: (click on pics for detail)

– our Jessie really knows how to baljaar!

Upstream along the Mkambathi River you find Strandloper Falls. The last time we’d been we said ‘Must Bring Our Diving Masks And Snorkels Next Time!’ – and we remembered.

– smaller falls on the way upstream –
– Strandloper Falls –

Then we strolled back:

Back on the Mtentu River, Rohan had kayaks for us to paddle upstream in search of another waterfall

Then back downstream to the Mtentu mouth

Paradise – three hours south of Durban. There’s a lodge there now, so it’s even easier to stay.

~~~oo0oo~~~

baljaar – frolic

Turkey 1998

We went to Istanbul and Antalya in 1998. Aitch kept a diary. I have posted some pages. Sometimes I’m the villain in the diary! Sometimes I’m a correspondent.

One day the two of us meandered off on a trip up the western side, or right bank, of the Golden Horn, reaching the Pierre Loti cafe up on a hill by land, then returning by water taxi.

Pierre Loti Cafe –

Aziyadé (also known as Constantinople) is a novel by author Pierre Loti. Semi-autobiographical, it is based on a diary Loti kept during a three-month period as a French Naval officer in Greece and Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the fall and winter of 1876. It tells the story of the 27-year-old Loti’s illicit love affair with an 18-year-old “Circassian” harem girl named Aziyadé. Although Aziyadé was one of many conquests in the exotic romantic’s life, she was his greatest love, and he would wear a gold ring with her name on it for the rest of his life. The book also describes Loti’s “friendship” with a Spanish manservant named Samuel, suggesting a love triangle. Most critics believe, based on Loti’s diary entries, that some sort of homosexual affair occurred (indeed some believe Aziyadé never existed and the entire work is a cover for a homosexual love story). It also describes Loti’s love affair with Turkish culture which became a central part of his “exotica” persona.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Sailing ship trip along the Antalya Mediterranean coast line:

Turkey fun:

Ancient places:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Map by Kaidor – thank you

Today Fifty Years Ago

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:

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Homemade Leather

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

from How to Invent Everything by Ryan North – Riverhead Books 2018

Our Kiwi Kousin

. . South Island Swanie!

The youngest and tallest of the Ten Cousins went to New Zealand. He and wife Julie live on the North Island. Adventurous souls, they have been planning a tour for a while now. So recently they just did it: Hopped onto their motorbike and off they went. Here are some extracts and pictures from Solly’s – or Swanie’s – account of their trip.

New Zealand South Island Trip – Feb 2021 – On a fully-laden bike – 230kg all-up – we left home in New Plymouth for Wellington. 

– OK, luckily not this bike – theirs was a bit newer –

Visited Wellington CBD and the Te Papa museum. Julie went to see the WOW (World of Wearable art) exhibition while I went to see the Gallipoli exhibition (https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/visit/exhibitions/gallipoli-scale-our-war). The next day, Saturday, friends took us to see parts of Wellington that we never get to.

Then it was the ferry to Picton and from there to Cheviot via Kaikoura, where in 2016, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake lifted the land by a few meters to lay bare a rocky shore that had been underwater for millennia! That shake, 350km from us as the crow flies, had us so scared that we moved out of the house that night!

– on board the ferry –
– Kaikoura – exposed seabed after the earthquake –
– Julie taking a break in Kaikoura –

Down the coast to Moeraki of the famous Moeraki Boulders on the beach.  We stayed in a cabin in the Caravan Park and the manager at the park said the boulders are just twenty minutes’ walk along the beach.  Or on a walkway just off the beach. After about half an hour we had not yet reached the sandy beach and could see the boulders in the distance about another two km away. I said to Julie Don’t worry, I’ll call an Uber once we get there, and we kept walking.  As we got to the sandy beach, a red Audi with two elderly ladies came driving past us and waved.  We saw them stop later to walk their dog on the beach. As we approached, the Bull Terrier came running straight at us and just wanted to play. I managed to calm it down and started talking. The two lovely ladies said they would come up to the boulders and pick us up if we’re still there. How’s that?  Who, in their wildest dreams, could have wished for a V10 Audi A6 5.2FSI QUATTRO AVANT Uber? I offered to shout them a drink at the local, but JJ, the owner of the ‘Uber invited us to her house for drinks.  What a stunning artistic lady she was. She said she was 70, but she looked more like 69.  This was one of the highlights of our trip.

– Dunedin Station Building –

The next day we left Kaka Point in the rain again and rode through the Catlins via Slope Point to Invercargill where the Burt Munro bike rally is held. More gravel roads. The bike was very dirty by now, but was behaving well.

– Solly: In some places even the dogs can climb a tree –

Invercargill was alive with bikes from all over the country. The Burt Munro Challenge is NZ’s biggest bike rally and runs for four days with several events like drag racing, beach racing, street racing, circuit racing and speedway with the odd bit of hooliganism mixed in. (Ooh, Solly would have hated that! 😉 ;-). The first two days in Invercargill was the typical blustery, rainy weather of Southland, but luckily after that it cleared up.

Next day it was off to Manapouri just about twenty km down the road to join the Doubtful Sound overnight trip.  Katie the KTM had to sleep in the public car park overnight, chained to a drain grid. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of that.

We got on a boat and travelled across Lake Manapouri; then a one hour bus trip over the gravel Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound and onto another boat. Cruising down the sound with the mountains towering above you on both sides is amazing. Down the Thompson Sound back to the Tasman Sea for a beautiful sunset. We briefly saw two Beaked whales before they took a dive.

Doubtful Sound, which is located in the Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is absolutely picturesque. Please check out this link. https://www.fiordland.org.nz/visit/fiordland-national-park/

Like the Trout Farms in South Africa, there is a Salmon farm in Wanaka where you hire a rod, catch some Salmon, pay by weight (a very reasonable price compared to the supermarket) and then you can have it cooked there or take it with you. One can get carried away quickly so I limited myself to two fish. We had one there, prepared hot smoked and sashimi. The other we swapped for cold smoked and had that for breakfast the next two days. Delicious!!

Then we took a boat trip to an island in Lake Wanaka called Mou Waho Island. On this island is a pool about 150m up via a fifteen minute walk with some beautiful scenery.

From Wanaka it was over the Haast pass to the West Coast via the aptly namesd Blue Pools and numerous waterfalls. Beautiful road!!

After Jackson Bay it was up the coast to Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson a short ride away. We walked 3.5km around the lake – amazing scenery.

The next morning we took a helicopter flight up to the glacier where we landed on the snow. What an experience!

From there it was up to Carters Beach at Westport where we stayed at a lovely park near the beach.

-the beautiful west coast road –

From Carters Beach it was a three hour trip via the beautiful Buller Gorge to Nelson.  By now there was a serious front pushing in from the South and warnings of severe weather for the West Coast. Lucky for us, that bad weather was following behind us. God is a biker! The West Coast has an average of 200 days a year of rain. We managed to experience the days that were sunny!

From Nelson a short ride to Picton via the Queen Charlotte Drive. Queen Charlotte Drive is only about 40km long, but it takes about an hour.  Speed limit is 50km/h and there would be about six corners or more in every kilometre and the surface is not the best. Lots of slips make the tar sag down the slope so one has to be very vigilant, but the scenery makes up for it.

After nearly 4000km we were happy to be back home, sore arses and all. Sorry, no photos of those!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Solly says his ‘other hobby’ is distilling! – I hope to find out more soon.

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~~~

Maps – Paper Ones!

I was talking about GPS devices and how they make maps obsolete, but do they? As friend, trekker and mountaineer Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots points out, when out in the wilderness, be sure to take your maps and compass along. Sometimes you’re not connected to anything, you only have what you brought.

I love maps. Here are some of mine – about 70 of them here:

Those three Drakensberg maps are 1:50 000 and made of waxed paper so they can survive some soggy weather. Some of the others are plastic laminated, so even more waterproof.

I thought I’d compare my Drakensberg map of the chain ladder to what I could find online. Actually, you can get far more detail online! Here’s a snapshot of the chain ladder area:

– WAY more detail! You can even see the footpath above and below the ladder! –

So it would pay to search the area you’re going to beforehand and capture and print some detail to supplement your maps.

Still love maps!

~~~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!’

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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?

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Maputaland Meander

Re-post from 1992 when Mike & Yvonne Lello kindly lent us their Isuzu Trooper 4X4 for a breakaway (OK, another breakaway) where I knew we’d be on soft sand and needing 4X4.

Aitch was impressed with out first stop: Luxury with Wilderness Safaris at Ndumo, grub and game drives laid on. Ice in our drinks. Boy! For an oke who usually sought compliments if the ground she had to spread her sleeping bag on was softish, I was really going big! In our luxury permanent tent on a raised wooden deck with kingsize four-poster bed, she had fun with the giraffe’s dong, saying what a decent length it was – implying something? I dunno. ‘It’s his tail,’ I said, spoil-sportingly. ‘Or her tail.’

Magic walks among Sycamore Figs and drives among Fever Trees.

– my pic from a later visit –

So where are we going next? she asks. ‘You’ll see,’ I said airily. Hmm, she said, knowingly, raising one eyebrow but saying no more . . .

This Isuzu Trooper was magic – just the right vehicle for our Maptuland Meander. Leaving Ndumo, we drifted east to Kosi Bay and inspected the campsites, then drove on to Kosi Bay Lodge. ‘I’ll just run inside and arrange things,’ I said, optimistically.

So I walked into the lodge and came out and said, ‘We’ll just camp outside the gate, I brought a tent!’ Ha! You hadn’t booked! I knew it! Aitch announced triumphantly. She’d known all along. She actually loved it. She didn’t really mind the roughing it and the uncertainty and she LOVED catching me out and teasing me about my disorganisation.

Afterwards, Aitch would tell people there had been a bit of muttering and a few mild imprecations erecting the unfamiliar tent, which I’d also borrowed from the Lellos. It had poles that seemed unrelated to other poles and it was dark. OK, she actually told of some cursing. Loud cursing. The air turned blue, she would exaggerate.

The next night we camped in a proper Kosi Bay campsite. They are very special sites, we love them.

Borrowed Lello's tent, too

We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:

ndumo-kosi-mabibi-isuzu-1
– fish traps in the estuary –

Then onward, southward. Where are we staying tonight?, she asked sweetly. ‘You’ll see,” I said airily. Hmm, she muttered knowingly, raising one eyebrow. Well, let me just say ONE thing: We are not staying at Mabibi. The newspapers have been full of stories about bad guys at Mabibi. ‘Izzat so?’ Yes. We can stay anywhere but Mabibi.

Through bustling KwaNgwanase town . .

Now we were on my favourite road in all of South Africa: The sand roads through our vanishing coastal grasslands. Some kids shouted Lift! Lift! and hey! ubuntu! and anyway, it’s Lello’s car . . .

Well, Rocktail Bay Lodge was also full and we drove on as evening approached. The fire watchtower man had knocked off and was walking home. We stopped to ask directions, then gave him a lift so he could show us the way. He settled down into the bucket seat, pushing Aitch onto the gear lever, taking us left then right then left – straight to his village. As he got out he pointed vaguely in the direction of Mabibi. ‘You can’t miss it,’ I think he implied.

You are going to Mabibi, aren’t you? I knew it! said the all-knowing one. ‘Well, there’s nowhere else,’ I mumbled. When we got there she surprised me by saying, Let’s just sleep under the stars, I’m too tired to pitch the tent. So we did. My brave Aitch! Here she is next morning, still snoring.

Mabibi Camp. Aitch aziz

Soon after we arrived a night watchman came to see us. His torch beam dropped straight out of the end of his torch onto his toes, so I gave him new batteries. He was so chuffed! A torch that worked! Those bad guys better look sharp tonight!

The next day we drove the best part of this perfect road, past Lake Sibaya.

– the Indian Ocean behind the dunes and Lake Sibaya at our feet –
– those pants provided croc protection –

One more night, in relative luxury, if the little wooden cabins at Sibaya camp can be honoured with such a flattering description! I think they can, but I was over-ruled.

Then we hit the ugly tarmac highway home. A very special place, is Maputaland.

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Jessie’s Album as Slideshow – Safari 2003

On our trip up north in 2003 Aitch and five year old Jessie kept a diary; when they got home they made this picture album as a memento of the trip. Enjoy the slideshow!

(Slides change every four seconds. To pause a slide, click in the top right corner. To speed it up or to go back, use the arrows).

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Trader Horn and Me

(I’m reading Tramp Royal again! So here’s a re-post from 2016):

I lapped up the famous Trader Horn books ‘The Ivory Coast in the Earlies’ and ‘Harold the Webbed.’ I’m still looking for their third book ‘The Waters of Africa.’ ‘Their’ being his and the special and talented lady whose sudden insight made it happen when she befriended a tramp at her door in Parktown Johannesburg back in the mid-1920’s – Ethelreda Lewis.

If ever the philosophy of ‘Be Kind Always’ paid off, it was in this tale of a friendship that developed after the reflexive dismissal of a tramp at the door of a middle-class Parktown home was changed to a sudden, instinctive ‘Wait. Maybe I will buy something from you . . ‘ and – even better – ‘Would you like some tea . . ‘

– Ethelreda Lewis on the Parktown porch where they wrote the books –

After reading Trader Horn I was then even more enamoured of Tim Couzens’ book ‘Tramp Royal – The true story of Trader Horn’, as it validated the Trader Horn legend – Alfred Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith was real and he had got around!!

Couzens died in October this year, tragically – he fell in his own home. I thought OH NO!! when I read it. He was a gem, almost a Trader Horn himself – what a waste! Too soon! He did the MOST amazing sleuth job of tracking down all Trader Horn’s jaunts n joints across the world and revealing that – despite the skepticism that had followed the incredible fame and Hollywood movie that had followed the success of Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith – now famous as Trader Horn – ‘s first book in 1930. MOST of what the old tramp, scamp, rogue and adventurer had claimed to do he had, in fact, done! Tramp Royal is a wonderful vindication, and a moving, fascinating and captivating read.

One (small) reason I LOVED the trader Horn books, besides the original title:

Trader Horn; Being the Life and Works of Aloysius Horn, an “Old Visiter” … the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; With a foreword by John Galsworthy

(phew!) . . . . . was the number of places A. Aloysius Smith – ‘Trader Horn’ (or Zambesi Jack or Limpopo Jack or Uncle Pat – he had aliases!) had been to that I have also been to:

  • Joburg, his least favourite city in the world. He was in a doss house in Main Street in 1925, I was in Eloff Street in 1974. Parktown, where Ethelreda Lewis ‘discovered’ him. He would have died there, unknown and in penury, had it not been for her sudden decision to listen to him tell a story. ‘Wish’ came to love Joburg, as did I. In Parktown he was in Loch Street in 1926, I was in Hillside Road in 1977;
  • Hwange in Zimbabwe, or Wankie in Rhodesia as it was then; – BTW, pronounce Hwange ‘Wankie’;
  • Harrismith, where he went with Kitchener’s Cattle Thieves to steal Boer cattle and horses in the scorched earth tactics of the wicked looting Brits; He showed his humanity by describing the Boer women’s sadness, and states – I hope its true – that they always left ‘one milk cow behind for the kids; and we called it Pansy.’ And Harrismith is where I was born and raised;
  • The west coast of Madagascar where our yachting trip to the island of Nose Iranja took us quite close to his ‘Chesterfield Islands’;
  • The east coast of Africa, although he spoke of Zanzibar and we visited Mombasa – which he probably visited too, as he sailed up and down the coast;
  • Oklahoma, where like me he befriended and was befriended by, the local Native Americans – his mostly Pawnees and Osages, mine mostly Apaches, Kiowas and Cherokees;
  • Georgia, where he behaved abominably and which I used as a base to go kayaking in Tennessee. He drank in a doctor’s house and I drank in a dentist’s house;
  • The Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, where both of us got raucously pickled;
  • The Seaman’s Institute in Durban where he holiday’d happily for two pounds a month while waiting for his book to be published; His editor needed a break from him and sent him off by train on the 2nd April 1926 to avoid the Jo’burg winter. My only connection here is drinking in the nearby Smuggler’s Inn. If it was around back then, Wish Smith would have gone there!
  • Kent, where he died in 1931; I visited Paddock Wood on honeymoon in 1988.
  • Wish himself would be saying, ‘What, you haven’t been to Lancashire!?’
trader-horn_3

I would love to see his river – the Ogowe or Ogooue River in Gabon. Everything I’ve seen on youtube verifies Aloysius’ lyrical descriptions. Here’s an example (but turn the sound off);

– Ogooue river –
– Samba falls upstream on the Ngounie river from Trader Horn’s trading post –

I also loved the unexpected success of the first book. Written by an unknown tramp living in a doss house in Main Street Joburg, the publishers Jonathan Cape advanced fifty pounds which Mrs Lewis gratefully accepted. Other publishers had turned it down, after all. Then the Literary Guild in America – a kind of book club – offered five thousand dollars! They expected to print a few thousand, and also offered the rights to a new publisher called Simon & Schuster, who hesitated then went ahead, receiving advance orders for 637 copies.

the tramp in new clothes! –

Then it started selling! 1523 copies one week, then 759, then 1330 and then 4070 in the first week of July 1927. Then 1600 copies one morning! Then 6000 in a week. They now expected to sell 20 000 copies!

Up to November that year sales averaged 10 000 a month, thus doubling their best guess. They had already run ten reprints, the last reprint alone being 25 000 copies. 30 000 were sold in December alone up to Christmas day. The story grows from there – more sales, trips by the author to the UK and the USA, bookstore appearances, talk of a movie. The trip continued until he had gone right around the world, drinking, smoking and entertaining the crowds with his tales and his exaggerations and his willingness to go along with any hype and fanfare. At his first big public appearance at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March he spoke to a packed house in the 1,500 seater New York City Town Hall off Times Square:

William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage (probably well fortified with strong liquor), acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: “The Lord take care of you, an’ the Divil takes care of the last man.” He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.’

His fame grew and he reveled in it.

Then suddenly, people started thinking old ‘Wish’ Smith’s whole story was a yarn, nothing but the inventions of a feeble mind, and wrote him off as yet another con artist – there were so many of those! It was the age of ballyhoo and fooling the public with bearded ladies, confidence tricksters and hype. Some critics grew nasty, depicting Ethelreda – without whom none of this would even have happened, and without whose kindness and perseverance Aloysius would have died in obscurity, never seeing his family in England again – as abusing ‘Wish’ for her own gain. The truth really was that she – in effect – saved his life; she certainly returned him to his family; and she enabled the kind of rollicking final few years his dreams were made of! He had people to listen to him; he had money to throw around! What a better way to go than dying anonymously in a doss house in Main Street Joburg!

The hype died, cynicism (the bad kind, not healthy cynicism) set in and old ‘Wish’ Smith – Trader Horn – died in relative obscurity with his family in Kent. It may all have been a hoax . . .

So was he real, or was it all a hoax? To know more, read Tim Couzens’ book – it’s a gem!

Here’s a silent movie of the old rascal on a Joburg street corner soon after he’d been kitted out in new clothes when the first cheque for his book came in.

~~~~oo000oo~~~~

Here’s the full program for the 1931 movie.

Here’s the back page from the movie program. The movie, of course, was Hollywood – WAY different to the true story! An interesting facet was for once they didn’t film it all in a Hollywood studio; they actually packed tons of equipment and vehicles and sailed to Kenya and then on to Uganda to film it ‘in loco’ – although on the wrong side of Africa to where it had happened!

It was a landmark film of sorts that chalked up several firsts. It was the first fictional feature-length adventure shot on location in Africa (but the wrong location! East Africa while Aloysius’ adventures were in West Africa!). It was the first sound-era ‘White Jungle Girl’ adventure – many more would follow. It’s an old movie, sure, it is of its time; to me as a Trader Horn fan, the worst thing about it is: it isn’t the true story! Nevertheless, some rate it as ‘surprisingly engaging and worth checking out’ now that it’s been reissued on DVD. (NB: See the badly-made 1931 movie, not the worse-ly-made 1973 remake, nor the porno rip-off Trader Hornee!).

Trader Horn pamphlet

The movie was rather horrible and did zero justice to the life and philosophy of ‘Wish Smith,’ the old rogue and skelm who was saved in the nick of time from a lonely anonymous death in downtown Johannesburg, and whisked into quite astonishing fame for a few years in his late 60’s early 70s.

Read about it here – it aint pretty.

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Trader Horn wrote glowingly of a real lady he met on his river: an American missionary, Mrs Hasking. She died on the river, and Trader Horn took her body down river to be buried. I found out more about her here.

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Here‘s a much better, two-post review of the Trader Horn phenomenon – and Tim Couzens’ book – by fellow ‘tramp philosopher’ Ian Cutler. Do read it!

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On 27 October 2016 I wrote to Ian Cutler:

Sad sad news today: Tim Couzens the master tramp sleuth has moved off to join his Tramp Royal in the afterlife. 
At 72 he was about the same age as the old rogue at his death. 
Regards, Peter Swanepoel
Sad news indeed Peter. Thanks for letting me know.
Ian

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Other people are as fascinated by this tale as I am. I see a movie about the making of THAT movie was made in 2009! Trader Horn, The Journey Back was filmed in some of the same locations as the 1931 film.