We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.
We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.
The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.
We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.
I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:
“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”
Soft Strong Smart
An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.
He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.
WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.
Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.
Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.
The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.
Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.
Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!
Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:
Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.
We were so lucky when we started fostering kids that Anna Kiza Cele was with us. She taught us which end to wipe and which end to feed. I’m sure she must have done some private eye-rolls at what we didn’t know!
Here she is with her big mate Aitch, plotting against poor me:
This year, 25 year later I whatsapp’d her – she’s farming down in Izingolweni now – accusing her and Aitch of ganging up against me. Her reply was four laughing emojis and “as we always did sometimes.” There you have it: An admission! They did! I’m not paranoid. Those two wimmin plotted and schemed. I had no chance.
After this contact I saw Kiza updated her status with a tribute to all the friends she’d lost to cancer. It started “I hate cancer!”
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 . . ‘
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!?’
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);
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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
An exciting weekend in the valley; good sightings, plants to identify and maybe even a new species discovered!
The eggs – ?? – brought some guessing! I asked vegetable or animal? No-one knew. Fish eggs, with a water mongoose being the predator? Berries? Frog eggs? Crab eggs? Eel? Turns out Ingrid D’eathe had found them on the edge of her pond. Then Suncana posted a lovely flap-necked chameleon picture and she looked nice and chubby so I asked chameleon eggs?
Meanwhile on iNaturalist experts looked at them: Tony Rebelo thought regurgitated seeds? Wynand Uys thought eggs, reptilian or amphibian; Marion karoopixie said angazi; Johan Marais said not herp, maybe SNAIL; The mystery continues . . . So much we don’t know.
And the spider might be a new one provisionally dubbed The Red Widow; no ID yet; It (or one that looks very much like it) has recently been newly discovered on Table Mountain in Cape Town. Suncana has it on iNaturalist as a Cobweb SpidersFamily Theridiidae. She’ll soon get comments and support, I’m sure.
The wonderful African Jazz Pioneers were appearing at the RAINBOW Jazz Club in the Pinetown taxi rank! Could NOT miss the opportunity. HAD to go and experience their wonderful sound and vibe.
At Ben Pretorius’ Rainbow Restaurant they serve their beers in ‘quart’ bottles, about 750ml in the shade. What can you do? I ordered a small Castle. I wasn’t boycotting SAB yet. Then I noticed the guys next door were drinking Black Label and saw theirs was 5,5% alcohol while Castle was only 5%, so I ordered a Black Label next. No use wasting time and effort drinking and not getting full value.
But hey! Some okes were drinking Milk Stout quarts – and theirs was 6% alcohol! I smoothly oozed over to Milk Stout and then stuck with it. All the while the African Jazz Pioneers were playing their seductive swinging special jazz. Between sips we would stand up and dance like umLungus amongst them who really could sway and jive.
Many milk stouts later we might have been asked to leave, last song, last round and all that sad stuff. Tell you what!! Let’s gate crash Mike Lello for a ‘last drink’ on our way home! Good Idea! Who’s driving?
The delightful and hospitable Lellos were sober and just sitting down to supper when we staggered in. Feeling slightly hungry, I sat in Mike’s chair and polished off his supper. Feeling a slight need for a leak and maybe a small burp, I meandered down the passage and here’s where people start to embellish the story.
Who has a white flokati rug in a loo anyway? Loo carpets are usually short-haired and much closer to a milk stout colour. In my experience.
Ole man phones on his new cellphone. FINALLY a cellphone like I always wanted.
As usual, its a one-way call; he can’t hear me, but I can listen.
The phone is perfect. BIG numbers, which display BIG on the screen when pushed AND I can actually hear when I push the button; And get this, the best of all! – it speaks out the number when I push it! It doesn’t just beep, it says SIX when I push the six. Only the four is not working. I told them to take it back to the shop, the four isn’t working.
But they told me they can’t – they bought it online. So the four makes a scratchy sound, I know now that means FOUR.
Then he starts laughing. He says It came with a pamphlet and I saw ‘Italiano’ on it so I turned to the Italian description and I’m still laughing. It said this is a special phone for “ANTICA” – not for “ANZIANI,” for “ANTICA.”
That means it’s a phone not for THE ELDERLY; it’s a phone for THE ANCIENT!
Now I know what I am! laughs the 97yr-old!
Gotta go – this call is costing me a fortune. You owe me R33.
For fifteen years I’ve been warning those Aussies that their time will come.
Well, it came. Don’s Tree Felling moved in (onto my neighbour’s property, conveniently for me) and did away with six big Bauhinia trees, the Australian camelfoot – Bauhinia variegata, I think. Don had dropped the biggest, oldest, leaning-est one a few years before, when the neihgbours then, Suboohi and Nasim Choudhry had said Whoa! This thing is threatening us!
My neighbour Phindi was a star – she allowed Don’s team in and let them get on with the job. I had prepped her a month ago that I wanted to drop all the trees that were looming threateningly over her driveway and a corner of her house, and she was all for it.
Down came the trees to a cacophony of sound. For some reason I hadn’t thought they’d be using chainsaws! HATE chainsaws, so maybe its good I didn’t think of that. Aaargh! How can I complain about noise if I’m making it!? Oh, well, one day only and after this its back to me and my manual bowsaw.
They carted off the flotsam and jetsam, all gathered on Phindi’s driveway, poisoned the stumps, left some trunks as hidey holes for snakes, mongooses and lizards, and peace returned; Followed by a bit of genteel sawing and puffing by yours truly, as I cut down a few left-overs, plus a bougainvillea and a bottlebrush with me bowsaw. Once a tree gave suddenly while I was a-pulling and I landed on my back staring at the sky.
Then the celebration! A double celebration: My first house guests – OK, garden guests – since lockdown; and the birth of a new grassland. ‘Cos that’s what’s going to take the place of that corner of jungle.
To make it special I invited hooligans. I had thought we’d have a wee bonfire, which I prepared, full of the late Brazilian bouganvillea; a modest requiem after the banishment of some Aussies and the rebirth of natural grassland. But Louis Bon Phyre had a different level of celebration in mind. And so he got close to the pagan roots of many a Western tradition:
Before they arrived I reminded them that I take our current virus very seriously and insist on masks. The bottlebrush was allowed a last little requiem moment in one of Aitch’s many vases. This one by potter A Kirk.
I forgot to make supper, but we all had a lot of wine, especially Petrea.
Always cook with red wine, taking care not to spill any on the food.
Peel and cut a potato into four; Peel and cut an onion into four; Rotate them in a microwave.
Cut a pork chop into small cubes. Be guided by your superstitions here, use another animal or tofu or soya or kale if you have to, but for best results, stick to what I say: Cut a pork chop into small cubes.
Cubes into a pan with yesterdays pan fat; fry till browning.
Add salt. Gulp some wine.
Add potato and onion and brown. Brown the stuffin the pan, nê.
Add some cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped.
Put a lid on it. I often say that when people are gaan’ing aan like this: Put a lid on it. Another favourite saying when my gast is flabbered: Dis my gat se deksel.
Chop up some spinach and green beans. The spinach I bought off the back of a bakkie downtown. R10 a bunch, dark green, delicious, did wonders for me – whatever dark green leaf vegetables are meant to do for you? It did it for me. Mainly, leaves me (geddit? leaves me . . ) with lots, cos the kids turn up they noses.
Did I mention this is a recipe for one bachelor whose kids would rather die of hunger than eat this stuff?
Steadily add wine and I find it helps to imagine your favourite TV chef while cookin’.
So imagine your favourite chef . . . No, its Nigella.
Which reminds me of the inimitable Barks who every holiday would cackle Haw Haw Haw Haw! After asking the question (again) and providing the answer: Where is Friderichs going these holidays, hey, hey? He’s going to Nigel. Haw Haw Haw Haw!
So Naai-Gella Awesome it is.
Keep lifting the lid and then at the right time toss in the chopped up spinach and green beans, never forgetting to keep steadily adding wine. Careful not to slosh any onto the food.
Add salt and a big knob of butter for the last round. Put a lid on it. The right amount of salt is the amount that makes it taste best. Did I mention this is health food? It is. Mental health.
Then eat it accompanied by sufficient more red wine. I actually licked the plate.
The 1812 overture was belting out in the background with real cannons. I hope they scared the neighbour’s incessantly-barking mongrels.
gaan’ing aan – blah blah; fit a cork
dis my gat se deksel – literally, that’s my arsehole’s lid; blow me down
bakkie – small pickup truck
Other domestic chores included cutting down a big Australian Bottlebrush tree
. . and putting its flowers in one of Aitch’s old vases as a requiem:
What started out as a routine roof inspection has morphed into a general sprucing up at 10 Elston Place. Geoffrey Caruth esq. came over and made some suggestions and we ended up deciding to fix the roof, bargeboards and fascia boards and paint them; fix the windows and paint; replace the old gutters with aluminium gutters; Almost forgotten in the mix was my second main aim: To catch my rainwater; We’ll add a 50 000l tank to catch the rainwater off the garage roof; Oh, and we’ll also add a door to the flatlet; fix a door frame and paint four doors.
Especially paint four doors! I’ve been wanting to paint these doors a proper deep cobalt blue for a long time. A blue to match Aitch’s blue kitchen wall back at River Drive!
I wasn’t brave enough to paint a wall such a blue, but two outside doors was my kick for touch. And the colour blue the doors have been for nine years is fine, but not right; The first blue Geoff showed by painting half one door was way better, but still not quite right.
Then he got it: The right blue. I call it Deep Cobalt Blue, or (as he has traces of Pommy in his veins) British Racing Blue. Above we have the old blue and the better blue. But wait till you see the Right Blue: Deep Cobalt Blue!
. . . to be continued . . .
. . getting closer. I showed Geoffrey a pic of the old 1999 kitchen blue vs the sample. And he came back with the right blue:
I got my blue.
And so we carried on! Now the one cottage wall is being painted. Oy! I said to Geoffroy the Pom GCMG, I still don’t have my water tank! We’re victims of Mission Creep, is all he replied.
The ant lions under the eaves are being disturbed since Jessie moved in to my en-suite bedroom.
Here you can see their pits and a few trails . They make the trails when they emerge to prowl around at night. By day they lurk in their pits in the rain shadow under the wide eaves outside our bedroom windows. Jess now uses their hunting ground as a path between her little porch and our big patio. So they’re probably grumbling a bit.
Meantime I put out a bunch of stuff to be taken away by Electronic Cemetery. PC’s a printer, cables, thin client modules and a bunch of other stuff. They disassemble, remove what they can sell or recycle, separate the throw away bits and generally see that this horrible pollution is disposed of as best as can be.
While loading it up into the back of their two ton truck, the fella pulled down his mask, grinned at me and said in his best sombre undertaker tone: ‘Don’ Worry! We’ll Give Them A Good Burial!’