Lockdown Lookback -1

An old post from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com

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My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries filled with racing pigeons, then later with fancy pigeons.

I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into the bright lights and traffic of the 1955 Harrismith metropolis.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me – Mom Mary must have been feeling the cold –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch – meat and veg – and a siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1 o’clock sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2 o’clock sharp. I now know the trip was exactly three kilometres door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway with big sister Barbara waving out the window – four seconds of action:

birdhaven

1. Birdhaven and ruins of our house; 2. Glen Khyber, Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit.

None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Back then the folks would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in west-facing stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– me with Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondawel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-now-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilkovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

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rondawel – pr. ‘ron-dah-vill’; circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days? Probably

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

(This was on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that overshadows Harrismith Free State).

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in the town). I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s 98yr-old memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood – Golden Gate area? –
Shrubs beside a cascading stream

I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:

– spot on! – an image locked in my brain for fifty years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the upper Wilge? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.

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This post was seen by old Westvillians Tony and Elesa Willies in Canada, who wrote in the comments. Elesa sent a pic of her and her folks taken 43 years ago in the same ‘shrubs beside a cascading stream’ spot above Mahai campsite in RNNP!

– Elesa with her folks Peg and Ivor Willies – right there! –

And Tony sent a Victor Simmonds painting called ‘Harrismith’ (wish I knew where this was done – maybe near Sunnymede on the banks of the Wilge river, looking away from the river towards Platberg?):

– one of 4 Victor Simmonds bought by Ivor Willies, architect in Westville in the 50s and 60s – – now owned by his son Tony and daughter Elesa in Canada –

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I asked Dad if he could remember more. Just these (mainly sad) memories: – He was a lovely little man – small, frail even; I don’t think he ate much – he drank too much; – Ruth Wright probly gave him some grub, she was a lovely woman (he stayed in a cottage on their plot);
– His pub was the Grand National in Warden street – quite a walk from the plot next door to us. He never had a car, nor even a bicycle; – I wish I had asked him to give you kids drawing or sketching lessons – I could have paid him a bit. He never had any money;
– I fear he probably died penniless and got a paupers burial;
(thankfully this was probably overly pessimistic as it turned out, as Victor was still painting some twenty years later, as shown by Helen who commissioned a painting of the Amphitheatre from him in 1980, just before she emigrated to Australia – see her comment).

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Two more from the “early student paintings” he gave Dad. Both are marked ‘Harrismith ca.1946’ – but by who? Not by Victor himself.

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Another wonderful Eastern Free State and Drakensberg artist found a post I wrote on Little Switzerland – a special place in his and his family’s lives. Enjoy Alan Kennedy’s paintings here.