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:
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 – )
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.”
Aitch needed a break and Barbara Jeff, LindiLou and Robbie agreed to have the kids on their Umvoti Villa farm. So off we went to a luxury stay in the Cathedral Peak Hotel. The breast cancer had spread to liver and bones and the treatments she opted for were severe. Here was a break from the punishing rounds of chemo. October 2010.
Trish went on some short walks. I went on a few longer ones and some bike rides.
Re-posting ancient content as a lookback during lockdown.
This post from my matric (or senior high school) year back in 1972. I chose it as just yesterday Sheila discovered letters I had written home from the course! So I added one 48yr-old letter and re-posted it here from my early days blog – www.vrystaatconfessions.com
Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972, my matric – or senior – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said.
Memories of a busy week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!
Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs:
Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! By bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.
We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source. It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!”
Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early! We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.
But our rucksacks were packed . .
– my rucksack – seen here on Sheila’s back –
. . and our wanderlust aroused, so we headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut.
same hut – different time –
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.
But then I found a website by someone who had been on the same course – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast – and he had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also had his course report and certificate, which I no longer have.
Stop Press! Today got a letter from the dim and distant past: A letter I wrote my parents soon after getting to the course – on the second evening, it seems? This, written 48yrs ago!
Giants Castle pic from howieswildlifeimages.com – thanks!
There’s a lovely old sandstone farmhouse in the Lotheni Valley, one of the Drakensberg / uKhahlamba’s beautiful valleys. We had some great adventures with good friends and our kids up there.
As an adult retreat it’s our idea of paradise: no electricity, no cellphone reception, no wifi. Peace. Plenty of hot water, a gas stove to cook and boil water on, candlelight, a lovely fireplace, cozy inside. Luxury. Long-suffering friends the Adlams, Taylors and Abercrombies, all blissfully child-free, would tolerate the disruption our two – who were aged from about one to about thirteen over the ten years we went there – could cause. I think they loved it! I know they loved the brats and were very kind to them.
A great spot for fishing, birding, botanising or sitting with a G&T and gazing into the distance . .
Adventure in Yellowwood Cave
It had been years since I’d slept out in the ‘Berg and I was pleased when Gayle and Grant readily agreed to spend a night in a cave in 2011. Aitch was feeling a bit weak, so decided to stay in the comfort of the cottage. It was May already, so getting a bit chilly.
Settling down for the night on the hard floor of the cave I gazed out through the yellowwood tree branches at the night sky, ablaze with a million stars. I was just thinking ‘It’s been too long, this is the life! I’m in paradise!’ when a small voice piped up next to my ear, ‘Daddy I don’t like it here.’ Oh, well, she may not repeat the exercise, but I doubt she’ll ever forget it. Jessie lay on my one side. Tom on the other side in a double sleeping bag we shared. At least they were warm.
Getting Bolder on Bikes
Fun with Aitch
Once Ma took the kids off up the mountain trail, to give the fishing and reading adults ‘a piece of quiet,’ as TomTom used to say for peace and quiet.
Another Piece of Quiet
We snuck the kids off to have breakfast one morning in the kombi soon after they woke, to allow the adults to sleep in. Good birding opportunity, too.
Jessie discovered and avidly watched live-streamed game drives on the internet. Most were from the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and the Sabi Sands in our South African lowveld. WildEarth and SafariLive. Then she found out ‘her personal connection’ to it: The producer was a big supporter of hers when she first arrived in our home as a little girl! So she’s a big fan of Kirsty‘s, who was involved in the background, in the production of this popular program.
This morning I got a virtual invitation to a wedding, or was it an invitation to a virtual wedding? And I called out to Jess: Hey Jess, remember Kirsty’s getting married? Well, she’s gonna livestream the whole thing!
Hey, natch, what else? Life isn’t ‘portrayed’ online; life now HAPPENS online.
I’m sure Jessie – now 22 – will watch the wedding with keen interest as it unfolds in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands! She was a bit disappointed in my decision not to attend.
I’ll report back . .
Why, Dad? I decided not to go for good reasons all to do with me. I’m not anti-social; I’m just not very social. I’d love to hear about it, but I don’t want to be there.
If you like weddings you won’t understand.
Report back: Well, I watched a bit. I remember speeches and men in skirts and I think some bagpipe noises.
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.'”
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.
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:
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.
This post was seen by old Westvillains 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! Wow! That beats even my recall of the scene!
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?):
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).
Two more from the “early student paintings” he gave Dad. Both are marked ‘Harrismith ca.1946’ – but by who? Not by Victor himself.
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.
Off to the ‘Berg with the kids. To a hotel! A real hotel! The Cavern in the foothills of the Drakensberg. At last their Dad listened and took them somewhere they didn’t have to cook and clean! (This was back in 2012).
They loved it. Especially once they worked out one of the secrets of the place: If you gave any hotel employee your room number, he or she would give you anything you wanted under the sun. They had discovered the key to endless riches. They loved it. They no longer needed me. All they needed was to quickly invent their first signatures. When I said I was going off on a hike, did anyone want to come along? No! Go! Enjoy yourself Dad, BYE! They watched impatiently as I packed my rucksack with lunch and binocs and books. Go, Dad!
Movies, the pool table, tennis, drinks at the pool – all ‘free’!
With them happy in civilisation it was up to me to enjoy the hills and valleys, wildlife and – especially – birdlife.
This long-tailed grass lizard looks like a snake as he whips through the grass after grasshoppers. But look closely at his body:
The next day I encouraged a bit more action. With some trepidation these townies went horse-riding.
Mt aux Sources, winter 1998. Sheila organises a gang to summit the peak. Lots of people. Sheila can organise!
Ann Euthemiou brings two strapping nephews as sherpas to haul her four-poster double bed and duvet up the chain ladder.
I hand out my special paklightna snacks at all stops on the way up.
Once up the chain ladder, Sheils insist we camp in the most exposed spot on the escarpment, where howling gales lean our little dome tents at 45° angles. Aitch went to bed before me to stop the tent from rolling away! I had to brave the gale a while longer to finish the Old Brown sherry. Late at night Doug n Tracey Hyslop fight off imaginary ‘intruders’.
Next morning we find out why Sheil had insisted on the spot: That’s the sunrise view from our tent. Hmm . . OK Sheila, but what if it had been cloudy!?
On top I collect reciprocal snacks from all and sundry who carried heavy packs up all the way up, while I had lightened mine.
Chilly, windy, glorious mid-winter morning.
Peering down at the Tugela Falls – one of the highest waterfalls in the world:
Here’s what the falls look like in a fly past by some enterprising glider pilots:
It might not have been on this trip, but on a trip up to Mt aux Sources I saw an interesting fly hovering at a flower. I had a good look, memorised him and went searching the internet. Here he is (or a close cousin):
I found a wonderful site – an Aussie Michael Whitehead who does research in Australia and in South Africa. He has some beaut pics of proboscis flies like this one – called Prosoeca ganglbaueri.