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

The EM Diet

A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!

– Platberg panorama –

Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.

I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations which were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!

Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !

John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:

‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)

Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!

My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’

My attack was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:

‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’

Ooof!!!

I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.

Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.

High as a Kite (if you want to . . )

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

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

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

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

Up One Man's Pass - Down ZigZag Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond stunning!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

~~~oo0oo~~~

Trader Horn and Me

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).

Trader Horn pamphlet

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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!

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Lookback -1

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

Bain of Harrismith

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

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

Hilton Ginger Bain_2

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

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Swinburne, the Lost Valley and Nesshurst

First we went to Swinburne, to Jenny (Mapp) and Steve Cleverley’s Hound and Hare on the far bank of the Wilge River, across the old 1884 sandstone toll bridge where we had launched a canoe journey many years before; There we watched a bunch of large blokes with odd-shaped balls shove each other around, playing ‘If someone gives you the ball, give it to the other blokes.’ Lovely to see Jenny’s smile again – I hadn’t seen her for ages.

We were almost outnumbered by the Welsh contingent there (that being Steve himself, being noisy), but we managed to see him off and send his team to play for bronze against that tongue-pulling outfit that play a bit of rugby in black outfits.

More importantly – and fittingly for our Hysterically-Minded gang – the result sets up a 2019 re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War. Let’s hope the Poms play fair this time.

– Hound and Hare pub in Swinburne – good grub, cold beer –

After a lovely lunch of roasted hound or hare we fell in line under Field Marshall Lello RSVP’s orders and listened to our knowledgeable local guide Leon Strachan in the hall kindly made available to us by Steve the Welsh rarebit. Leon told us the true story of the pioneer de Heer family, led by patriarch Pieter de Heer.

– Peering down into the valley – Piet de Heer watches us – Tintwa mountain on the horizon –

Then we drove to the farm Keerom on the edge of the Lost Valley on the Drakensberg escarpment; the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The story Leon told was of a family that lived a good, self-supported, independent life, sent their kids to school, used local services such as post office, shops and lawyers; sold their goods in the towns of Swinburne and Harrismith; married locally (and NOT incestuously!).

Just like many normal families, some of their children and grandchildren spread all over (one great-grandson becoming a neurosurgeon) and some remained – the farm is still owned by their descendants. People who didn’t understand them, nor know them, nor bother to get to know them, wrote inaccurate stories about them which must have caused the family a lot of heartache over many decades.

What a spectacular valley. It had burnt recently, but already flowers were popping up in the grassland.

Heather and Elize spotted a Solifuge scurrying about. They must have disturbed him, as Sun Spiders often hide by day and hunt by night.

– Lost Valley Sun Spider – or Solifuge – inset: wikipedia pic of a related species –

Next we drove off to Nesshurst, Leon’s farm where he grows cattle and msobo, to look at his etchings. Well, his fossils. He has 150 million year old Lystrosaurus fossils on his farm and some in his museum, along with a Cape Cart he bought when he was in matric back in 1971! He has restored it beautifully. A catalogue of his ‘stuff’ would take pages, but I saw farm implements, military paraphenalia, miniature trains, hand-made red combines made by his childhood Zulu playmate; riems and the stones that brei and stretch them; yob-yob-ting cream separators; a Harrismith Mountain Race badge; photos of old British and Boer generals and leaders; a spectacular photo of Platberg and the concentration camp where women and children were sent to die by the invading British forces; a lovely collage made by Biebie de Vos of Harrismith Town Square, old prominent buildings and older prominent citizens, including my great-granpa, ‘Oupa’ Stewart Bain, owner of the Royal Hotel and mayor of the town; Also a Spilsbury and a Putterill. And Harrismith se Hoer School rugby jerseys.

– Nesshurst collage –

We then repaired to The Green Lantern roadside inn in the village of Van Reenen for drinks and a lovely dinner. I had a delicious mutton curry which actually had some heat; I didn’t have to call for extra chillies – maybe as Van Reenen is in KZN, not in the Vrystaat.

Tomorrow we would head off west to climb Platberg the easy way: 4X4 vehicles driving up Flat Rock Pass (or Donkey Pass).

~~~oo0oo~~~

Leon grows cattle and msobo – and he also writes books! Nine so far. Four on the mense of Harrismith; One on the Harrismith Commando; One on the Anglo-Boer War concentrating on the area around Harrismith; one on his Grandad who was a Son of England; and more.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Why Swinburne? After Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 – 1909), the English poet? He was alcoholic and wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism and anti-theism. He liked to be flogged and hated travel. So probably not him.

Some other Swinburne? I must ask Leon Strachan . .

Ah! I knew he’d know . .

Gold was ‘discovered’ in Matabeleland! Bullshitters bullshitted and people got excited! Such was the excitement around the discovery and hope in the new goldfield’s prospects that new companies were floated in London to take advantage of the rush. The most prominent of these companies was the London & Limpopo Mining Company, formed in late 1868. Such was the serious intent of the company that it sent its principal manager, Sir John Swinburne, with a team of experts and miners and a fleet of mining machinery, to Tati to establish the first large-scale gold mining operation in Southern Africa. The party arrived at Tati in April 1869, erected Southern Africa’s first mechanically operated appliance to crush gold-bearing ores and started work at once.

Ah! But BEFORE Swinburne arrived in Matabeleland, he had an adventure on the way. Leon describes it in his book BLAFBOOM:

Sir John Swinburne landed at Port Natal in 1868 and hurried ashore. He bought five wagons and six teams of trained oxen, unloaded his mining equipment off the ship, loaded it onto his wagons and set off post-haste, heading of course, for Harrismith, where everything happens.

Unfortunately for him and his hurry, it was a wet year, making the going difficult. His destination was Tati, on the present Botswana / Zimbabwe border, and as everyone knows, the route is Harrismith – Potchefstroom – Tati. He had concessions from King Lobengula of Matabeleland which would prove worthless, but he didn’t know that as he encouraged his oxen to move their arses. It went fairly well through Natal to the Drakensberg and even up van Reenens Pass, past Moorddraai mountain, but the marshy ground at Bosch Hoek farm trapped him. All his wagons sank to the axles.

After a week of trying – and, I imagine, some foul language – he was still stuck and his oxen were buggered. Disheartened, he swapped the wagons and oxen for a farm! The farm Albertina on a drift across the Wilge River became his property. He then hired a transport rider to take all his goods to Potch for him. He himself couldn’t wait. He hopped onto the post cart and off he went, ahead, things to do! He would never return to Albertina.

Years later the farm was sold by a local agent. In 1892 the Natal railroad reached the drift. A station and a bridge across the river were built. The station was named Albertina. About a decade later a station on the Riversdale to Mossel Bay line down in the Cape Colony was also named Albertina and chaos ensued. Parcels and letters for one Albertina were sent to the other and hearts were broken (I’m guessing here).

Something had to be done. The Railway high-ups rose to the occasion, re-naming the Free State station after a prominent previous owner of the farm it was situated on: Sir John Swinburne (1831-1914), the 7th Baronet of Capheaton; quite an adventurer, he was also Sheriff of Northumberland. He served in the Burmese War of 1852, in China and in the Baltic in 1854. In 1885 he was elected Labour MP for Lichfield, Staffordshire.

At the turn of the century the farm was bought by Abraham Sparks, father of the Texan tie Abe we knew. This started a long association with Swinburne village by the Sparks family which lasts to this day. Watching rugby in the Hound and Hare with us was Christopher Sparks, great-great-great grandson of Abraham.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Holy Harrismith 2

Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking bliksems fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .

– a rhino rally – I think –

. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.

– shembe buses and cars – 95 Stuart Street in the circle – our house 1960 to 1973 –

In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’

Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions;’ He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself;’ When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God,’ he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!

Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing.

The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910; It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Free State), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KZN (KwaZulu Natal).

In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his hagiography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms: his bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book, as it was not only a hagiography, but also a bit biography! In it, Dube alleged that Shembe was in fact overtaxing rentals, that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church – that he was extorting money from members as he payed lobola for young girls whom he married, and that he was corrupt and exploitative.

Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer! Nor do the prophet’s wannabe exploiters want that truth.

A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans.’ This rationale, explicitly verbalised or implicitly assumed, has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission churches. History shows that this initial discontent with the patriarchal and euro-centric missionaries has continued to plague these church formations internally, even after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.

So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . not a national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. The law of the land. Like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions, and you don’t wait for an ‘anointment’ when there’s loot to be had and you want to get your hands on it.

So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? Don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

rowwe bliksems – motorbikers; bikers; rough diamonds; rough bastards; motorbike rally attendees

hagiography – a very admiring book about someone or a description of someone that represents the person as perfect or much better than they really are; biography of exaggerated, uncritical praise, usually of a religious person; I had to look that up

Holy Harrismith 1

An Israeli city tired of being confused with Nazareth, the iconic city next door where Christians believe Jesus was raised, is hoping to change its name, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Just three kilometres and a ten minute drive separate Nazareth Illit from its famous neighbour.

Oy Vey! Residents kvetsch they’ve had enough of people, including tourists, thinking that our city is part of Nazareth,” says a Nazareth Illit city spokeswoman. “The resemblance between the two names causes confusion.”

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Surely the answer is obvious? Change the name to Mecca or Salt Lake City or Varanasi, and the confusion will end – stat. No more loud pesky goyim wandering around in short pants looking for mangers.
People should consult me when they have problems.

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Now, Harrismith – no-one confuses us with our neighbouring town Bethlehem, a mere fifty minutes drive away if the potholes are fixed.

Bethlehem was famous for something at one time but then they couldn’t find three wise men so they lost the tender.

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Bethlehem alumnus Stephen Reed wrote: It is also common knowledge that they had trouble finding a virgin.

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Me: Which is surprising. When you look at Beflehem ous and Beflehem tjieks you’d fink there’d be some life-long virgins there.

The answer, one supposes, is alcohol.

Wonderful stuff. I know it has personally come to my rescue on more than one occasion.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Later: They did change the name. The village is now to be known as Nof HaGalil (the Galilee view), OK? When next you’re in Israel and not looking for Jesus, ask for Nof HaGalil.

A Royal Stir (rup)

During the Royal visit to South Africa in 1947 – this was the royal family from that small country called England, not the Zulu Royal Family or anything – there was great excitement! A special train was built, medals were struck and prime ministerships were lost – although Onse Jannie Smuts didn’t know yet that sucking up to the Engelse Koning would have that price, as he windgatted here with them at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg.

Jannie trying hard with those rooineks, unaware that voters were not impressed . .

In Harrismith there was the important task of choosing horses. Horses were needed so that Royal Rears could be saddled and taken for a ride. Whose horse would be chosen for which Royal when the entourage stopped at the City of Sin and Laughter, Harrismith Orange Free State?

The Royal Train puffed to a stop at Breedal station. Breedal siding, really, near the notorious, alcohol-soaked Rivierdraai stasie on the Bethlehem side of Harrismith.

Great excitement and groot afwagting. Breaths were held . . .

All I have so far is this: Dad says they chose Piet Steyn’s gentle grey gelding for Princess Margaret’s bottom. Here she is on another grey:

There may be more royal bottoms to follow . . .

. . and there are! I now have an actual picture of the day, the train, the princess and the actual gentle grey gelding:

– Pieter Gerhard O’Neill posted this Daily News photo –

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

The whole trip was a great adventure for the two princesses, being the first time either had been abroad. For Margaret, barely out of school but on the cusp of becoming a ravishing beauty, there was an added frisson. Wing Commander Peter Townsend, the handsome king’s equerry for whom she was already experiencing the early throes of love, despite him being sixteen years her senior, was accompanying them.

So the mounts provided by local farmers at various points, allowing the two princesses to enjoy rides with Townsend and the king’s assistant private secretary Michael Adeane were welcome escapes from the crowds. ‘We sped in the cool air, across the sands or across the veldt,’ remembered Townsend. ‘Those were the most glorious moments of the day.’

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Engelse Koning – English King; King George; or Ou Jors if you weren’t easily impressed

windgatted – soireed; pompous party; unlikely to beindruk his voters

beindruk – impress

rooineks – Poms; Englanders; for many die vyand

die vyand – the enemy

groot afwagting – great excitement; and anticipation

Build-A-Boat

When we grew up outside Harrismith ca 1959 we couldn’t use the lounge. The lounge was filled edge-to-edge by an upside-down speedboat. The old man built his first speedboat in this lounge, shown below many decades later:

1990 Birdhaven Mum, Dad & Sheila

Younger sis Sheila, in the picture with Mom & Dad, says he also built that fireplace.

Then, after we’d left home and Mom & Dad had retired, he developed another urge to build a boat. Luckily this time in a boatyard with the help of boat builders.

1990 April Dad's newly built boat0002

On a cold winter’s day ca1990 we took it, shiny new, for a spin on Sterkfontein Dam outside Harrismith: Me, Dad, two Eskimos and a semi-eskimo.

Trish eskimo, Mom eskimo, Dad, Sheila semi-eskimo

1990 April Sterkfontein 50002
Dad, Mom, Trish & me – pic by Sheila

We zoomed over the spot where Mom estimated her old farmhouse was – on Nuwejaarsvlei, where she grew up.

 

 

Possible Lost Opportunity

In the shadow of old Platberg this weekend I sat down to lunch with an array of superb swimmers at my table. On my right was Sonja du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Lyn du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Pierre du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer. And that got me thinking of the days I’d line up next to the pool and on my right there’d be nobody. Nobody.

That’s because I’d fought (and easily won, you’ll see why) for the right-most lane in the shallowest part of the pool at swimming lessons. On my left was Francois vd Merwe, coming up to my navel; and on my left was Deon Joubert, coming up to my navel; and then some even shorter girls; That blerrie whistle would shriek, they’d dive in and I’d jump in – bravely; I’d sink to the bottom – very bravely – then kick powerfully off the bottom in the direction of the distant other side of the pool. We were swimming breadths. The older kids – some of them as old as my younger sister Sheila and the even-younger Sonja – would swim lengths.  A few kicks off the bottom and much spluttering and gasping later I’d finally get to the blessed sanctuary of the other side of the pool just short of an asthmatic panic attack, sometimes even earning a podium place – well, if there were absentees due to coughs and colds and Harrismith’s notorious cold weather.

At about the same time I was also not a rugby player. I was in the u/11 second team it’s true, but that’s because there were 29 players and number 29 clearly deserves his place in the second fifteen-man team, nê? So although you could honestly say I was there on merit, there are also lots of other things you could say and I caused poor Giel du Toit much sadness and despair. But at the end of the season, a long season in which he had given me much encouragement and sympathetic ‘moenie worries nie’, he did an amazing thing. He did not say ‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ No. What he actually did, I swear, this is Giel’s gospel and it is amazing. He had a rush of something to somewhere and he made me captain of the u/11B team for the last game of the season.

So there I was two days later, in Vrede, barefoot in orange, holding the ball and running onto the field at the head of an orange line of fourteen laaities doing something I almost never got to do: Holding the ball.

The rest is history: I scored the winning try against the olde enemy; I grew five inches that summer; the next winter I was the tallest oke in the u/13 team; and I scored the winning try against Grey College in the last game of that amazing season. So although Giel may have fluked it and definitely didn’t have anything to do with my growth spurt; and although he may have thought that was going to anyway be my last rugby game ever, he nevertheless changed something in my brain that day. It didn’t last long, but was fun while it did.

And thinking about this long-forgotten little tale, sparked off by sitting amongst those swimmers which, let’s be honest, may have sparked off a Caster Semenya-like debate had DNA testing been available – I mean did they have mermaid genes? dolphin genes? – made me think something else: Why didn’t Joan and Joyce think of something that could have sparked me off Mark Spitz-like? I dunno: Maybe choose me to hand out the oranges at half time at a gala or something equally inspirational?

Makes you think. Joan and Joyce may have missed a big one here.

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nê? – just nod; except, not about the netbal

‘moenie worries nie’ – tut tuts

‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ – Look, you don’t have a talent for rugby, OK? maybe you can sing?

laaities – athletes of note

Sheils & Bess.jpg
Length swimmers at the scene of the torture

 

Mom Mary & Jo Onderstall

When her great friend Joey de Beer – later Jo Onderstall, author and talented botanist in Nelspruit – the Lowveld Botanic Gardens – heard Mom had decided to go nursing after matric back in the late 1940’s she said in her forthright way: “What a waste of a good brain!” She was so right! Mom could have done anything.

Here’s Jo’s 2002 Christmas card to Mary:

Joey de Beer to Mom 2002

 

 

Long Lost Letter

Donald Coleman was my good mate and older side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash (alone in the car) around 1975 (I have no detail of what exactly happened).

In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.

It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page (probably page 2 of a 2-page letter) and a scrap of envelope addressed to:
poel
rrismith
e Free State

A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope (but the date part of the franking was/is missing).

I suspect it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.

The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said (I have kept the way he did his lines and spacing):

This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412.

              Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year.

              It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you.

                        From your mate
                             Donald

Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny correction, changing your to you).

So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!

Bicycle Dikwiel deluxe
fancier than ours!

I gave the letter to his Mom, Jean. Wish I’d taken a photo of it and the stamp!

——————————————

I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Here’s the mystery: He gave me the desk when I was at 7 River Drive some time after 1990. In 2003 we moved to 10 Windsor Avenue and in 2005 we moved to 10 Elston Place.

Was it a Harrismith find? From when?

That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. Suspicion: Did my folks open the letter and not pass it on!? Must ask Mom! We had done this around then, so maybe she wasn’t keen on another jaunt? Unlikely, though. Not like Mom not to give me a (very rare) letter addressed to Master PK Swanepoel!

I searched the desk again and found the rest of the envelope: It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School. He would have been “a student at varsity” – an exalted state of being that I couldn’t WAIT for!

20141130_081257.jpg

Later:

Nope – Dad says he bought the desk at Cannon & Findlay Auctioneers in PMB long after 1971. I have no idea how the 1971 letter could have got lodged in the back of the desk behind the drawers.

SO glad I found it though!

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The Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy

Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft ASL! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because its there, see.

I had often run the cross-country course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

20141110_183249

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough (apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”!) so they added 3km of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.

Leaving town
Start of One Man's Pass
Mountain Race 9


It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees

The Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter

Top of ZigZag Pass The best part, on top, heading for Zig-Zag pass

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Run to A then to B and back (who added 3km of tar road!?)

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about my day with Wally here: http://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/just-call-me-wally/).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare. Afterwards Major Belcher presented a floating trophy as a prize awarded to the first athlete to reach the top of the mountain (the record time today is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.

~~~oo0oo~~~