Africa, Family & Kids, KwaZuluNatal, Life, Nostalgia

The Reindeer got . .

Mother Mary stumbled a bit through her 2019 rendition of Jingled Bowels . .

She wasn’t up to her usual high standards. When she finished she turned to Sheila, who was filming her, and said: ‘The Reindeer Got A Puncture!’

I wondered if the reindeer hadn’t got . .

. . stuck into the champagne??


Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, KwaZuluNatal, Life, Nostalgia

A Fascinating Case History

I took Mom to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg. She’d had some visual phenomena and her description of a curtain falling over her vision against the wall made me decide she must be seen right away. My good friend and colleague Owen Hilliar gave me the duty roster and I phoned the surgeon on duty – Dr L – and arranged to see him Sunday morning 08:30.

What a nice man! He listened to her stories. Unlike her usual eye man, Dr A.

So for a case history on this wonderful 91yr-old qualified nursing sister, and myopic glaucomatous pseudophake, Dr L now has the following information:

There are patterns in my vision on the walls and on the ceiling. Like the patterned ceilings in Granny Bland’s house in Stuart Street in Harrismith. I was born in Harrismith see, and did my midwifery in Durban. We went to Durban as we thought maybe we’d meet some nice boys there. Dr L’s eyes widen and he looks at me. But I met my husband in Harrismith; he worked for the post office and he got on very well with my mother and she told me ‘Peter Swanepoel is taking us to the Al Debbo concert in the town hall.’ My grandfather built the town hall; and he sat between me and my mother and that’s how we met. Unfortunately his good relationship with my mother didn’t last. My grandfather and his brother were stonemasons from Scotland; they built all the bridges for the railway line from Durban to Harrismith; What? OK, Ladysmith to Harrismith. When they had been in Harrismith a while they said ‘We like it here; the air reminds us of the old country,’ so they stayed and built a hotel each, the Central and the Royal – but first it was the Railway hotel – every town had to have a railway hotel. Then they changed the name by royal decree to The Royal Hotel. Or with Royal permission. The one brother had seven sons – she holds up seven fingers in front of Dr L’s face – and the other had nine. NINE – holds up nine fingers. And only one of them had a son. Dudley. He was a bit of a sissy – here my eyes widen – but he had the only boy. Thank goodness he then had sons to carry on the name, although one died in a bike accident. Now Granny Bland had five sons and only two of them did anything; one died of malaria in East Africa. Bertie, I think. When? In the First World War; the others just hung about, didn’t do anything even though they had been sent to very good schools. Hilton or Michaelhouse, one of those; I mean, what did my father know about farming? Nothing. His father just bought him a farm and sent him farming. He tried sheep, that was a failure.

Erm, I interrupted . . No, don’t worry, the dilation will still take a while says Dr L.

See, he wants to know, says Mom and carries on. I was proud of her! She was on a roll! We even found out the Shetland pony’s name was Suzanne.

Anything else about your eyes, he asks when she pauses for breath. Just the patterns and colours on the walls and ceiling, says Mom – no mention of the ‘curtain’ which had made me arrange the appointment in a hurry. And this time she didn’t say she has to remove her son’s glasses to read. Oh, and Oupa Bain went blind; I can remember the older children reading the newspaper to him.

After peering in and then checking V/A’s 6/36 and 6/18 and pressures – low, Dr L re-assures her all is well in her eyes and the patterns may be happening in her visual cortex.

We’re free to go, with huge relief. No trip to Durban. I’ve been nil-per-mouth since midnight, so I must remember to drink lots of water to catch up, says Mom happily.


Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, KwaZuluNatal, Life, Nostalgia

Earning Her Keep

Monica said ‘Don’t worry Mary you needn’t play today,’ but I protested: No Way, you have to play! How else will you earn your keep? So she gamely fired up her stootoot – isithuthuthu – and beetled off to the dining room where her friend ‘Mauritius’ was in her wheelchair, waiting for supper.

She rocked straight into Somewhere My Love, so fast that I missed it. I video’d her next song, ‘It’s Only Words’ (what’s it called?); and she said ‘Supper Time’ but I pleaded One More Please; Play for your supper.

What was that? I asked at the end of it. ‘Deep In My Heart’ she said – and then I’m so sorry I stopped filming, as she said, ‘It’s by Sigmund Romberg from The Desert Song’ and she told me more, that I can’t recall, but that ‘it was beautiful; very special’ I do remember.

I went looking . . .

Deep In My Heart - Sigmund Romberg

Ah, here’s the trailer: You can see why Mary would have loved it back in 1954! Many of the songs are familiar; she played them; the reel-to-reel tape played them; and the Goor Koor sang them – all in the lounge at 95 Stuart Street in the Free State village of Harrismith!

And then the best song: The Drinking Song from The Student Prince! Sung in the movie by Mario Lanza.


By MGM –,

By Source, Fair use,


Later: For xmas day sister Sheila gave her a santa hat and she thumped out Jingled Bowels with more enthusiasm than accuracy. Realising this, watch what she says to Sheila at the end:

– “the reindeer got a puncture” –

Medical Rounds

7.30am Jessie to the dentist up the road in Westville. A filling dropped out. I leave her there – she can walk home.

10am Mother Mary to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg (PMB). R. 6/18 and L. 6/36 no worse than before; Pressures holding good with the drops; field loss very near to the macula. All much the same as a year ago, so at least that’s the good news. She’s around -2,50 / -1,50 and you know what? She can read much better if she removes her son’s glasses. Funny that . .

11.30am the old man to the optometrist in PMB. Thanks to my good friend Owen Hilliar we don’t need him to schlep to Durban this time. Ooh! His eyes widen and he sits up straight. This is a better optometrist! She’s young and female! He’s been saddled with an old bald plump male optom down in Durban for years. And: She, at least, laughs at his jokes!

He has lost his slight myopia and doubled his astigmatism to -1,50 so this should help a bit. Still only 6/15+ best though. Of course, he doesn’t actually need glasses, ‘I can see perfectly without them; just not when I have to read small print , or in poor light, or the score on the TV, or road signs, but otherwise PERFECT.’ But to humour his son he’ll get some glasses. ‘See this here? If I took it out into the sun I could read it no problem without any glasses.’ Ja, Dad, it’s overcast and raining today. Hmph . .

Read this: M S R U – ‘Um, Vee, Ess, Aar, Gee.’ OK, close. That was the 6/12 line, so she gave him 6/15+.

When we leave I try and pay or get them to claim from Medshield. Ooh, no, sir, we have strict instructions from Mr Hilliar not to charge you anything. Quite a guy, young Owen Hilliar!

I tell them all to take a week off in December, they’ve been so kind. They don’t believe I have that kind of authority. ** sigh **


Africa, Family & Kids, Food, Life

She’s Ninety One Today; She’s Ninety One . .

‘She’s got the key of the door; Never been ninety one before . .’

The lovely ladies at Azania gave Mom a special cake and a rousing song.

Maybe due to austerity measures each candle used has to represent thutty years. Also due to fire regulations, maybe? And ‘part thereof’ probably doesn’t count: you have to turn 120 before you get a fourth candle.

Africa, Family & Kids

The Goatitudes 5. Say WHAT!

Mom has a bad spell so I visit her in frail care in PMB Sunday. While I was there she had a much worse spell, fading, then going far-away-staring-eyed and then collapsing, limp as a ragdoll. This after she’d played the piano then ate supper and drank a cup of tea. I caught her and lowered her into her chair, holding her upright. Sister Rose is there in a flash and leans her way back, getting her head low and her arms up. Of, course, low blood pressure! I should have thought of that. I was thinking TIA, not low BP.

We lift her onto a wheelchair and then into her bed. Rose jacks up the foot of the bed to get her blood flowing to her head. Whenever we talk to her, dear old stalwart always-keen-to-please Mary responds, but very faint and random words, no connection to what we’re asking. She falls asleep, blood pressure is improving, pulse is strong throughout and blood sugar levels fine. Sister Rose monitors regularly.

I spend the night with Dad in their home so I can visit her the next morning. Monday 7am I make tea before we visit Mom. Dad arrives sans teeth and hearing aids, talking a blue streak as always. I can safely ignore the muffled patter. He takes a sip of tea and then realises: ‘Damn! My teeth.’ I point at his ears. He comes back, teeth in and intelligible, one hearing aid in. Not that he needs to hear me. He just needs me to hear him and nod him yes. I wonder why he only puts one ear in, the other he puts on the table.

At Mom’s (she’s much better, but definitely not right) he can’t hear. ‘What? Wait, let me put my other hearing aid in, and then say that again.’ Skoffels around in his ear, in his jersey pockets. Then his pants pockets. Then his shirt pocket. Oh hell, he must have left it at home.

Tuesday night he phones me. He heated the soup that Sheila had made for him, microwaved it for two minutes, nice and hot. In swallowing the last spoonful he bit down * crunch * on something.


The missing hearing aid.


He says he phoned Mom to tell her of the hearing aid drama. She has been hugely involved in the saga and frustrations of his hearing aid devices and his moans about useless audiologists over the last decade.

She sounded much better, he says. Then, sadly, she piped up: ‘I didn’t know you wore a hearing aid!’ says dear old Mom.

Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Religulous Reminiscing

When Mom turned ninety schoolfriend Mariette van Wyk Greyling wrote and started a long, rambling and nostalgic back and forth between us, paraphrased and embellished here:

She wrote: Goodness, you all look so good. I simply cannot believe your dad is in his nineties. He looks exactly the way he used to look when we were at school. Remarkable genes. Thanks for sending.

– Ah, sepia looks better! – Mom’s 90th Bday –

Please wish your mom happy happy from me – if she still remembers me: The daughter of TP who taught them to sing ‘and the dogs say goodnight’ – Louis Armstrong.


Oh, Mary will remember you alright! We only had a few families we’d hang out with, kuier with and sing with, and for a while there that was Theunis and Martie. They both still often talk about the factory and the characters who worked there. Stan Moseley was one. I learnt recently that Petra Bissett worked there a while. That factory your Dad ran was a HUGE part of Harrismith in its day.

Later: I phoned Mom; Mother Mary; Mary Methodist. She never ceases to amaze! I said : Do you remember going to Theunis and Martie van Wyk’s home and listening to Louis Armstrong?

I didn’t have to say another word. She said: I heard it just yesterday! Someone played me Satchmo singing “What a Wonderful World” just yesterday! It was so good hearing it again after all these years. Theunis had a record player and he used to play it good and loud and Satchmo said “and the dogs say goodnight” instead of “and the dark sacred night”! Mariette was in your class and then there was Anita and Boeta. And you know Martie’s really not well; She just cries and cries.

I asked: Where did you hear about Martie? She said: Oh, Dossie Farquhar tells me everything. Dossie was Mom’s bridesmaid. She’s in the same home as Martie in Bethlehem. She is Dossie de Villiers now; She has two sons in Bethlehem, Neil and someone. Dossie phoned me for my birthday and she’s also turning ninety this week, so I’ll phone her on her cellphone. No-one sends cards anymore. I got four: Yours from Jessie and Tommy; Sheila’s that you all signed that was originally a card to Sheila from Annie in 1974. And two others.

‘No-one sends cards anymore.’ And now Dossie won’t even be phoning. She died recently. Fewer and fewer friends remain once you live this long . .

Mariette wrote:

Your mom is incredible! What a pin-sharp mind! Goodness. If only my mother could speak to her it would mean the world to her. None of her old friends have been in touch. I mentioned to you that I dread the twice weekly phone calls because she just cries and cries. One-way conversation. But she is trapped inside a body with no motor functions – only has hearing and a fairly sharp mind. Binswanger’s Syndrome. Absolutely tragic! Can there be anything more cruel!? I cannot imagine it.

Where did the name Mary Methodist come from? Just because of her church denomination? Sounds good though.


Mom is ‘Mary Methodist’ cos she was the Methodists’ johannes kerkorrel for a hundred years. We had to go to church every single Sunday morning for two hundred years solid. And we had to wear shoes. I was born on a Friday on a hill above town (in a manger, I think, though I may have that part wrong). That very Sunday, two days old, I had to listen to the whole church service, plus go to Sunday school and make notes and this continued every Sunday for four hundred years uninterrupted. I am going SO straight to heaven where I’m going to be the pearly gate-keeper. The holiest oke called Peter always gets that job.

We were well compensated, though. We got to hear Mom playing the piano at home. She would play her classical pieces, her popular music for their inebriated guests – including Theunis and Martie – to murder in song, and she’d practice her hymns for Sunday. My halo is only starting to fade now, fifty-footsack years later.


Mariette wrote:

When I was fourteen my father wisely gave me the choice of church or no church. He wasn’t the church type. ‘Ek gaan nie daar sit met daardie skynheilige spul nie’. I chose not to go. And turned out quite alright. Hence the fact that I was never popular with the bybelkunde lot.

Did your dad go to church?


Theunis TP van Wyk was a wise soul. No, Dad never went to church, but nor did he take any stand. Mom would have been devastated if he’d interfered and he didn’t. We went happily to church and – especially – to guild, as it was social and fun and after dark. A gathering of rooineks – except the poor Anglicans who had to go to another church and worship the queen, shame. Oh, and the poor Catholics – mostly the new immigrants from Holland, Portugal, etc who were mostly in die Engelse klas. They had to go and kiss the Pope’s ring, shame. There wasn’t any fire and brimstone from our pulpit and the dominees even downplayed the Methodists’ famous hatred of drink. Turned a blind eye out of respect for Mary Methodist behind the orrel, maybe! Her being a purveyor of booze as her day job. Also, there were so few bliksems gooi’ing pennies into those velvet-lined wooden collection plates I think they thought, “We’ll take sinners, we’ll take rokers, we’ll take drinkers, we’ll take drank smouse, we’ll take ANY contributors!” Just like Jesus. They would even have taken lawyers, though I don’t think we got any of them. The dearth probably wasn’t quite as bad as the Anglicans, but still dire. Have you seen where I wrote about the desperate Anglicans?

Mariette wrote:

So what happened? Did that beautiful building survive? No Anglicans for evermore in Harrismith? Loved that building. What a loss.

Confession: when we lived in England I went to the Church of England Sunday school a few times. Only because my best friend Beatrice Evans went. But then the appeal of spending Sundays driving around the Yorkshire Dales with Theunis in his new blue Zephyr won the toss.


Oh no, the old sandstone Anglican church is still there, and its congregation of rooineks limp along as always. Heydays may pass unnoticed, but weddings and funerals still have to have a place to happen! The only outcome was – Tabs didn’t become heilig! He wasn’t consecrated. I saw him the other day just before he went off on a groot trek thru Zimbabwe and we had a good laugh about how he ducked a bullet there. Joan Simpson saved him!

– The door that was not darkened . . –

As for your slipping into an Anglican church: Going to church where your best friend (other than Jesus) goes is a time-honoured tradition that only a lelike church would ever interfere with. As the NG Kerk did with Cappy Joubert after WW2.

The Yorkshire Dales! I’ve seen movies made there. And the bicycle Tour de Yorkshire shows wonderful footage. Sure looks beautiful.

Was Theunis’ blue Zephyr like this?

– Mariette said yes . . a ‘winged zephyr’ just like this –


Until the sessions and the discos arrived thanks to Round Table, there wasn’t any alternative fun in the dorp really. The Sunday School picnics in the park, on Lud Coetzee’s farm on the Swinburne road and at the foot of One Man’s Pass were a highlight of our year. As was standing on the back of Michael Hastings and Charlie Crawley’s flatbed Chevy truck with an orrel on it, driving slowly around town at night singing Xmas carols! Little old ‘Uncle Wright’ Liddell pumping the pedals to belt out the noise. He was our johannes kerkorrel before Mary inherited the mantle. Leon Strachan says for a while he was the only Engels-sprekende Nat in Harrismith!

What did Martie do? Trek n hoed aan, or stay at home? I’d say you were unpopular with the skynheiliges for TWO reasons: One: Not going; and Two: Doing so well at school! That woulda pissed them off.


Mariette wrote:

Martie did the kerk en hoed thing. Theunis let her be. Gave him time with his aviary birds and woodwork.

I was confirmed as a Methodist for some or other reason but never knew about the Methodist dislike of drink. Shows you what a farce that whole confirmation thing is. Had to ‘read’ a bunch of stuff, and then was confirmed.

I remember you had a bunch of fun with the extramural Methodist activities. The only NG Kerk event I didn’t miss for the world was Die Kerkbazaar. Yum. All those lekker koeksisters, toffee apples, fudge and melktert. Sjoe, makes me very lus now. Somehow the Woolies koeksisters and melktert just ain’t as nice.


So you briefly became a Methylated Spirit? How’s that! So did Cappy Joubert. When he got back from World War 2 the NG Kerk – his church – kyk’d him skeef when he arrived in his South African army uniform. So he hived himself off to the Meths boys and stayed there for evermore, hugely enriching the lives of us rooineks. His generosity and involvement and sense of humour and moral compass influenced a generation of kids in our dorp.

I learnt my bible stories very mildly from the enchanting Stella Euthemiou. We sat at her feet and gazed up in awe and wonder. Everyone fell in love with Stella! A dominee’s son who left Harrismith in about 1962 – Lincoln Michell – found my blog recently and he also remembered worshipping Stella back then, fifty years ago! She almost got us to heaven, but we had the six other days and twenty three hours to maak things reg and get unholy again. She had to start afresh every Sunday!

The only bible story we really learnt without a shadow of doubt was the holy unerring infallible fact that we got gifts at Christmas time. The old oke in red with the white beard got a lot more coverage and adulation than the younger oke in white with the brown beard, I can assure you.

We had another three gorgeous older girls at Sunday School: Shirley Mason, Anne Euthemiou and Lynn du Plessis. When I first heard “Shirley, Goodness and Mercy were going to follow me all the days of my life” I knew exactly who they were and verily, I was pleased.


Mariette wrote:

Anne Euthemiou, Lynn du Plessis and Martie Marais were all gorgeous. Saw a photo of Anne and Martie at one of Barbara’s famous get-togethers a few months ago and they still look fabulous.


Famous author Chris van Wyk also had dreams on hearing that bible passage and in 2006 he wrote a wonderful childhood memoir called Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a Childhood Memoir. He grew up in Riverlea and his lovely smile reminded me of fellow Riverlea character Gerald Durrell (‘yes, like the famous animal and zoo author‘ he’d say) who ran the Riverlea Eye Clinic when we used to go there as optometry students in Jo’burg in 1976 and 1977.