Sheila worked at Fugitives Drift Lodge with David and Nicky Rattray for a while and met many interesting people and characters from all over the world. She should write about the weird folk she met – the judges and military men and colonial types and rich folk and historians and chief constables and all the other titles the Breetish Empire invented.
While there, she organised for the five of us – her old Swanie family from Harrismith – to have a family weekend there with her as our guide. One afternoon she took us out to the Isandlwana battlefield in a Landrover and got lost. Her sense of direction was imperfect, but she was unfazed and soldiered on like a lost Pom fleeing a battlefield. She had the Buffalo River on her left (or was it right?) and was headed in a direction she thought might get us somewhere sometime. Don’t panic.
So we’re bouncing over the veld, Sheila driving the ponderous old Defender, and our 85yr-old ‘ole man’ sitting in the back getting fidgety.
After a while the bouncing got to his ancient bones and he groaned and – forsaking the old stiff upper lip – moaned about the bumpiness – sort of a geriatric ‘Are we there yet?’
Sheila whipped round and said, “Keep quiet and sit still. Don’t make me come back there and sort you out!” then grinned triumphantly and crowed, “I’ve waited fifty years to say that!”
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 . . .
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.
It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream. Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.
So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.
So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.
We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:
They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!
Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!
I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.
Mom was on furlough from the home – Azalea Gardens. Sheila fetched her and Barbara, Linda, Tholo and the two terrors Mary-Kate and Dawie and I joined them at 16 Ivy Road in Lincoln Meade, Pietermaritzburg.
What a lovely day – a great lunch, fun with the kids and ending with a surprise: ancient movies from our youth taken in the sixties with Dad’s 8mm movie camera. Sheila had arranged and paid for hours of old footage to be put on a memory stick! Dad says he had a small Canon movie camera first; I only remember his Eumig camera.
As we were leaving Tholo spotted a birds nest right above the car door with two little chicks begging, and showed Mary-Kate.
After everyone left I waited till I could spot the mother: a Cape White Eye.
See the top pic: When the old man moved out of earshot – which means six inches away – Linda murmured to me sotto voce, ‘Here’s the man always telling others to get dressed early mornings: still in his jarmies at noon.’
The recipe: Fifteen glorious people and forty glorious kilometres of wide open sandy beaches of the Zululand or Maputaland coast. Years earlier I had hiked a section of the Wild Coast, far to the south.
Ten of us were walking; two were guiding – Jabulani and DC walking up and down the dunes ahead and behind to keep an eye on us; two drivers for our vehicles to pick us up at the end of the first and third days; and then there was one Shirley Carey: She plotted and arranged, cooked and drove, organised and made it all happen – well done Shirley! It was a great start to what I hope becomes a thriving ‘slackpacking’ enterprise: Introducing people to a magic, less-traveled part of the coast in adventurous, yet laid-on and comfortable style. Put-Foot-Shirl in her optical blur Toyota sped us around to and from the hike start and end-points, and looked after us in style!
The vistas were spectacular, the weather varied from perfect to overcast and a cool stiff following breeze to a constant ‘irrelentless’ steady headwind on the last day. Thanks to a few overnight showers and spring tide the sand was hard and we didn’t get sand-blasted. We also had no scorching hot Zululand temperatures, for which I was grateful and relieved. Anyway, we pushed on irregardless under interesting skies.
The recipe also included great meals, snacks and puddings, enough alcohol and plenty ice. Come to think of it, it was quite saintly of us to leave the kitchen and hit the beach – we could easily have lurked in comfort! Another ingredient was laughter; lots of laughter; loud peals of laughter. Some ribald humour too; you wouldn’t expect that from ladies, would you? Nor snorting with laughter! But it was all there. It would be fascinating to know how many laughs-per-kilometer there were. ‘Many’ would be a conservative estimate.
Now one would think if you went to a remote Maputaland beach, sallied forth in a 4X4 then walked fourteen km without seeing another soul on a deserted beach, that Retail Black Friday would have been escaped and no – zero, none – purchases would have been made. But one would be wrong. These ladies set off after a sweet potato and bought a dress! It’s a mysterious and powerful force, retail:
I find beaches fierce and exposed; trudge, trudge; I find forests peaceful and protective; peer here, peer there. On the Zululand Beach Waddle you get both: Wide vistas of sand and water with moving clouds, trudge trudge; balanced by the green peace of the forests and all the little things hiding in them; even a Jan’s Shovel-snout, a seldom-seen nocturnal burrower who lives just below the loose sandy surface, eating gecko eggs; he was dead; we wouldn’t have seen him alive, he’s shy like me; and also polite.
This expedition was supremely relaxing, but there was one very tough part of the trip: Driving out on the last day with four outspoken, astute, well-read and opinionated ladies as ballast in my non-4X4. I made the mistake of telling them we were going to drive on the Most Beautiful Road in Africa. When we finally got onto it and it was a little bit bumpy, swervy, twisty, sandy and their ballast started shifting, they twisted the story to say I had said “The Best Road in Africa”! So with every spin and rock and roll and wobble it was “Oof! So this is the best road in Africa? I’d hate to see the worst!” and other helpful comments.
There’s Put-Foot-Lizelle in the bottom pic disappearing into the distance in her Landrover which – amazingly – didn’t get stuck. Oh, hang on, it did once. We had to dispatch Musa to find her.
And here’s that demanding committee in my poor Ford Ranger, discussing tactics:
Usually I’d end with a sunset pic, but we were drinking Cactus Jack, Six Dogs Blue Gin, Bubbly, Red, White and Rose wine, genuine Italian-made Lemoncello Ramaccio Pace and other stuff by then, so the sun had to set all by its own self. Here’s a rock pool pic instead: Oh! I’ll follow that with a blurry bird pic by Lou. You’d think with my binocs, telescope and bird book that we would have seen more than a few Sanderlings and a handful of Kittlitz’s plovers! – (BTW, the pics are from everyone – thanks!)
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:
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.
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.
We zoomed over the spot where Mom estimated her old farmhouse was – on Nuwejaarsvlei, where she grew up.
I think Mom’s Bland farm Nuwejaarspruit is under water about here.