All posts by bewilderbeast

About bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids and travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

Someone Burst His Eardrum

The Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education chose a rugby team to play in the inter-college festival down in Durban-by-the-Sea and they didn’t choose me so I had to choose myself and find my own way down so as to be able to add to the fun and laughter and educational and character-building value of such gatherings. And the imbibing contest, which was actually my forté but – for some reason – they didn’t have a drinking span. Strange.

So we had to compete informally, yet enthusiastically. I spose because there were no officials officiating our match we lost sight of the time and forgot to arrange accommodation n stuff so when it became very late we looked around and found we were in someone else’s hotel – the salubrious Killarney – and were trying to scrounge floor space to kip on.

What's that? Someone burst his eardrum . . hip hip hip hooray!

Schoeman and Fotherby were 100% legal and official and had a room and we made merry in it, perhaps too much because someone marched in and very rudely demanded we shurrup and also leave. I stepped forward to help this rude gentleman right upon which he – a man of few words – explained the situation to me by unleashing a mighty klap on my left eardrum, shattering the peace. I immediately understood what he was on about and agreed to leave the premises forthwith.

All the way down the stairs his lips were moving but I couldn’t hear a word he said. I was deaf as a post. He was like:

Zulu Security Guard

I was like:

drunk

The next day my “friends” were singing to me – to the tune of “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” –

“Someone Burst His Eardrum! Hip Hip Hip Hooray!!”

Shits. Luckily I couldn’t hear them.

What a Mess!

“Kom, kom, kom! Vyf Rand elk. Brings your money! Five Rands. I’m going to town. E’ gat do’p toe”. Town being Ellisras or Thabazimbi. The civilian staff sergeant from the Cape was shouting in that well-known accent – or eccent, ek sê. He was organising a whip-around to augment the army rations he had been issued as mess sergeant on our Commando camp out in the bush near Pretoria.

He returned a few hours later with a big sack of onions, cooking oil and a vark of cheap white wine – a 25l plastic spug-spug. So instead of plain bully beef and spuds we had a varkpan full of fried bully-beef-spuds-n-onions and a fire-bucket filled with over half a litre of semi-soetes for our supper. Much better.

Not the one on the left:

=========================

One of the civvies on camp was Rod Mackenzie, trainee-ophthalmologist from Durban who I would meet again and work with for years later, first in hospitals and then in private practice. That was after the weermag in their wisdom sent me to Durbs as adjutant to the medics in the various KwaZulu hospitals.

The Marvelous Brauer/Stromberg

Very few people realise just how good the Stromberg is. One of those few is Brauer. He knows, as he invested a large portion of his student fortune in one at The Rand Easter Show one year (or was it the Pretoria Skou?).

We watched a demonstration in fascination. I mean EVERY time the good honest man hooked in the Stromberg the engine ran sweetly and WHENEVER he unhooked the Stromberg it spluttered and farted. Brauer was SOLD. He just KNEW this was the answer to his faded-white Austin with faded-black linoleum roof’s problems. Instead of taking it for a long overdue service and changing the oil, water, filter and spark plugs, he would sommer just fit a Stromberg. What could possibly go wrong go wrong, and who could doubt this:

Stromberg

Here’s an email thread discussing the amazing Stromberg phenomenon:

On 2015/08/30 22:29, steve reed wrote:

Subject: Re: Fat takkies

Further proof that nothing stays the same.

From our youthful past, it was always a “given” that the back takkies would be fatter than the front …Specially if you have the windgat  version.

Now the Audi RS3 has em 2cm fatter  in the front than the back if you have the windgat version.

Really…I am getting too old for all this.  Do they have to mess with everything?


From: pete swanepoel home
Subject: Re: Fat takkies

Yep. Because they can . . .

I remember the mindset change I had to undergo when diesels started getting status. Ditto when auto boxes started making more sense than manual? Had to quietly swallow a few ‘definite’ and ‘absolute’ statements made in ignorance!

One of my fascinations has been looking up when the first ____ (whatever) was ever fitted or used in a car.

First diesel engined production car — 1935 Citroen Rosalie
First patent for seat belts – 1885. But still not compulsory when we grew up and STILL not compulsory throughout the USA today. (Politicians in many states wouldn’t dare vote for such a law!).
First 8-speed manual – 1931 Maybach DS8
First automatic transmission – 1939 Oldsmobile (Hydra-Matic, also the first 4-speed automatic). Remember “Hydra Matic” in the Grease song?
First petrol-electric hybrid – 1899 Lohner-Porsche Mixte
First modern hybrid car – 1904 Auto-Mixte (Belgium)
First four-wheel drive car – 1910 Caldwell Vale
First trip computer – 1958 Saab GT750

and so on – almost always WAY before I would have guessed !


On 2015/08/31 00:18, Peter Brauer wrote:

A glaring omission has been noted from your ”when was it first fitted” list:

THE FAMOUS STROMBERG

Do you recall how I had Alan Saks (the great car fundi) going  on this one…


From: pete swanepoel home:

I do. Didn’t we see it some show or other? A great demonstration. If it had been a religion I’d have converted. I would be a Strombergie now.

Who would think Pretoria would have a skou!? What is there to show?

So Alan was not an all-knowing deskundige after all?! Even HE could learn a thing or two?
—————————————————————

On 2015/09/01 01:55, Peter Brauer wrote:

The one and only Pretoria Skou. Installed in my Cortina that Alan had driven in a few days prior and was subjected to the stop/start lurching and had many remedies and suggestions. I obviously thanked him for his advice BUT ALSO ENLIGHTENED HIM RE THE NEWLY PURCHASED SOLVER-OF-ALL-CAR-PROBLEMS . . . THE STROMBERG. (Remembering the  “God-ordained” visit to the Skou and Stromberg stand where we witnessed the justifiably impressive presentation of a product that should have outstripped Microsoft in sales).

To which he chuckled and shook his head in disbelief. I hauled it off the floor behind the driver’s seat to show him. I remember a few choice expletives….”complete f…ing piece of sh-t” etc etc.

So that weekend I started installing said Stromberg, which involved a rare opening of the bonnet (a procedure I normally advise against to any motoring enthusiast). For starters (no pun intended), after glancing at the oil coated sparks, I thought that while the bonnet was open I might just clean the sparks and set the gaps. Before removing the Stromberg off it’s familiar position of lying on the floor behind the driver’s seat I thought I’d take the Cortina for a spin to see if it still could go after my risky DIY service.

Shit a brick….it flew! (“why the hell didn’t I do that long ago!?” rolling through my thoughts as the apparently turbocharged Cortina used our sedate suburban streets as its new-found race track).

After getting back home I parked the car and almost forget what I’d started….THE STROMBERG.

I quickly installed it on-line on the main spark lead and couldn’t wait for Alan’s visit that arvie. Chucked him my keys and said he should take the Cortina for a spin to see if he could tell if the Stromberg had made any diffs………………. The rest is folklore history……….he was stunned into silence, well for at least 3 minutes – but a Saks record nevertheless.


From: pete swanepoel home

You forgot to put in the most important feature of the Cortina: The colour. What colour was it?

(I read about a popular radio talk show in the States: Two brothers had a “Car Experts” show. People would phone in and ask about the problems they were having with their cars. Long technical details of what the clutch and carburetor and shit were doing and where the smoke was coming out of etc etc – and the one brother would ask “Tell me: This Corvette of yours: What color is it?”).

Ice and Fire

They wanted us to have a good time and they fed us with many many craft beers and ordinary beers. Come and enjoy the Rand Easter Show, they said in 1976. Well in those days it was that or this:

We glanced at the displays and the arena – cows were moo’ing and plopping, horses were made to jump over things – but most of the day was spent in the friendly beer halls where the only answer to “May I have another beer?” was “Of course you may!” We ended up sparkling with wit and bonhomie.

After dark it all shut down and we wandered towards the car park eating ice cream cones the TC girls from Maritzburg – up to visit the handsome Doornfontein crew – had bought us (hoping to sober us up?). We passed some horse trailers and the rear end of Gonda Betrix’s horse stared us straight in the eye. Like this:

Horses ass

It was too much to resist and our artistic instincts took over: Lift the tail, place ice cream dollop on the O-ring and then the horse made the mistake of clamping its tail down hard, cementing the deal. I spose a shiver ran down its spine, but it stayed pretty calm considering, just dancing a little – in pleasure maybe? Thoughts of animal cruelty DO pass thru my brain now but they didn’t reach my addled brain at the time.

We shuffled off. Who drove that night? Hopefully the ladies. Sheila, Noreen, who else? Anyway we safely arrived at Stephen Charles’s flat in Yeoville and had another beer as we were inexplicably thirsty.

Noreen said to me “I’ve run a bath, you go ahead”. Very thoughtful of her! I shucked my kit and jumped in and immediately went right through the ceiling! Which wasn’t ceiling board as Steve’s flat was not on the top floor. It was concrete. She’d run the hot only and my (future) wedding vegetables were parboiled. Took days before they were ready to be molested again. In fact, the damage may have been permanent: I ended up adopting kids, even though I waited twelve years before risking getting married.

Wat Sê Jy?

or “scusi?

Quora asked this question recently: “How do you know when you are fluent in a language?” here

I answered thus: My guess is usually you won’t really know. Native speakers are usually polite and will flatter you with a better assessment than is true. Maybe a better question to ask yourself is “When am I fluent enough?”

My guess? When you’re enjoying using it and not really thinking about it. I am fluent enough in Afrikaans and can happily hold any conversation with someone who only speaks that language. But even though I have spoken it since I was little, no native speaker would mistake me for a native Afrikaans speaker.

Confession: I laboured under the mistaken impression that I was completely fluent. No-one told me otherwise. Then at age fourteen I went to Namibia (South West Africa as it was) and visited third cousins I had never met before. Within two sentences one of them blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking). And my bubble burst. I’m now amazed I was so deluded!

Another case in point: My 94-yr old Dad speaks “fluent Italian” which he learnt in Italy in WW2. I asked an Italian schoolfriend a few years ago “How well does the old man actually speak?” and he said “Really well. Really”. Somehow I think that’s politeness (two years in Italy seventy years ago when he was already 22yrs-old – ??). But I have no way of telling, so I’m happy to go with Claudio’s assessment! Thanks, figlio!

Another: I often get complimented for speaking good Zulu. This is definitely not true and is just polite people’s way of saying “Thank you for speaking isiZulu to me”.

 

International Darts Champs

One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein in the New Doornfontein Hotel pub we were playing darts.

Actually to be more exact, we were engaged in a very important international darts championship tournament, and we were in the final. We had made it through to the final by skill and courage. And imbibing. See, it was The Official Inebriated World Darts Championships of The World. Our opponents were the Sicilian Mafia who had materialised out of nowhere, tapped one of us on the shoulder and announced darkly in a sinister growl: “We play you next”. That’s how they got into the final. We didn’t dare to do anything but nod nervously.

It was like:

mafia darts

We were not fooled when during the important ceremony of ‘diddle for middle’ they missed the bull’s eye by about three metres and we hit bull to go off first. We knew they were simply lulling us into a false sense of security and had in fact wanted us to go first as part of a dastardly plot. This plan was executed faultlessly as we continued to whip they asses and beat them by a mile in all three rounds. Something was afoot. We got even more nervous when they appeared to accept their defeat in good spirit and retired to a corner of the bar conversing – sinisterly for Sicilians – in Portuguese.

Our lives were saved that night in that we ordered beers when the barman called ‘Last Round!’ and the Mafia didn’t. So at closing time the Mafiosi left and we stayed behind to finish our drinks, huddled in a corner as far away as we could get from the door in case it suddenly shattered and splintered under sustained machine gun fire.

The barman then escorted us out the back. Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. We scurried home to our lavish quarters in the plush Doories residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education a few blocks away, keeping to the shadows.

Once safely inside we opened the large door of the old off-white Westinghouse with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on it in cokie pen. Finally we, The Official Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax.

fridge.jpg

The Louisa Street Massacre

I once got mugged in Louisa Street. By Louisa Street.

Lightly inebriated, I was walking back to res from a trip to Hillbrow to spend some of my Barclays Bank student loan.

The normally dark and deserted Louisa Street in Doornfontein was dark and crowded, with parked cars lining both sides of the road. The Arena Theatre across the road from res had a show on.

Quite unexpectedly, Louisa Street suddenly leapt up and smacked me right in the face, breaking my glasses.

For some unfathomable reason it was very important that I gather all the little shards of glass from my shattered lens, so – as luck or Murphy would have it – I was on my hands and knees when the theatre ended and happy patrons streamed out into the street, their minds filled with the moral of the story (or more likely, flashes of boobs and skin – the few shows we went to had actresses acting daring) to find their cars and drive home to more salubrious areas of Johannesburg. The Arena was surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned houses, so they were probably in a bit of a hurry because of the shady reputation of the neighbourhood – and here was proof!

I was not to be put off my search though, so people had to walk and drive around me, grovelling searching diligently in the middle of the tarmac. Next minute someone bent over me and said “What’s your name?”. The affrontery! It was Mnr “JJ” van Rensburg of the Doornfontein koshuis who  was trying to help by getting one of his charges out of harm’s way. “Shwanepoel” I slurred. I spelt it out in case he didn’t know: “S – W – A – N – E – P – O – E – L” . Explaining that I probably didn’t need to gather every tiny piece as the School of Optometry would likely replace my lenses for me, he coaxed me back to the safety of the res grounds. He was weird, but had a good heart, ole JJ. We gave him sleepless nights.

Barbara se Ouma woon in Boomstraat

She actually did – 131 Boom Street Pietermaritzburg

Born in the bedroom on the left on 15 December 1922

and right across the road was this school. Going to the Afrikaans school would have meant a bus ride, and Oupa was frugal. And so started the ver-engels-ing of Dad. The rooinek-erisation. Pieter Gerhardus became Peter.

131 Boom St PMB (1)

*ver-engels – Anglicisation

*rooinek – Boer word for Poms – anyone from ‘England’ (which meant any of those islands left of France. (Literally ‘red necks’ – but not America rednecks). NB: This excluded Irishmen who fought for the Boers against the plundering, wicked, invading, looting Poms.

 

72 Hunt Road, Connoisseur Corner

After a while in Hunt Road I graduated to a prime room: Big double bed, an acre of carpet and a lounge suite at the far end: Couch and two comfy chairs.

Every now and then housemate John Newby would wander in, roll back the carpet and disappear under the floorboards to fetch a bottle from his stash of special wines. He would emerge with cobwebs on his whispy pate. He’d have been crayfishing and would very generously feed the whole house on his delicious crayfish, beautifully cooked, and his special wine. He would give us a run-down on the wine, we would nod gravely and down it and scoff the grub. I confess that, as he talked about the bouquet, the nose, the flavours, where and when it was grown, the north-facing slopes, I would think ja, ja, blah blah, let’s drink and eat.

I had grown up in a bottle store and thought grog was grog, the two important elements are volume and percentage alcohol, and have always rolled my eyes at hooch-pretentiousness. Wine is rotten grapes and the third bottle is always delicious, was my mantra.

Then one day John went off to Cape Town. Turned out he had won the Natal wine-tasters guild olympics and was representing us at the nationals! Then turned out he won the nationals, handily defeating all Cape snobbery, and suddenly MY HOUSEMATE was SA’s champion gold medal victor ludorum wine taster and knew what he was talking about! Look, I knew he wasn’t a poephol, him having a CA and an LlB and all.

I always said he was brilliant!

Flying in 1973

As a seventeen-yr-old in January 1973 I flew from Jo’burg to Rio de Janeiro, then on to New York in an SAA Boeing 707 (‘a narrow-body, four-engined jet airliner built from 1958 to 1979. Boeing’s 707 was the first jet to be commercially successful. Dominating passenger air transport in the 1960s and remaining common through the 1970s, the 707 is generally credited with ushering in the jet age’ – that’s what wikipedia says. Also that 10 of them were still flying in 2013!!).

SAA 1973 Boeing 707

I flew on to Chicago and ended at Oklahoma City, where I was met by Apache Rotarian Robert L Crews III.

I knew very little about flying and maybe that’s just as well. I now know this –

January 1973 in FLYING

  1. January 2 – Attempting to land in Edmonton, Canada in blowing snow, a Pacific Western Airlines Boeing 707 carrying 86 head of cattle and a crew of five, crashed and caught fire. The entire crew was killed. The cattle? Who knows.

  2. January 2 – Released from a psychiatric hospital days earlier, 37yr-old Charles Wenige hid in a lavatory aboard a Piedmont Airlines plane after it arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. When all the passengers had disembarked, he emerged and pointed a .45-calibre pistol at a crew member, demanding access to the liquor cabinet and to be flown to Canada. After two hours of negotiations, he agreed to release the stewardesses in exchange for a meeting with a psychiatrist and a priest. An FBI agent advised Wenige to tuck his pistol away in the priest’s presence. When Wenige did that, the agent overpowered and arrested him.

  3. January 4 – As a Pacific Western airliner prepared to take off from Vancouver, Canada with 18 people on board, a passenger, 26yr-old Christopher Nielson, drew a gun and demanded $2 million in cash and to be flown to North Vietnam, threatening to blow up the airliner if his demands were not met. During negotiations he allowed most people to disembark, leaving three crew members aboard the plane with him. Police then stormed the plane and arrested him, finding that he was armed only with two toy guns.  

  4. January 5 – The mandatory security screening of all airline passengers began at all airports in the USA.

  5. January 12 – The 197th and final American air-to-air victory of the Vietnam War.

  6. January 15 – President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to all bombing, shelling and mining of North Vietnam.

  7. A Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways crashed after the right main landing gear collapsed while the plane was landing in high winds in Nigeria. It was the deadliest aviation accident in history at the time.

  8. January 27 – A U.S. Navy plane was shot down over South Vietnam – the last American fixed-wing aircraft lost in the Vietnam War.

  9. January 27 – Frontier Airlines hired the first female pilot for any modern-day U.S. airline, Emily Warner. On the same day, the airline also hired its first African-American pilot, Bob Ashby.

    ===================

Air India!

On the way back I flew Air India from New York to London. On the plane I read in an abandoned newspaper I had picked up on the way to board, that Air India had been voted World’s Worst Airline – again. I have since learned this:

‘The years 1971-1973 were very bad for Indian Airlines. The 1971-1972 Pakistan War didn’t help. The airline reported a 45 million rupee loss in 1973, the carrier’s largest to that point. Exacerbating the aforementioned crises was the continual strike being waged by labor. Management, concerned by growing labor costs and inefficiency, eventually locked out many of its workers, operating only a skeleton schedule with a non-union workforce’.

I notice groping is a problem on Air India and they now keep plastic handcuffs to bopha the culprits. I feel I have to report that none of those sari-clad hostesses groped me, despite their promises:

==========================

World Trade Centre

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan were opened in April 1973. I didn’t see – or consciously notice – them. How observant is that!? And I must have seen them – I went up the Empire State building and looked around. Maybe I was staring at Central Park and the river?

Manhattan


bopha – isiZulu for bind, tie up (pronounce “bawpah”)