All posts by Bear

Somerset West – of rabbits and woodwork

My stepfather’s name was Cyril Williams and from now on, I will refer to him by his first name.

Cyril was born and brought up in the coal-mining area of the Rhondda Valley in Wales, in the UK. From what I can gather, it was a mostly rural area but at about the age of fourteen, which would have been in about 1936/37) he was enlisted into boy service in the Royal Navy where he completed his schooling to GCE O level I believe.

He served in the RN during WWII and I think spent time in the middle east but I am not really sure other than some of the few times he spoke of his service he mentioned that region, the heat and having to accompany shore parties into the desert.

Cyril had been brought up in an area where game such as wildfowl, some deer and rabbits were part of the normal fare along with mutton, pork and beef.

The Rabbits – I have written briefly about this in my first article but, just to enlarge on it…

I think the rabbits – two black ones that we got – were bought for, or given to, me but Cyril decided that we should breed them. Accordingly, with the help of Marikane, our general factotum from the Transkei, he built an enclosure of split logs on our plot in Helena Heights.

In spite of his supposedly KNOWING about rabbits, Cyril forgot that they are burrowing animals but, at first, the burrows that we saw in the enclosure were just curious and interesting. Within a day or two, we realised that they were ESCAPE tunnels and we were chasing the bunnies all over the plot. He then built new enclosure that had a wooden floor topped with about a foot of soil so that the rabbits could burrow but not escape.

…and we waited. After several weeks, our very happy little bunnies were still playing house but showing no sign of breeding. Having befriended a chap named Bill Prince in the village, and knowing that Bill had a number of rabbits himself, Cyril asked him what he thought the problem could be. The bunnies (my mother and I had probably given them names by this time), were examined by Bill who with great amusement, informed us that the rabbits had not been breeding because we had two does (girls).

A buck rabbit was introduced to the mix and the stage was set for him and Cyril to start the commercial supply of rabbit to the local butchers and specialty restaurants. (There were none of the latter in the area although they did exist in Cape Town – I think).

Cyril was very good with his hands and particularly good at woodwork. He bought a supply of timber and built some very professional cages that were about six hundred millimetres deep by about a metre wide and perhaps six or seven hundred millimetres high. They had mesh front, back and sides and a mesh floor so that droppings could fall through. Under each floor was a slide-in drip tray the size of the cage, that he had had made out of galvanised steel. I think there were about 12 cages in all.

As our two girls started to produce offspring the cages soon filled up (and Cyril added some new livestock I think) and it fell to me to clean the cages. As a city-raised child of nine or ten this was not something I took to with relish and there were often some vigorous exchanges about the poorly cleaned cages and drip trays. Cleaning was more difficult because the bunnies, usually two to a cage, produced prodigious amounts of droppings – mostly in one corner of the cage where all the droppings would clump together and stick in the mesh like tar. I was not strong enough to wield the wire brushes to good effect nor tall enough to get into the higher cages. My mother would then get stuck in and clean the cages out. Cyril would come home, see how well mom had done the job and come looking for me. (This may have occasioned the lone pine tree incident that I spoke of elsewhere).

I mentioned before that my mother and I would not eat rabbit, if we had raised the creature, but if it came from Bill as ANONYMOUS meat we condescended to consume the meat – rabbit is delicious by the way.

As to the commercial viability of the venture I seem to remember it fizzled out…The pelts were meant to be a by-product of the venture but I only remember a couple of pelts ever being properly cured while the rest turned hard and ugly. I think Marikane did cure a few pelts for himself and he got the odd rabbit to slaughter for his own consumption.

I believe that Bill Prince ended up with all the rabbits and their cages because, unlike Europe and Britain where rabbits are largely regarded as livestock, in South Africa the white people tended to think of rabbits in the category of domesticated pets. Black and coloured people would have gladly eaten rabbit but not at the kind of prices that these were being offered.

Cyril was very good with wood, and I picked up many ideas and some technique from him but because of his impatience with me, the experience was sporadic and came to be something that I would avoid.

Having decided that we should fence the plot Cyril bought a huge pile of raw pine split logs and made up sections of fence that looked roughly like this.

Each section was about 2 to 2.5 metres long with the ends about 1,800mm high and the middle about 1,400mm high. Each pole was about 100mm wide and 100mm apart and he nailed it all t0gether with 100mm nails which, for the first couple of prototypes he did not drive all the way in – leaving the rather big heads projecting for about 5mm. The sketch I have created is NOT to scale of course. The fence needed quite a few of these sections. In a 2 to 2.5 metre section there would have been twenty to twenty five uprights – a considerable weight of timber.

In order to be able to see these sections while getting the pattern right Cyril needed the sections upright and I, still aged nine, was roped in and made to sit on the ground and hold a section so that it could be viewed to see the effect.

One section of fence was MUCH heavier than I was so all I was doing was precariously balancing it in an upright position. I was taking some flak from Cyril as usual, not getting anything right according to him. My arms were getting tired when an errant gust of wind caught the structure.

I valiantly tried to hold the section but it pivoted to the horizontal on my outstretched arms. For just a moment I was supporting the entire weight of the section before my arms collapsed.  The structure fell on me, driving one of the protruding nail heads into the centre of my head. There was pain, surprise, a not-inconsiderable amount of blood and, I was nine, remember, howls of pain as I lay flattened under the section of fence.

“Bloody fool, why didn’t you hold the bloody thing up…useless idiot.” …words to that effect were directed at me but I think he had a fright because he soon had the thing off me and my mother was out with a cloth and warm water – and some words for Cyril. I think we went down to the hospital where they determined that apart from a sore head and a severe, shaved, bump – accompanied by a wound that was soon to scab over I would be OK. I was young enough, and my skull was still flexible so there was no skull damage. I do have a slight concavity on top of my head though, that perhaps might not have been there otherwise.

The finished front fence (I think Marikane was pressed into service – or someone was hired to complete it) was quite smart looking.

Somerset West childhood memories

Somerset West recollections from 60-plus years ago – I was asked to write about my memories of the place and it has turned into rather a long post…

When my mother married my stepfather in about 1953/54 they went to a place called MOON RISING on the road that ran from Helderberg college up over the shoulder of the mountain and down into Pérel Vallei (Silverboom Kloof Road, according to Google Earth). When they had been there a day or two a friend took me to visit and I stayed with them for a couple more days after which we all returned to Sea Point where we were living.

In about 1954 my stepfather and my mother bought a plot on an area called Helena Heights, situated on the flanks of the Helderberg Mountain. It was about four or five miles from the then village of Somerset West on the Stellenbosch road. We were in Irene Avenue – the fifth road to the left after turning off at the Cylnor Hotel (in those days Irene Avenue did not carry on to the right towards Pérel Vallei, as I now see it  doing on Google Earth). The Cylnor Hotel was on the corner of Old Stellenbosch Road and Helderberg College road where I see some shops are now located. In the fifties, and beyond I suspect, it was a very popular place.

Below, taken from Google earth – where we lived with my comments

Somerset West in the mid-fifties was considered true country living – thirty miles from Cape Town it was something of a sleepy hollow. On returning to the town in 1982 I was not too surprised to see the extent of development on Helena Heights but the town, with the new highways to get one there, seemed like a suburb of Cape Town! What did surprise me after having left, as a child 24 years previously was that I was able to take the Paarl turn-off and, via Stellenbosch, drive straight to our old house.

Anyway, 5 Irene Avenue was our plot and we were to build THE VERY FIRST HOUSE ON THE NEW ESTATE. My stepfather first built a wooden cabin that we lived in at weekends until they had enough to start building the house. The plot was just over an acre in extent and Cyril made it a stipulation that, apart from what would be absolutely necessary to build the house, NONE of the protea bushes was to be cleared so we had these magnificent, huge protea bushes dotted around all over the property.

We probably moved into the new house some time in 1955 when I was still at boarding school but I started Standard 3 at Somerset West Primary School in January 1956. I would have been nine years old. We used to get the school bus on the Stellenbosch road where it intersected with the Faure/Firgrove road, which I think was still a dirt road.

In summer they allowed us to go to school barefoot, (the reason given for this was so that poorer families could save some money). My stepfather very firmly told me that he would NOT allow me to go barefoot and I was always to wear shoes and socks to school.

Some of the children came from fairly well off families many of whom farmed in the area – grape farms had become a big thing with the wine industry starting to go full out. One of my classmates, with whom I was friendly, was a chap named Basil Boer whose family had a farm a couple of miles on the Stellenbosch side of where I used to catch the school bus. Basil used to go barefoot in summer, as did many other children who were in no way underprivileged so I was determined to do the same. For a while, I got away with it too.

I would take my shoes and socks off as soon as my parents had dropped me at the bus stop and driven off and I would hide them in a culvert to be collected when I returned after school. One day I stayed late at school and was given a lift home by a friend’s mother. It was only the next morning that I realised I had no shoes and socks to put on! The confrontation with my stepfather was not pleasant but at least the shoes and socks were where I had left them. I still went barefoot as often as I could but was a lot more careful with my shoes and socks.

I remember only a few teachers from my school days but Miss Melville, who was my teacher for quite some time at Somerset West Primary School, is one such. She was strict, with a forbiddingly upright demeanour but (and I began to realise this many years later) she was a teacher because it was her VOCATION – it was not just a job, it was her life’s purpose…and she was not that strict, either. It just seemed that way. Miss Mellville had a broad leather strap cut to form three tails that she used on the boys’ bums and the back of their legs – the girls only got it across the back of their legs. Not viciously or very hard and, I think that because family values were the way they were in that era, it was more the embarrassment and shame of being singled out for punishment rather than any lasting pain.

Certainly, my recollection of that time, of those punishments, is of a benign era of honour and decency and I doubt that ANY of Miss Melville’s pupils will be carrying emotional scars, as today’s PC folks would have us believe we should.

The school was dual medium and classes were streamed as Afrikaans medium or English medium but I think we all, certainly most of us, spoke both languages – using them quite unconsciously depending on who we were playing with.

It was a long time ago but some of the lessons taught by Miss Melville stay with me to this day – you may gather she made a big impression on this little boy. Miss Melville who we thought SO OLD, who rode an upright bicycle with mechanical brakes that had a basket in front and a carrier over the back wheel. The back wheel had a screen over it to prevent her skirts or dresses from catching in the spokes. …and she had a briefcase and a basket that came to school with her.

Yes, DRESSES AND SKIRTS – no such thing as trousers for a lady such as Miss M – even on a bicycle!

Calling children KIDS had started by then but Miss M overheard us using the term she would admonish us that we are CHILDREN and HUMAN young and that KIDS are the offspring of GOATS!

In 1957 at the end of Standard 4, a couple of us decided tat we would hide Miss Melville’s strap. The classroom blackboard was fixed to the wall and we got the strap firmly wedged up behind it. Lo and behold, next year Miss Melville took over Standard 5 so we were back in the same classroom! Miss M grumbled quite a bit about her missing strap but a few weeks into the new term, she became somewhat agitated with someone and banged the blackboard with the duster to make her point. There was a sound of something moving and, with a loud clatter, a very dusty leather strap tumbled out from behind the board. Holding the strap in her hand, she gave the class a triumphant glare – but said nothing.

My stepfather’s name was Cyril Williams and he was the kind of person who came to know everyone. In our time in Somerset West, he soon DID know everyone it seemed. He was friends with the butcher, the hotel owner – Barney Teperson (?), the hardware store owner even members of the police.

We used to have some wonderful braais at our place. It was before transistor radios and other personal devices and there would always be someone who had a guitar or piano accordion who came along and I have great memories of how popular my mother, Enid, was and what a fine singer too. She was always asked to sing the popular songs of the day – Moonlight and Roses, Memories are Made of This, Send Me the Pillow that You Dream on are just a few that come to mind.

Some people may not be aware that South Africa was VERY Calvinistic in that era and at about 1200 or 1300 on a Saturday all retailers closed. On Sundays, hotels could only serve liquor with a meal. Cinemas (or bioscopes as we knew them then) did not open on Sundays. If it was decided that we were going to have a braai and it was after closing on a Saturday Cyril would make a couple of phone calls, go for a drive and come back with meat and drinks and bread and the party would get going. Of course there was only one other house near us by 56/57 so no neighbours to worry about, as invariably they would be at the party.

In about 1956 a couple – who I only remember as Ginger and Iolanthe – built a house on the plot just in front and to the right of us (on Montrose Crescent directly opposite the end of Pierneef Street) – you could say at one o’clock from our plot and sharing a short bit of boundary in the corner. They had a baby named Cynthia (I think?). We kept rabbits and one day when Cynthia was a toddler, they came over and my stepfather gave the child a baby rabbit to hold. No one was watching the child as she hugged and hugged and hugged the little bunny. After a while I noticed that the little creatures head was lolling unnaturally – quite innocently, the little child had hugged the bunny to death!

The rabbit saga, that was to cause much strife for me and my mother, started when Cyril, bought a PAIR of rabbits with a view to breeding them for slaughter but they steadfastly refused to breed. Enter Bill Prince, a friend Cyril had made in the village who was from rural England. Bill determined that we had TWO FEMALES and after he had introduced a buck, we had something of a rabbit population explosion. My mom and I determined we would NOT eat OUR rabbits so the only ones we ever ate were the dressed-out-ready-to-cook ones obtained from Bill who was also breeding them.

My mom and I did that with every animal brought to the plot for breeding and eating. We made pets of them. The sheep – my mother cooked a leg of it but neither she nor I would eat any. Cyril was livid with us.

Enter the pig. When it came time to slaughter this creature Cyril decided that it was to be carried out in our big kitchen yard that was of steel-floated concrete with good drains. One of his less well-known friends, who claimed to know all about slaughtering and butchering, came along to assist. The calibre of pistol they used was too small and the wounded pig squealed and thrashed around the yard spraying blood while these two men tried to put it out of its misery. This was, I think, achieved with another bullet and slitting the now-stunned animal’s throat. My mother and I were periodically peeping out of an upstairs window, horrified by this obviously amateur debacle in the yard that was now awash with pig blood.

When the mess was cleared up and the butchering completed a few days later (I suspect some of that was done by the butcher friend in the village), some of the meat was brought home. Mom said she would cook it for him but she was buggered if either of us (mom or myself) would eat any of it. That bad vibe lasted for some time.

I was good friends with Andy Becket, a classmate whose grandparents had a small farm a short way up the road and spent many holidays and afternoons over there (it was only a short walk across a field to get there). I helped to turn the handle on the separator and I would get a glass of milk, still warm from the cow, for my trouble. Scones fresh from ouma’s oven with FRESH cream and FARM butter that I sometimes helped to churn.

Climbing Helderberg and almost getting stuck on the mountain. Going there again, caught by bad weather, stumbling around in the mist. We survived all that stuff and more and no one seemed to get into a panic at us actually packing some food in a school satchel and setting off for a day of adventuring.

Tree houses, amateurish and probably unsafe, built in trees on the farm. We swam in ponds of black water with soft squishy mud on the bottom: scaring each other with fanciful stories of monstrous creatures in the murky water.

The Cylnor was the local watering hole and although my stepfather was friends with Monty at the Helderberg Hotel the Cylnor was far enough out of town that they would close the doors after hours and the party would continue behind the closed doors. Not so easily done down in the town.

Does anyone remember playing WA WIEL (Wagon Wheel)? Never came across the game after I left SW. It was a children’s farmyard game played on a roughly 30-metre wagon wheel marked out in the sand. There was a big family on a large property on what I see is now called Future Road just next to the Old Stellenbosch Road. I became friends with the family and it is where I played Wa Wiel.

One time I was in town and playing cowboys in the grounds of the Helderberg with Monty’s son, Barney and a few others and I ran through a drainage ditch with some black waste water in it. I felt a tickle on my foot and a few minutes later one of the boys commented that I was bleeding. Sure enough, there were big splotches of blood where I had been moving around and, after I raised my foot, we saw a big cut in the ball of my foot, just behind my big toe.

No panic, Monty or one of the other adults, just got the cheerful coloured delivery bike rider from the off sales to put me in the basket on the front and run me up to the doctor – about a block away – leaving big splats of blood every couple of metres. At the doctors I sort of hopped up to the door only to be shooed away by the receptionist who made me go to the back door (where the coloured people used to enter) and I had to go in that way to be treated. Laws or regulations around the colour of one’s skin notwithstanding they were NOT about to let someone bleed on the floor of the practice!

I still have a faint scar from that cut. They did not stitch it and it healed quickly – we were real little animals!

I could barely keep my head above water when it came to swimming – let’s face it, I couldn’t swim. I learned though, in the Lourensford River a few hundred metres from the Helderberg Hotel when a friend chucked me into the river one day. Talk about sink or swim…

Stealing fruit was a rite of passage. No one needed to raid orchards or vineyards but we did it because they were there. On one occasion, on Lourensford estate, we were being chased – I cannot remember what fruit we had been helping ourselves to but probably grapes – and we rode off as fast as we could on our bikes through the pine trees where a vehicle could not go. The deep pine needles hid something else – stumps. After hitting one of these little stumps, I went flying over the handlebars. I bounced to my feet, grabbed my bike and joined the rest of the fleeing robbers. One friend also came off his bike, somehow landing up on his chest, which meant he had a lot of squashed fruit in his shirtfront!

I did not get along famously with my stepfather and one evening he came after me for some transgression or other. I jumped out of my first floor window onto a ledge and swung down off that to land in the garden. Then I took off. As I crossed the road in front of the house, I heard the front door open and he bellowed for me to stop. I ran faster but I was still small and I knew I would be caught so I had to make a plan. I ran along the footpath that went towards the Becket’s farm and when I got to the lone pine tree by the path I shinned up it as fast and as far as I could.

After yelling at me to come down he climbed up the tree but, when it bent alarmingly, he realised nothing was to be gained by both of us falling some 15 or 20 feet to the ground. He climbed down, all the time demanding that I come down. I stayed. After a bit he left and went home where I heard him shouting at my mother after which he drove off in the car in the direction of the village. Still I stayed. After some time I heard my mother calling from the corner, assuring me it was OK to come home and have my supper…

At our house the front door faced the street and around the back of the garage, where the maid’s room was, we had a door into the kitchen yard, which the maid could use. We had a big coloured woman as our housemaid and a rough one she could be – especially when in the wine. She was married to a very gentlemanly black Nyasalander (today he would be a Malawian).

The doorbell was wired so that the front door had a double ring BING-BONG, BING-BONG while the tradesman’s, or servants, entrance had a single tone – BONG, BONG, BONG. Both of these rings only chimed ONCE at each push of the button.

One Saturday night the tradesman’s bell started its monotonous BONG….BONG….BONG and no amount of cursing and swearing out of the upstairs window would stop it. In high dudgeon and with all of us awake, Cyril went down to see what the hell was going on. Before he could start yelling, the husband fell forward through the door, bleeding rather profusely and superfluously informing us that he had been stabbed.

After packing old blankets and stuff around the man, I went with to the village hospital where they removed about seventy millimetres of broken knife blade from his back near the spine and the heart. I do not remember if they kept him in but he had bled right through the padding we had wrapped him in in the short time it had taken to get to the hospital. He recovered quickly and was soon seen around the garden where he helped from time to time.

It turned out that he had been to a farm compound to FETCH his wife who he believed was buggering around with someone. After receiving considerable abuse, he had decided to leave when he was stabbed from behind while simultaneously being told to bugger off by all present.

The stabber was identified and deemed to have been drunk; he was sentenced to only three months in jail!

This has turned into something far bigger than I had expected it to be when I started but I will finish with two more anecdotes…

In early 1958 the new cinema (bioscope) opened in SW at the top of the street as you came into town from the Stellenbosch side – it was about a block up from the road where the Primary school was.

Elvis Presley’s JAILHOUSE ROCK was the feature film, showing for the first show in the new cinema. It was a black and white film and probably the only B & W movie he ever made…?

I so dearly wanted to see this movie (I was not quite eleven and a half) and managed to cobble together the one and sixpence (about fifteen cents) that was the normal ticket price and walked from Helena Heights into the village. When I got to the ticket office the price had been put up to one and ninepence – or about eighteen cents!!

I knew my parents had gone to Gordon’s Bay for the afternoon so, figuring to come back for the late afternoon show, I started to hitch hike to GB. I did not get many lifts and was standing on the road about halfway between G B and the Strand when a family friend stopped to ask what I was doing. I said I was trying to find my folks so that I could get the extra tickey (threepence) to get into the Elvis movie in town. I think it may have been about that time that my parent’s happened along and Cyril was angry with me while my mother was quite aback taken – she just wanted to help me sort this out.

I don’t remember WHAT exactly transpired except that I ended up getting into the movie. Every time old swivel-hips came on screen and started to sing all the girls SHRIEKED (and there were a LOT of girls in there) and no one could hear a thing. The manager turned off the sound, the screaming stopped, sound on – screaming, sound off – quiet, sound on…. Eventually the manager came out and said he would restart the film but if there was any more screaming he would stop the film entirely and it would be the fault of the screamers.

So I watched, and heard, Jailhouse Rock and the very start of any screaming became muffled as boyfriends shushed their dates and groups of girls managed to keep themselves in check.

At New Year there would be a New Year’s Eve dance-cum-ball in the town hall. I and a few other children were able to attend if we kept quiet and sat upstairs in the balcony. The town hall had also been the town cinema before and there were comfortable seats upstairs. There would be a huge net with coloured balloons suspended from the ceiling and a bar going like the clappers – not sure if there was food but there probably was…

Below: My mother, Enid, on the right, Cyril (holding Teddy the maltese) and a friend of theirs.

I remember sitting upstairs watching the grown-ups and, even as a youngster I was aware of how good-looking my mother was and how much attention she received – both good (from the men mostly) and bad (from some of the women!). Looking back as an adult I know I was right when I often thought my mother the most beautiful woman at any gathering.

At midnight the balloons would be released and there would be singing of Auld Lang Syne and other songs and my mother might be asked to sing along to the piano. Next thing I would know would be being carried to the car or woken up to go home and perhaps a bacon sandwich.

Above: My mother at around age 20

If more comes to mind I will add to this post…it was the best of times in many ways and a few years later perhaps the worst of times. After we went to Rhodesia in mid-58 my stepfather’s fortunes changed for the worse and we lost the house in SW and, to a large extent, our way of life and standard of living. He died in a car accident in June 1961. My mother remained in Rhodesia with me and my much younger brother and sister, who had been born there, and our little dog, Teddy. She made a home and a life for us and we were all OK.

HF Radio-telephone Botswana

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In 1985 I worked for a small radio communications company in Johannesburg.

The owner of the company was something of a wheeler-dealer in the radio industry at the time and he had managed to get in with the owners of the then Tuli Safari Lodge in Botswana (I think it still exists – the pictures are from a google search of the name). It was situated a couple of kilometres inside the most eastern corner of Botswana and, by road from South Africa, was reached by crossing at a tiny police station/combined border post called Pont Drift.

I think it may have been late winter or mid spring in South Africa. On this occasion his advice damned nearly got my wife, Margaret, and I locked up in Botswana. 

When I lived in South Africa I carried a Browning 9mm Hi-Power that I had bought and carried in my Rhodesia days and my boss’ advice was just chuck it under the seat or in your toolbox and you will be fine. I should, in fact, have handed it in for safe-keeping with the police at Pont Drift on the South African side but I took the boss’ advice and it was only when I presented myself on the Botswana side that I realised that this had been a BAD IDEA!

The country was, and is, paranoid about private weapons especially if you bring them across the border with you, undocumented. Only if you have completed the reams of paperwork required as a professional hunter can you bring rifles into the country. Handguns were treated as a great sin.

There were signs everywhere warning of the DIRE consequences of bringing undeclared weapons into the country and I had heard one or two chilling stories of incidents involving weapons and these were brought to front of mind in no uncertain terms.

Too late now, so I brazened it out and we were allowed in and drove up to the lodge.

Why were we there…of course…well a radio tech had been sent up a couple of months previously to sort out the HF radio. This was very important to the operations of the lodge because, in those days, before the advent of cell phones the only telephone link to remote places in Botswana was radio-telephone. It had been thus for many years – if you received a call an operator established communications with you then – using acoustic coupling (basically connecting the telephone to the handset of the radio) – they allowed the call to proceed. Outgoing calls were initiated by radio and the control operator made the phone call and connected the radio subscriber. Callers on phones had to use radio procedure because, unlike a telephone or cell phone, only one person can talk at a time so you HAD TO wait until the other person had stopped speaking before you could take your turn. Of course call quality was variable but if you had a GOOD HF LINK it made a huge difference.

Anyway the technician had gone up there and basically buggered around and made little if any difference to the performance of the radio link. Very shortly after he left call quality dropped off to virtually non-existent other than at some arbitrary times of the day. The owners had paid and they were seriously NOT AMUSED so I had been sent up to sort things out. Because the boss was on good terms with the people at the lodge I was invited to bring my wife up. Margaret took a day or two off and we travelled up – on a Friday I think – arriving very late in the afternoon.

We were allocated a very comfortable room and invited to join the evening game drive which was most enjoyable even though we had been travelling all day. I think we also did the early morning game drive on Saturday.

Meals were taken in a semi-circle, each at your own little table and this worked to get everyone present talking to each other. A great atmosphere and wonderful food (and the worry in the back of my mind about the pistol lying disassembled under a bunch tools and greasy rags in a compartment of my Microbus).

After breakfast I got stuck in and examined the radio. This piece of equipment was located behind the bar which was partly inside and partly under, a large hollow baobab tree.

After I connected my wattmeter to the radio and plugged the antenna lead into it I got the strangest readings. Basically there ought to have been NO COMMUNICATION AT ALL and in fact I felt that it was so badly mismatched that I was surprised that the radio had not blown a final. How strange, I thought, the tech who had been up must have done the same test??

Only thing for it and, getting a ladder, I climbed up into the tree to see where the feeder cable led to thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

Imagine my surprise when I found the radiating elements (made of bare copper wire) had been NAILED TO THE BRANCHES OF THE TREE using metal staples made from wire nails bent into a U shape!!

One of the basic things we were always taught on signals course was that you avoid having any part of the radiating elements touching trees or poles even though our antenna in the army would normally be using insulated wire. I was flabbergasted that someone who was supposedly a radio technician would have done this!!

I had been given the frequencies for the equipment before leaving Johannesburg and had grabbed some petty cash and, using 2.5mm panel wire and some stuff I had lying around, I had made up a two-element HF dipole in my garage at home. I proceeded to erect my antenna – that necessarily had to be spread above the lawn covered beer garden area near the baobab bar.

The owner had been away but when he came back he was rather disconcerted to find the antenna strung above his guest area. He said the previous technician had taken heed of this and made sure that the antenna was unobtrusive to which I retorted that it was so unobtrusive as to be completely ineffective too. Did he want communications that he could rely on or were aesthetics more important? He could not have both. With a bit of a grumble he let me carry on.

By late afternoon I was happy and confident that the equipment would now perform correctly. I had been receiving some flak from the control station in Gaborone because my testing was causing interference on the radio net that served all outlying places in the country. I had apologised for that and explained why and said that if calls came through I would wait for them to be completed. (The duty barman said that was the best comms, while I was still setting up, that he had heard since being there!)

Anyway, after a quick wash I went on the evening game drive. Margaret had already been on the day drive during which they had stopped somewhere to look at a view or while the guide pointed out something of interest.

Margaret had seen some colourful rocks and picked up three or four pieces thinking the pretty colours would look nice with a pot-plant or in a rockery at home. Probably agate (in picture) or quartz which is plentiful in the area.

Sunday morning was spent on another game drive followed by a pleasant breakfast-in-the-round and later we set off back to Johannesburg.

At the Botswana border post we were asked if we had anything to declare. Now I must comment here that the brightest people are probably not going to end up in a backwater like this but that did not make them NOT THOROUGH. So thorough, in fact, that some of the things we were asked were frankly ludicrous but they were asked in absolute seriousness. What plants were we taking out if any, did we have any minerals or diamonds that we had collected and so on and then the dreaded question – “May we look through your vehicle, sir?” as if I was in any position to refuse.

Heart pounding and dry-mouthed I walked out and opened the sliding door and the first thing they noticed on the floor was Margaret’s innocent bits of prettily coloured stones. I could have held the stones in one hand but these boys lit up and all of a sudden they wanted to know if we had any diamonds? What else did we have? Would I open the back? Take out the stuff in the back, open the engine compartment please?

They were poking into everything looking in our bags, in my toolbox and Margaret was nearly in tears explaining about the pieces of stone saying she would throw them out to prove that they were just something she liked and picked up off the ground. To their unsophisticated but officious and suspicious minds no-one just picked up some stones because they were prettily coloured – we had to be up to something.

I suppose the whole episode did not last much longer than what seem like a full day but was probably thirty minutes in reality. The worst bit was the homemade bins I had between the front seats of the bus.

“What is in here?” “Oh my rubbish bag and rags that I use when I work on greasy stuff and probably a couple more tools” I said as nonchalantly as I could.

He was trying to open it as if it was hinged and I slid the lids open one at a time. He poked round in the smaller one that had some grubby stuff in it (I can’t remember where I got it from but it had not come with us). Sliding open the next one I gingerly put two fingers in and picked up a particularly dirty, greasy rag.

“What else is in there?”  “I think there is a spare oil cap (there was) this water pressure cap,” as I fished them out and waved my hand at the bundle of greasy rags now lying in the bin. He looked on as I gingerly started to put my hand in again, as if I did not want to get any dirtier, then said “OK, you can go” and proceeded to lecture us on the sovereignty of Botswana and how they do not appreciate diamond smugglers etc etc. (the nearest diamond mine is about 450 kilometres away in the middle of the country in a very barren area – there are NO DIAMONDS in the Tuli area but I was not going to argue that point).

We went in and got our passports stamped, thanked the officials, got into the car and drove off as sedately as we could – barely breathing and expecting to be called back at any second. Margaret’s stones…did we get to keep them? After all this time I can’t remember.

We crossed back into South Africa – taking several deep, shuddering breaths of relief as we arrived. I told the policeman on duty about our adventure as he stamped our passports and he told us we were very lucky indeed because they could be quite savage on anyone breaking the weapons rules in Botswana.

About a week went by before I got feedback that the radio communications were now the best they had ever been in roughly the twenty years the lodge operators had been there. They thanked us and told my employer that I was welcome there at any time. We never took them up on it though we did discuss it. The remains of the copper antenna wire are probably still there, embedded in the tree I imagine.

That good old Rhodesian Army Corps of Signals training and experience had struck again!

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

HF Antenna Lesotho

It might seem strange that I have included this with my military experiences (it is posted elsewhere too). The reason for doing so is that this anecdote would not have been possible without the training and experience I received in the Rhodesian army. That includes being innovative and a bit of a “McGyver” type of person.

In the late 1980s I worked for a company called RF Marketing (RFM). My friend Rick Borrett also worked there and was one of the top salesmen (he may have been sales manager by then).

Rick had sold a lot of radio equipment into Lesotho and I was to accompany him on several of his trips to that little country to sort out radio problems. On one trip I had to squat in a small snowbank on a mountaintop while I worked on a VHF repeater and its solar panels. Just to make things more pleasant it was gently snowing.

We had been flown up in a Lesotho Defence Force helicopter (they rented them out for commercial use) and while the pilot sat in the warm aircraft we trudged over to the job and I got stuck in. Of course our clothing was quite inadequate for the cold but, in order to use my tools, I had to remove my gloves. Quite soon Rick remarked that I could not use my gloves, could I? Rhetorical question that it was I grunted in the negative to which he replied “Please can I use them?” and I handed over my nice leather, fur-lined gloves so that he could keep his hands warm.

After about forty minutes I had finished the work and I was so cold that I seriously, just for a moment, thought of abandoning my tools there on the mountaintop and scrambling into the warm helicopter waiting fifty metres away. They were my personal tools and Rick had the good grace to help me chuck them into my toolbox and then take one side of the toolbox to carry it to the helo.

We scrambled in and Rick asked the pilot to get us off the mountain as quickly as possible. He gave me back my gloves. The aircraft heater warmed the cabin and I warmed up a bit as we descended. Twenty minutes later after getting out of the chopper we were removing layers of clothing.

It was on one of these trips that I had the most sincere, if back-handed, compliment from Rick. He was muttering about some bloke approaching us as we waited for a light aircraft at some bush airstrip. In reply to my question he said, “He is a bloody idiot – his pockets are always full of bits of string and stuff and Swiss-army knives and shit like that.”

Somewhat disconcerted I replied “Well that sounds a bit like me with all my McGyver-type stuff.” Rick’s reply was something like “Yeah, but you know what to do with all that fucking shit.” A compliment is a compliment, I suppose! …and I still do – carry a lot of shit with me per the illustration!

Oh, HF, that is what I started with! Lesotho is a tiny land-locked country completely surrounded by South Africa and only measures about 210 x 162 kilometres in extent – about 34,000 square – kilometres and VERY mountainous.

A donor country had decided to build a micro hydroelectric station to provide power to an area way up in the mountains near the area that is the highest point of the famous Roof of Africa rally.

They found a steep mountain stream that made a short hairpin bend and doubled back to flow about 20-30 metres lower down but probably 30 metres or so from the uphill section if measured horizontally. The photo shows an area in Lesotho where the river doubles back on itself similar to what I have described. By diverting the upper part of the river they tunnelled down and through the dividing piece of mountain, installed a small hydro generator and then allowed the river to flow again after partially damming it BELOW the upper entrance to the tunnel. This now became the race for the head of water that would drive the generator. Very clever but not a short-duration project. The company had an HQ in Maseru, the capital, but very poor communications to the construction site.

Rick had sold them HF radios that had been installed by one of the technicians but the radios were not working at all – well the communication was non-existent while there was nothing wrong with the radios. The antenna of course, were another matter and we set off with poles, ropes, pegs, cables, connectors and some HF antennas I had made up in my garage at home.

On arrival I installed an end-fed long wire antenna at the base station because there was no room for any other kind of antenna and next day we got a light aircraft from the airport and were flown in to this VERY high landing strip on top of a mountain. It was a bit windy but early in the day so the air was relatively still. The landing – for the uninitiated – was quite hair-raising on this dirt strip that ended at a cliff drop-off. I think the picture is of that actual airstrip in Lesotho.

Taken up to the camp I proceeded to erect my poles – with help from Rick and a couple of men assigned to help us. I then erected a conventional HF dipole, connected it to the radio and then had to trim it by keying the transmitter, checking my antenna meter, adjust the length of each element of the antenna (calculating the antenna length is not an exact science in the field and it is necessary to let out or take in the ends until the correct reading is obtained). While we were doing this we had to keep telling the people at base to shut up while we worked – they were so chuffed that they could hear us and that we could obviously hear them!!

When this was done I tied off the ends of the antenna, checked the stays on the poles and told them they were set to go. “That antenna is not high enough” one of the local old hands had observed when I started and I had assured him it was. The finished job left the radiating elements of the antenna about three or four metres above the ground (depending on where you stood) but a car or pickup could drive under it. I told them in no uncertain terms, that apart from ensuring that the antenna was safe and secure, to NOT be tempted to move it or change its height from the ground.

“Why is it so low?”, I was asked and I explained about needing to get the signal up and down quickly because, although driving through the mountains took hours the base was only about 50-60 kilometres away in a straight line. The fact that it worked was irrefutable but they were confused and pointed out that the International Red Cross (IRC) down the road (about a couple of hours drive away) had these very precisely arrayed antennas and that they were at least thirty metres off the ground.

I enquired if they knew who they talked to and it turned out that they had wonderful HF communications with Switzerland. And in Lesotho? Oh those radios could not talk to anyone in Lesotho. I surmised that those antennas had probably been professionally erected with the express purpose of very long range communications. (We passed the IRC buildings next day and the antennas were indeed erected with Germanic precision on lattice masts that towered over the place).

Now that we had communications at the site the first message we got was that there would be no aircraft coming for us because the wind had come up and aircraft could not land or take off from the mountaintop!!

Our hosts rounded up some beers, coke and brandy, gave us a good feed and we sat around chatting, drinking and listening to Billy Connolly tapes in the cookhouse. I had chosen to sleep in the manager’s caravan (he was away) and the wind kept me awake most of the night, fearful that it would lift the caravan and chuck it off the mountain with me inside! Rick had chosen to sleep in one of the accommodation containers – it was heavy, dark and quiet and he slept well.

Rick looked rather rough in the morning though, having consumed the best part of a bottle of brandy with coke the previous evening!

Still no aircraft, we learned after a hearty breakfast, so they arranged a four-wheel drive pickup for us with a driver. Rick, who is an excellent driver, had their man in the back seat within the first couple of kilometres – I did not blame him because the driver did NOT instil confidence. There were stretches that were a bit like those horror roads you see in the video clips from South America and, narrow as the roads were, Rick was on the inside closest to the mountain while I looked fearfully at the horrendous drop-offs on my left. After FIVE LONG HOURS we got down on the level and merely had to contend with some rioters throwing stuff at us as we zipped past. My Microbus was still safely standing at the airport – untouched. We handed the pickup over to the company driver, went to our hotel for a shower and a meal and next day started back to Johannesburg.

It was most satisfying to get feedback from the client that they were very happy with their NEW communications – having been ready to box everything up and send it back to us.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

Antenna – it ain’t broke!

Rhodesia is – was, if you prefer to use the name Zimbabwe – a small country measuring roughly 750 kilometres (or 466 miles) north to south and 850 kilometres (529 miles) west to east.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that can be erected either a T or an inverted (upside down) V configuration.

In the early 70s, probably around 1972/1973, JOC Hurricane, the operational field headquarters of Operation Hurricane and HQ 2 Brigade, moved from Centenary to the small town of Bindura.

The camp was just on the edge of the town and there were several very large trees around the grounds that provided shade to mainly the middle of the camp where the ops rooms – and officer’s messes – were located.

The radio room and other communications were housed in a long corrugated iron building just inside the boom-guarded entrance to the camp. The back of the building was towards the road and we erected our antennae on three poles in a T configuration between the building and the road.

The centre pole supported the centre point of four antennas (we used four frequencies as a rule – night frequency, day frequency and two intermediate frequencies). The outer poles were where the ends of the dipoles were supported by their halyards. The longest antenna, for the lowest frequency, was highest on the pole and the shortest, for the highest frequency, on the bottom.

The antenna each had their own feeder that ran into the radio room. Instead of having a common feed or some way of combining the feeders we marked the ends of the feeders, near the radio connector, with the relevant frequency number on a piece of tape and when we changed frequency we removed and connected the cables accordingly. 

This unsophisticated, simple but effective, setup gave us excellent communications coverage of our operational area and, had we wanted to, we could have communicated with any part of the country.

One day, probably around the 20th of the month, we had a visit from a warrant officer who was

stationed with the signals technical squadron and;
was a radio amateur and;
was a very self-important and self-opinionated person – and also a genuinely, very clever electronics/radio technician.

Our OC at the time was also a keen radio amateur and this warrant officer swamped the OC with jargon and theory to the point that he gained permission to REORGANISE our antennas to OPTIMISE our communications. He maintained that the antennas were too close to each other – although only one was in use at any one time, not high enough and that they ought to be more spread out and not parallel to each other.

Our interfering warrant officer, having obtained carte blanche from the OC, against my ultimately ineffectual protestations, proceeded to have my men climbing trees and stringing the antennas anything from one and a half to two times as high as our little behind-the-radio-room masts. We now had this spider-web of antennas, feeder cables and halyards in the trees over the headquarters.

On questioning my exhausted operators over the next day or two after the visitor had departed, I determined that the only noticeable difference was that communications were not as good as before the rearranging of the antennas. Also more frequency changes had to be made to maintain communications.

At the end of every month we were issued a list of new frequencies to use and all antennas had to be trimmed to the new dimensions and tuned up. This involved physically changing the length of the antenna elements but now our antennas were tangled in the treetops and endangering the men trying to work with them.

I approached the OC and asked if I might speak frankly. He agreed and I asked him (probably a bit sarcastically – which he took in good part I seem to remember) if he could get Sergeant Major XX from 12 Squadron out with a team to change our antennas for us because, as he was aware, it was changeover time. I also reiterated what I had already told him – that there had been zero HF communication improvement in relation to the effort that had been required to create the spider web above our heads.

With a rueful smile the OC conceded that he had allowed the silver-haired, smooth-tongued warrant officer to mislead him, against his better judgement, in respect of our practical and functional antenna set-up. “Put it back as it was, Staff,” he told me “and apologise to the men for all the trouble”. “Thank you Sir, I replied”.

He was a really decent man, Henton Jaaback, destined to become our last Corps Commander and one of the finest I ever served with. He became a friend after our service – he was lost to us a few years ago.

The men almost cheered with gratitude and, with renewed enthusiasm, they got the antennas back to the good, practical setup we had been using. Afterwards we had rolls and rolls of co-axial feeder cable left over from the loooonnng feeder cables that had been necessary to reach the antennas in the tree canopy over the HQ. A real waste in those troubled times but I think they were recycled and eventually put to good use.

There is always a balance between theory and practical experience and the lesson taken from this is – if it ain’t broke, don’t go FIXING it.

For some information on HF antenna go to my earlier post
http://eriktheready.com/about-antennas/

About HF antennas

This article will, of necessity, be VERY basic…

One of my favourite subjects has always been HF (High Frequency) radio communications. Because it can be fairly demanding I have found, over the years, that people do not want to be bothered with it. The antennas require knowledge to erect and maintain, some knowledge of how frequencies react at certain times of the day and, particularly in the case of mobile installations, some knowledge of the principles of earthing and potential differences. Very few people have believed in HF and if they did not have someone on hand who could look after it the installations that were put in would be neglected and the equipment blamed for all manner of reasons.

I talk about HF in several of my articles and I thought perhaps I should devote a short post to outlining some of the basics of how HF radio works – this is very basic so, all you technical types, please don’t confuse the issue with complex discussion around the subject.

HF (High Frequency) radio is normally accepted as being intended for long range communications beyond the reach of conventional VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. Long range can be anything from a few hundred kilometres to halfway round the world and the construction, and type, of antenna plays a big part in HF communications.

The most common HF antenna in use – and that was used in the Rhodesian Army – is the half-wave dipole that was normally erected in a T configuration (an inverted, upside down, V configuration can be used where a space for a normal dipole is constrained) (see graphics). I know that these antenna work exceptionally well for short and medium distance HF communication – and in some cases, properly erected, around the world.

 

 

One of the VERY BASIC antenna fundamentals we were taught on our operators’ courses was – the greater the distance you want to cover on HF the higher the antenna needs to be. Conversely an antenna that was comparatively low to the ground (as ours generally were), would tend to have a much SHORTER skip distance (bearing in mind that the area covered when the signals came back to earth was not a SPOT but actually a very large (almost) omni-directional footprint. Remember – Rhodesia has a comparatively small land area less than 900 kilometres at its widest point.

So, although with our VHF communications we were always trying to get high ground for our relay stations, the rationale in respect of HF was a bit different.

Skip distance is the distance from where the effective ground coverage (the area of direct communication over the ground from the base to an outlying station) ends and the first radio waves refracted from the ionosphere return to earth (see graphic). This is because a dipole antenna is primarily designed for long range communication and makes use of sending the signal to the ionosphere where it is refracted (bounced if you like) back to earth. The sharper the angle at which the signal reaches the ionosphere the closer to the base station it will return to earth. The reverse is true and is achieved by adjusting the height of the antenna from the ground to control the angle of the radio wave.

Think of looking into a mirror. If two people stand a metre apart in front of a mirror the angle at which they see each other is very small. If they move away from each other so as to still be able to see each other in the mirror, the angle at which they are looking into the mirror becomes greater and greater as they move further apart.

Besides the height of the antenna two other main factors affect how the radio waves react to the ionosphere. The frequency in use and the power of the transmitter. Too much power can be as bad as too little and the wrong frequency for the time of day will result in poor, or no, communications. I will resist going into too much detail and, for those who are interested, much information is available on the web. I know what I was taught by very good instructors a lifetime ago and what I have learned because I so enjoyed the subject – but it is practical stuff that I will post about in other ANTENNA articles – about my experience of the use and misuse of antenna in both the military and as a civilian!

Lost!

In 1968, when you travelled towards the Chirundu border post in the Zambezi valley you took the Lomagundi road out of Salisbury (Harare). After passing through Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and Karoi you arrived at Makuti, 290 kilometres from Salisbury (Harare) which is where the road split and by turning left you would drive down to Kariba. Take out the old names and the exact same directions apply!

Up to 1980 the Makuti motel used to do a roaring trade out of the almost never-ending stream of service people traveling through the area. A great place where many a frosty has been gratefully downed. I gather it is still a welcome watering hole for travellers in the region.

Proceeding on from Makuti towards the Valley one arrived at the Marongora Parks and Wildlife offices.

The start of the section of OLD ROAD into the Valley was near Marongora. This piece of road is a narrow, steep tar/strip road off the new road and it reaches the Valley floor nearly 1000 feet below Marongora at a small stream (usually dry) where there is, or used to be, a large wild fig or similar tree. A lot of army patrols would base up near here and it was about two kilometres distant from where the new road reached the valley floor.

The old road then meanders along for a while but, if you don’t turn off west towards the hunting camps or Nyamoumba, where the Kariba gorge ends, then the old road takes you back onto the new main road twelve kilometres or so further on.

The area described above is roughly diamond shaped, twelve kilometres long by three to four kilometres wide at the widest point. The long sides of the diamond are bounded by the old road to the west and the new road – that still carried a lot of traffic in 1968 – to the east. On a quiet morning you could hear the trucks on the new road as they traversed the escarpment about two kilometres away.

A large stream bisects the area from north to south.

In 1968 I was a L Cpl and attached, from just before Easter to about mid-July, to the first company of SAP (South African Police) to be based at Chirundu. (That is 21 year old me in the picture, posing next to the helicopter).

At one point they had a small patrol base, as described above, at the foot of the escarpment on the old road. 

As already mentioned, the area was about twelve kilometres long with the two roads about one and a half to two kilometres apart at the base of the escarpment and at no point did the two roads diverge more than, at most, four kilometres from each other.

Anyway, one of the SAP’s first patrols in the area got lost, well and truly lost, BETWEEN these two roads. They ran out of communications or, most probably had not taken radios (excuse: they are heavy) so when they had not returned from what was to have been a twenty-four hour patrol there was some consternation and eventually we (the Rhodesian Army) were asked to get trackers in.

The trackers quickly found the somewhat wide-eyed, thirsty, and slightly panicky, patrol.

They reported that the patrol had walked to within a few metres of the main road a couple or more times and had actually CROSSED the old road at one or two places. Mostly, though, they had walked in circles although deliberately changing direction sometimes.  All within an area less than nine square kilometres in extent. I think the patrol members reported that they had fired shots a couple of times to attract attention but I cannot remember if that was so. The trackers also reported – again I am uncertain – that the patrol had walked past elephant and, at one point, perhaps either lion or hyena – entirely possible as there were, and are, plenty of these, and other, wild animals in the Valley.

The trackers also felt that the patrol had approached the main road so closely that they should have seen the road and heard, even seen, traffic on it. Presumably so bewildered at being lost they did not register these otherwise plainly noticeable things.

There was considerable teasing and quite a bit of sneering about this but the point is…

These young men were POLICEMEN who had been taken from the beat and been given a short, sharp, paramilitary course. Some (perhaps all) had received some training from the South African Army prior to coming to Rhodesia. Based on the attitude displayed to us Rhodesians, when we did further pre-deployment training with them at Inkomo Garrison, it would be fair to say that the same disdainful attitude to the training would have pertained among many of them and few, if any, lessons had been absorbed or taken seriously by many of the men. (More on this in another post sometime).

It is my opinion that policemen are trained to have a different attitude by virtue of often working alone or in pairs – the army way must have been a bit stifling and bewildering to them. This in charge, almost disdainful-of-authority, attitude really did not work in anti-terrorism patrolling when pretty much each individual felt HE should be in charge making the patrol leader’s task difficult. I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be brought into a discussion around this – that is not my intention.

So, with little training in the way of soldiering and very few of the various skills that a soldier is taught, this patrol was shambling around – lost – and it illustrates how easily one CAN get lost if the basics of navigation and map reading are not learned and observed. It also illustrates how the anxiety of being lost can affect a group’s powers of observation. They came so close to being able to follow a road and they just failed to register what was in front of them.

The calibre of these men was to improve as time passed and lessons were learned. However, they were to suffer a number of casualties before the reality sank in that this was actually a serious situation. It was not, as one South African journalist around that time commented, “…only a bunch of disgruntled cookboys running around in the bush with a few guns…” (or words to that effect), belittling the very real terrorist war that was just getting started.

This satellite image from Google Earth shows the area under discussion.

If you go to Google Earth and enter Rukomeshe research it will find it as Rukomeshe Research Station, Hurungwe, Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. By zooming OUT and scrolling LEFT (or West) from Rukomeshe you will find the area of the attached map. Then, by zooming in you can actually see the old road fairly clearly. The faint blue triangular area is the area that was to be patrolled. The patrol got lost somewhere between the old road and the new main road, a bit west of the prominent river feature I believe.

If anyone reading this remembers the incident or can add more insight I would be glad to hear from them.

Trish, Tish and David

Pay close attention all ye Patricias, Tishes and Trishes and, too, all ye Davids attend.

This is stuff you cannot make up.

I went to GFS in 1959 and my brother David, was born that year in Sinoia.

At the end of 1960 I was made to leave Guinea Fowl School, because my stepfather could not pay my boarding fees, and the following year, 1961, my sister, Patricia was born. She, when she was old enough to decide, became Trish – unequivocally.

Also in 1961, unknown to me at the time, David Brooke-Mee (who was to become my stepson 15 years later – and is today my best friend) was also born. …and in 1964 his younger sister, Patricia, was born and she was to become TISH.

Still with me here?

My brother and sister have (had, in Trish’s case) the surname WILLIAMS. Now pay attention at the back there! This meant, of course, that my mother was Mrs Williams (it IS important).

Tish, remember(?) was to marry, in the 80s, one Spike Williamson (that’s WILLIAMSON) – pay careful attention here.

Come the 1990s and I have been stepfather to the Brooke-Mee children since 1976 and Margaret and I are living in South Africa.

On a visit to South Africa, and staying with us, are Spike and Tish. They have taken Spike’s mother to stay with her sister on the other side of town.

Debbie, a cousin to my brother’s wife, phones to contact MY mother.

Spike:                     (answering the phone): Hello
Debbie:             Hello, is Mrs Williams there. (he is used to the …son being dropped from his surname)
Spike:             No, she’s in Randburg. (forgetting he now has a wife…)
Debbie:                Oh, (slightly puzzled) …er, do you know how I can contact Trish?
Spike:                      Oh, Tish, she’s here, hang on.
Debbie:                  OK…
Tish:                         (coming to the phone) Hello?
Debbie:            (not recognising the voice) Is that Trish (Tish is used to this, see?)
Tish:                        Yes.
Debbie:                 David’s sister?
Tish:                       Yes…..

ORDERS! ORDERS, SHUN!

In 1979 I was posted to 2(Brigade) Signal Squadron (2(Bde)Sig Sqn) as the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM). 

Among the duties carried out by SSMs and CSMs is bringing members of the unit up on disciplinary charges. (This is the only picture I have of myself as a WO2 – or Sergeant Major – taken on a course in late 1978)

I had carried out this task a few times over the years as SSgt and WO2 and it was not a particularly difficult thing to do. You just had to make sure that your facts were right and that you framed the charges correctly, using the correct sections of the Defence Act (Military Discipline).

On this occasion though, the accused was a member of the RWS (Rhodesian Womens’ Service) who was posted to the squadron in an administrative post.

She had been late for duty on a few occasions, been absent without leave and been insubordinate. Because she was married and had young children (her husband was also an NCO in Signals), she had been verbally cautioned by myself and the admin officer but now the warnings had run out and if nothing had been done it would have set a very bad precedent in the unit.

Accordingly, charges had been framed and I was to march in the orders party to appear in front of Maj George Galbraith, who was OC of the squadron.

Army readers will probably be familiar with the procedure – the accused has an escort and, if there are witnesses who are equal, or junior in rank, to the accused they too are “marched in”. I think there was one witness and they formed up, standing at ease, in the passage outside the OC’s office facing me – escort on the left, accused and then witness.

In my best (and it used to be quite impressive) SSM voice I called them to attention, turned them to their right and marched them in – this is done, as mentioned, in the stentorian tones of the parade ground and FAST…so:

AWWDUUHZ, AWWDUUHZ, SHUN!
ORDERS…RIGHT TURN-BY THE FRONT-QUICK MARCH –
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT—RIGHT-WHEEYUL (into the office),
RIGHT WHEEL (around the door),
LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-MARK TIME! LEF, RI, LEF, RI, LEF, RI….
AWWDUUHZ, HALT. ORDERS LEFT TURN. (This last to get them facing the OC’s desk).

As I saluted and opened my mouth to announce the orders party and read the charges to the OC, he held up his hand to stop me – and the office filled with sniffles and snot-swallowing and howling and crying…CRYING! ON ORDERS!

“Sar’ major, I think you had better march them out again and let the accused compose herself” he said drily. As my mouth opened to start the reversal of the process the OC signalled for less volume. I almost choked trying to keep the tradition up at less than half volume but I got them out into the passage. After ordering the escort to take the accused to sort herself out and get back in five minutes, I reported back to the OC.

As I closed the door he was chuckling, obviously trying hard NOT to guffaw out loud and be heard in the passage. “Now what, Erik?” he said to me. “Jesus, Sir,” I replied, “I don’t know. How do we deal with this?” (Actually I may have said FORNICATE and not Jesus…!)

After a couple of minutes’ discussion, we came to the conclusion that the relatively mild-mannered SSM she thought she knew, had given her such a fright with the parade voice that she had almost wet herself.

I was compelled to complete the orders parade using what could only be described as a hoarse stage whisper. Expecting the earlier grand performance she cringed at first! There were still some tears and I don’t remember what the OC’s sentence was (probably a fine) but I had to make a point of not catching his eye (or he mine) as we were both trying REALLY HARD not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it.

I think the only deterrent that worked that day though, was the accused’s fear of being subjected to full volume on orders parade – again!!

If George Galbraith ever reads this, I would be interested in his recollection of it.

Spell check

Excerpt from:

Island Life, (about Marion Island) by Tiara Walters in Lifestyle Magazine (Sunday Times), 27 March 2011

This excerpt is from a premier South African Sunday newspaper. The article is about Marion Island in the South Atlantic. It references an interaction with an Antarctic fur seal. So sad that no-one checks these columnists work and that they appear to rely on Spell check – which is notoriously literal and unable to discriminate when picking words.

…..and flourishes her walking stick to ward off an Antarctic fur seal as it galumphs towards us, barking and bearing its teeth and looking anything but cute.

I have been bearing (I have borne…), my teeth all my life but when I show them, whether to grin or grimace, I bare them – the seal would have been baring its teeth pretty much like the one in the picture?

Nursery school wisdom

A bit of whimsy…


Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learnt in Nursery School. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain but there, in the sandbox, at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life.
  • Learn some and think some and draw and paint and dance and play and work some every day.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder – and never stop wondering.

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup.

The roots go down and the plants go up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish, hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all:

LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere – the Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three ‘o clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes.

And it is still true no matter how old you are: when you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Even sea otters hold hands…!

 

UDI – The day it all happened

11 November 1965 

Many people have over the years asked the question “What were you doing on the day UDI was declared?”

For those of tender years and those ignorant of the affairs of the world some 52 years ago this refers to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence declared by the tiny country of Rhodesia in the face of the intractability and dissembling of the western powers and in particular the British government of the day. See the following links…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesia%27s_Unilateral_Declaration_of_Independence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6fof-8r0kM

I had been in the Rhodesian Regular Army since the beginning of March 1965, having already completed national service between October 64 and end February 65. After an initial posting to Army Comcen I had been posted to K Troop, the signals unit for HQ 2 Brigade. The day had started as a normal warm early summer day in Africa. Another beautiful day.

In those days the concept of the brigade signals squadrons had not yet been discussed – certainly none of us in the rank and file had any idea of what was to come as far as our Corps was concerned or even how the composition of the Army itself was to change and grow.

We, the operators in K Troop, had been sent out in detachments to carry out a local signals exercise – sending and receiving messages and generally practicing our Corps of Signals role.

The exercise proceeded in desultory fashion for most of the morning. My detachment was at the balancing rocks about five or six kilometres from camp while others were variously spread around the suburbs – probably about six detachments in all I think.

At around 1100 we all received a message recalling us to base with immediate effect. We packed up and were back in camp by 1200 hours where we were told to immediately prepare our vehicles for possible deployment with the Brigade Headquarters. We were also told that there would be an important announcement made at 1300 hours and that we were ALL to attend in the Troop lecture room.

On entering the lecture room, we found a commercial radio had been set up and we were told to take our seats and be quiet for the Prime Minister’s announcement. At 1300 hours the Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smith, came on the radio and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was made.

I have often wondered about the timing of the declaration that coincided with armistice day in 1918 as at 1300 hours in Rhodesia it would have been 1100 in the morning in Britain. This is significant for those not familiar with the WHY of this…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-armistice-day-why-do-we-wear-poppies-and-when-is-remembr/

There was a sense of relief mixed with foreboding – how would this now play out? Would we be invaded by the British forces or the United Nations. Would there be war, fighting in the streets?

Everyone in the Army was put on immediate alert and confined to barracks. HQ 2 Brigade only had single and married quarters for the African soldiers and the rest of us had to go home or to our barracks at KGVI and collect kit including our webbing and bush gear.

Accommodation was wherever you could find it and I think I ended up bunking down in the lecture room with several others. A field kitchen was set up to feed us and we were regularly briefed by our Officers – not that there was much to tell us of course. It was a sort of phoney war, this twilight period of uncertainty about what was to happen in the immediate future.

We soldiers – whether infantry, quartermaster, signals, engineers or whatever – grumbled at the confinement and inactivity, chafing for something, anything, to happen to relieve the tension.

After about ten days the emergency status was brought down a notch and we were allowed to go home or back to our normal accommodation barracks at night but still no leave was permitted.

The entire situation eventually sort of fizzled out and we got on with the day-to-day activities of a peace-time army although border patrol was under way and there were stirrings that, with hindsight, were portents of the dramatic events to come.

Our brave defiance was to end when our allies left us – the Portuguese capitulated in 1975 in both Angola and Mozambique leaving us totally dependent on South Africa for materiel and trade. When that country was driven to the wall financially they were forced (it is claimed) to withdraw all assistance from Rhodesia. The terrorists never won – financial interests and political expediency saw the country handed over to black majority rule and we all know how that turned out (if you do not then just google Zimbabwe economic history and Zimbabwe, atrocities).

The Irene Morning Market

I wrote this article for a course I was doing in 2012 – it was enthusiastically received and I thought I would share it – for those who may never have experienced South Africa?

Sadly, this market is no longer held at the location I have described here – in about early 2016 it was moved to another venue several kilometres away. It is still very popular but somehow not the same? I was last there in late 2016.


Irene is a small suburb south of Pretoria with a village-like atmosphere. It used to be a sleepy hollow but is now enormously popular – even trendy, particularly at weekends

In Irene is “Smuts’ House” that was once the home of General Jan Smuts, a statesman and soldier who was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations. (see https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jan-Smuts)

Smuts House is a museum and national monument surrounded by extensive grounds and, twice a month, the Irene morning market takes place there. People travel from all over the region to attend and stall holders arrive early to set up.

Most popular is the food stall area where you can buy almost any kind of food. From Indian delicacies to Portuguese snacks to Chinese spring rolls and custard tarts. There are traditional South African stalls with boerewors rolls (literally “farmer’s sausage”) Spicy and delicious, these are our answer to the New York hot dog.

Artisanal cheeses, preserves, pickles and jams. “Waatlemoen konfyt”, a watermelon preserve using watermelon rind to make a crisp, sugary, delicious treat.

The pancake lady and her twenty-five litre barrel of batter – with a tap. Rotating twelve pans on the burners and flipping pancakes. Her son manages the cinnamon sugar and rolling – they barely stay ahead of the crowd.

Moving on to find curio sellers, local and regional, with carved wood and soapstone, wire sculptures, beadwork and leatherwork.

Bedding, clothing, art, a children’s painting table, coffee and soft drink stalls. Second hand book stalls and plenty of old bits and bobs that my sister describes as the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” section. Oh, and collectables of all sorts from old tins to badges, brooches, toys and, and, and…

Pets, particularly  dogs, feature a lot. I learned about “Merle” Great Danes from a tired looking couple ( http://www.all-about-great-danes.com/merle-great-danes.html ) with their magnificent young grey-dappled, white-chested Merle in attendance. Two chaps had a Scotty dog in a zippered “medics uniform” of waistcoat and peaked cap. A beautiful, bored Labrador retriever and a dignified border collie and a man with the slobberiest, puffingest bulldog named Larry!

Camel rides – on aloof-looking camels with the most exotic eyelashes.

A young blonde girl had a colourful “jewellery” stall – a real splash of colour. So eye-catching, I asked if I might take a picture. Poised and relaxed her bright eyes and friendly, unselfconscious smile made the braces on her teeth a part of her sparkle. There is a lesson in this for young people with orthodontic problems because that smile, already so dazzling and natural, will be a real winner when the braces come off.

 

 

People. Fat and thin, well-to-do and modest. Mothers and children, babies and grannies, hot and bothered and cool, calm and collected. Sleeping, exhausted babies and wide-eyed demanding tots in prams with grannies and mommies in attendance revealing varying degrees of love and tired defeat. People, bewildered and brash, shy and outgoing, smiling and grim-faced but all with a common purpose – the Irene morning market.

The Medal

I was not in the infantry or special forces – I was in the Corps of Signals but this is a bit of fiction that occurred to me after meeting, reading about and hearing some stories. You could not make up some of that stuff. Like when I was on attachment to RLI on the Moz border and one of the guys (he has a bravery decoration) described having to run for their lives up a sandy rise with rounds striking at their heels. He said, laughing about the ludicrous insanity of it “…we just ran up that hill with the rounds hitting everywhere behind us, just like a fucking movie….!” (The quote may not be EXACT but close enough).

So I created this bit of fiction – because my own basic training probably saved my life once or twice and I certainly used my signals training all my working life after leaving the army. Often the question that was asked, “Where did you learn that?”, was answered “In the Rhodesian Army, starting in 1964!” and got me some odd looks!

So here is my fiction…no reference to any person, living or dead…


“What did you get the medal for?” asked the trainee.

“I got if for paying attention” the instructor replied.

The squad were sitting around with the instructor near the end of their training – out in the sticks, mission completed and awaiting transport back to base.

“I was a recruit once,” he said “just like you guys”.

I had to learn drill, and drill and drill and drill.

Then drill with a rifle – also over and over and over.

They only taught us ONE THING about rifle handling at first – how to make safe. …and we had to clear the rifle EVERY TIME we got it from the armoury even though we KNEW the armourer would never issue a loaded rifle and we had to show it was clear on handing it back. EVERY TIME.

Then we started learning to FIRE THE RIFLE and the drills around safety and handling became more painfully repetitive. There was a chuckle from the men.

Then we had combat training and learned to use hand grenades. That was interesting – preparing the grenades, carrying them and throwing them. And learning, as you have, that they do NOT make a bang and explosion of flame and debris like a 500-pound bomb. Another chuckle.

Skirmishing and patrolling and leading and walking tail end. Setting and initiating ambushes and all those boring things called training, training, TRAINING.

The tedium and the repetitiveness, the punishments. And why did they put so much emphasis on CLEANING YOUR KIT. Why did knives and forks and mess tins have to gleam?

And then I was told I was a qualified soldier.

I reported to my unit and was treated like shit! I was treated like a recruit – like an untrained useless add-on.

After a while I was gradually accepted and given certain responsibilities – responsibilities that I still thought were a bit beneath me.

One day though, I realised I was one of the team and that I had been accepted and that I belonged.

Then we were deployed on operations and I was shit-scared. Realising that nobody was free of their private fears made mine manageable.

And when the shit hit the fan on one deployment and I had to perform – it was no longer me, it was the training. All that instinctive rifle handling and obedience to shouted commands – THAT kept me alive.

And one day they presented me with this medal and I was a bit bewildered and even vaguely embarrassed. I was not the only one on the scene and I felt that, like everyone else, I had just done what I had been trained to do.

The citation that came with the medal seemed to be about someone else and I understand why people laugh and joke about these things – it is how you deal with it.

But, you asked how I got the medal? I got it because I paid attention and when I was caught NOT paying attention I was pulled up short – punished if you will. But I DID get trained – tediously, repetitively until I could handle the weapons in the dark, understand instructions and react to commands instinctively but still use my own brains.

I became a trained soldier.

The TRAINING got the medal. The instructors earned the medal for me.

No one goes into this to be a hero and when they get called HERO they are generally confused and bewildered – because they did what they had been trained to do.

If your intention is to be a hero and get a medal you are in the wrong place – you need to be a functioning soldier first.

No matter what you do in the army – pay attention to the training and you will do it well. That is all that is required. You do your best and you do it well.

Oh, and keeping your kit clean means you do not get sick – it is as simple as that.

The Black Dog

Depression – The BLACK DOG

I hope the Australian organisation using the name https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ will forgive me but I believe that no lesser persons than Samuel Johnson and Winston Churchill (http://theconversation.com/winston-churchill-and-his-black-dog-of-greatness-36570) coined the term many years before when referencing their own status, that of being the sufferers of depression, quite likely being manic-depressive.

I was married to a sufferer. Indeed, we had a REAL black dog, Digger was his name, an irrepressible, goofy and lovable Labrador/Border collie cross…and my then wife, Rose (Rose-Marie) had her personal, invisible BLACK DOG. Depression is an awful condition that has only in the modern era been identified as a real illness. An illness partly of the mind and partly of the chemical make-up of the body of the sufferer.

I am not going to address the difficulties of her childhood that no doubt contributed to her state of mind as an adult but suffice to say, the condition is apparent in her family as related to me by her cousin, a woman who quietly takes her medication and who shows no sign of her black dog to the outside world.

Rose, when I met her, was a startlingly attractive woman of about thirty-two who must have been (and still was ,actually) quite beautiful in her teens and twenties.

Having been shy and introverted, when she was introduced to the world outside the confines of her family she cut loose with a vengeance.

A short-lived flirtation with LSD and a few other drugs was to trouble her once or twice in the years before we got to know each other but she had the strength of character to KNOW that this would be the end of her.

She was a fairly heavy smoker and her DRUG of choice was to become alcohol.

Rose was always well-groomed and outwardly confident but inwardly she seethed with insecurity and anger. The anger was directed inward at her inability to stand up to people because of a fear that she would be thought lazy or incompetent or not fun-loving. It resulted in her becoming overwhelmed as people loaded their work onto this helpful, seemingly cheerful, woman.

Another result of this fear of being found wanting was that she was bullied. By men in her life and by bosses and colleagues who should have known better.

She had few friends because she suspected everyone who tried to get close to her of having an ulterior motive. The men wanted to get her to bed the women were, in her mind, snide and nasty and as soon as people seemed to become her friends she pushed them away. Not so you would immediately notice but she would just find excuses not to meet them, to not accept their invitations to visit for a party or drinks or a braai (barbecue to the uninitiated). In her mind everyone was criticising her. People would eventually give up.

After several years of knowing her we were married and almost immediately the problems started. The accusations of an ulterior motive to anything I did. The raking over of my previous relationships and the often cruel and vicious personal attacks.

From denigrating my manhood, accusations of wanting to beat her, accusations of wanting other women (I dare not comment on some film star for example – yes, I was likely to meet them, NOT). It did not matter that these things were irrational – they were brought up to provoke. And even when the AA had managed to get her off the booze and she was enjoying the company of the members of her group she remained fragile and volatile.

If she visited a psychologist or counsellor she would find a reason to distrust them, to stop seeing them. I came to the conclusion that as soon as the psychologist started getting too close to the matters that were important the distrust would take over. There would be some reason – “He tries to look down my neckline” to “She criticises me” (sometimes the criticism accusation would be made against an innocent comment on the colour of her skirt but it could be turned into CRITICISM if the need to claim such was there).

After seeing several psychologists over a period of years, she had started to see a psychiatrist and was taking medication. I, we, had hopes for her future.

In 2013 at the age of 53 she went into hospital – a supposedly good, private hospital – for a comparatively minor operation from which she was recovering when inadequate care was to blame for her dying. No one has been held to account and no cause of death, just UNDER INVESTIGATION, appears on her death certificate. Our fifteenth wedding anniversary was eight days away – we had known each other for about twenty years and lived together for sixteen.

My point here is that this lovely, attractive woman did not believe she was just that – a lovely attractive and capable person. She believed everyone had an agenda against her and she trusted no-one except her mother – not even me. She screamed abuse at and accused both her mother, who lived with us, and me of the most awful things. Often the most absurd and hurtful things would be screamed at us as she retreated to her corner, believing that only her truth pertained. No matter that she was wrong, and demonstrably so, her self-loathing and insecurity meant that, in her mind, no one told the truth to her.  

For us who loved her and wanted nothing more than that she should learn to love herself and shine as we knew she could this was the MOST PAINFUL thing to experience.

Some sufferers of depression are openly aggressive, are often highly talented yet believe themselves to be failures. Some are withdrawn and hide the aggression and anger inside. In all cases the anger, the distrust, the feeling of being alone against the world the introversion and the extroversion eats at them.

It slowly and inexorably erodes them. They gradually find themselves without friends or with VERY FEW friends and only close family will generally persist with them. For these supporters it is exhausting, totally exhausting for they will never know if what they say will be construed as criticism, and not as gentle criticism but as harsh, judgemental and condemnatory. The reaction will vary from hysterical withdrawal and tears to very hurtful (to the supporter) shouted accusations and condemnation of the imagined slight, often made in the most confrontational and aggressive manner.

It is usually those closest to the sufferer who experience this behaviour and if anyone not “in the know” were to be told of it they would generally exhibit utter disbelief. The may even buy into the narrative of the sufferer and join with them in condemning those who know and care about the person.

Rose and I never had children together but my experience leads me to believe that the children of such persons learn to co-exist out of an instinctive sense of self-preservation. Rather be on mommy (or daddy’s) side and be with them rather than to even be suspected of not buying into the fiction. The long-term effect of this on children can be devastating and lead to estrangement in later life with sometimes quite tragic outcomes.

The BLACK DOG affects not just the sufferer but their family, their friends, their relationships – intimate and otherwise – but the ripple effect can be damaging to many persons that one may not even imagine could be affected. It is an insidious, scary and very harmful condition.

Many sufferers do not realise they have the condition or, if they do, they play it down. Many avoid or refuse treatment and counselling. There is nothing the people on the periphery can do except hope that the need will be realised and the help sought.

It is a horse and water situation and cannot be forced. It is tragic.

*****

Subsequent to writing the above I came to learn about BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder. Also called: BPD, emotional dysregulation disorder). Could Rose have also been a sufferer of this horrible condition, this very treatable condition? She certainly exhibited some of the symptoms? I don’t know and would hope her psychiatrist would have ruled it out but her life, already difficult, must have been torture if this had been added to her burden.

Recipe – perfect burger patty

Here is a NO FAIL recipe for a delicious beef patty- the heart of a good hamburger. (I am told this is a RISSOLE and not a burger patty – this is my version of a burger though)

  • 600g to 1kg good beef mince
  • One medium-to-large onion grated (grated is best and let the onion juice get into the mix [fine chopping is OK but not really as good])
  • Half-to-one teaspoon of mixed herbs (start conservatively [½ tsp] and use more once you know how you like it)
  • Large pinch or two of salt (again, you will learn what you like)
  • Pepper to taste (I use normal white table pepper for the best flavour – just a couple of pinches)

Place mince and onion in a large bowl and mix well – keep seasoning in a saucer or eggcup for the moment.

  • tip – use a fork to mix because you want the flavours to be spread throughout and hand mixing can clump the mince and trap seasoning
  • tip – after starting to mix the mince and onions sprinkle the seasoning over the mix to get a more even flavour distribution

Sometimes, (especially if using very lean mince) the addition of a raw egg in the mix will help it to bind and not change the taste at all.
A final hand mix is ok but not for too long. 
Now the patties can be rolled and shaped between the hands and made ready for cooking. You would have to judge size but try to keep them as evenly sized as possible.

I usually fry batches in a covered pan in a little vegetable oil but they can be cooked on an open-flame griddle, in the oven or whichever method you prefer but take care that they are cooked through but NOT dried out. If you dry them out the texture of your burger will not be great!

In my family we use these patties (we call them frikkadels) not only for hamburgers but as main course meat with potatoes (mashed or boiled) and vegetables, with eggs and chips and, if you make them really small, you can do a great spaghetti and meatballs – wait for another simple recipe… 

Now, back to building that burger – assuming you have a few buns. Lightly toasting is optional as is a smear of butter on the bun but build your burger as I described and judge for yourself. If you love salads have them as a side dish don’t try to make the burger the salad carrier, please!

Acceptable variants for me are a lettuce leaf (PATTED DRY, PLEASE) a few slices of pickle, a slice or two of cheese.

Above all have a bite of the basic burger BEFORE you start adding sauces and extras and disguising the taste.

I often do not have buns at home but a couple of slices of bread will do the trick…

Tent pegs and storms

I used to do a lot of camping.

One year when it was very stormy and several people were putting storm straps on their tents I decided I had better try to do something or run the risk of my tent and belongings being scattered around the camp and the adjacent areas of the Kruger National Park.

Not having a storm strap I became aware that the wind was acting like air flow across a wing – when the airflow creates an area of low pressure above the wing there is lift and it is this lifting effect that was causing the tentage – read fly sheet and shade net – to billow out and snatch at the tent pegs.

I had to find a way to stop the tent pegs from being pulled out and came up with the idea that I have shown in the (rather amateurish) sketches.

I had spare tent pegs and a lot of rope so I drove in extra pegs between the tent and the pegs already in place and faced to take the strain in the opposite direction. I then made up loops that I could adjust the tension on and looped them over the outside pegs and the inner (new) pegs.

The result was that as the wind BELLED the tent up and out and the ropes tried to pull “their” pegs out the INNER pegs attached to them with the short rope loops would not let them move outwards.

I found that I needed to go around a few times and re-tension my opposing loops but we survived the storm and I noticed a tent that HAD had a storm strap had been blown away.

When I camped after that if there was the slightest sign of a storm I would put in my innovation and have few, if any, problems.

Another wheeze that someone came up with was a drill and, using an 8 or 6 mm extra long masonry bit, when the ground is like iron – pre-drill the tent peg holes. Saved me some broken pegs, some sore arms from rebounding hammers and the neighbours’ ears from the blue language that resulted!!!

FLOT

FLOT –
The acronym stands for Front Line Own Troops and quite literally means the point at which one’s OWN troops are closest to the enemy in an engagement. It is important information for air support so that they do not hit the friendly forces they are trying to help. It is one of the reasons coloured smoke grenades are carried.

This is another of those stories that are legend and there is some doubt around the ACTUAL events but, in the craziness that is war and the characters that emerge, I have no doubt that it is solidly founded in fact (with a smidgeon of embellishment perhaps?).

Anyway the story is that some of our coloured troops were caught up in a contact with terrorists. As mentioned in another story these men were some of the most quick-witted humorists one could ever meet – even in moments of high stress.

While they were pretty much holding their own, the situation was not good and the group of terrorists looked set to get the upper hand.

The patrol called in for assistance and an armed aircraft was diverted to see what could be done.

  • Shortly the pilot’s ever-laconic voice was heard calling the patrol: 
  • “47 this is Cyclone 4 how can we assist over”. (it may have been one of the other squadrons of course…)
  • “Where you ouens?” comes the reply from the ground in a slightly surprised, almost defensive, tone.
  • “Approaching your position from the South, over”
  • “Roger, this gooks is in front of us and we can’t move”
  • “Roger that – can you mark your FLOT, over”
  • Something of a pregnant pause…then “What?”
  • “I need you to mark your FLOT, over”
  • Live mic for a few moments with obvious whispering in background, then…”What do you mean? over”
  • “I can’t see you – can you throw smoke, over”

Another longish pause then… “Madison or Kingsgate? over”

Kingsgate and Madison cigarettes (smokes)

 

 

 

 

COMBAT !

From 1965 to about 1967 while I was stationed at HQ 2 Bde, Old Cranborne Barracks, we did a lot of Brigade exercises.

The entire Brigade Headquarters would deploy to the bush for up to a week at a time to practice everyone in the duties of a conventional war scenario – with an African twist of course.

We would generally deploy to an area within a reasonable distance of Salisbury although on a few occasions we did exercises a few hundred kilometres into the bush.

We would get into the area and form either a circular (irreverently called a dog’s ball) configuration or a linear HQ configuration. We would set up communications, workshops, messes and kitchens even a bush bar.

On occasion we would have been settled in nicely for about two days when we would be told to move and the entire setup had to be taken down, all the vehicles formed up in convoy and off we would go to a new location to set up again.

After a few of these exercises they became rather boring and, apart from a couple of memorable BIG exercises against 1 Bde, the routine was frankly irritating because we felt we were playing soldiers and nothing was going to happen.

A few years later of course all the brigades would have headquarters elements deployed in the field – none of them remotely like the ones we had sweated at practicing!

After one exercise, having been playing conventional warfare for a week with brigade headquarters, I was walking home wearing bush kit with my webbing on and with my pack on my back. Attached to the pack was my steel NATO pattern helmet.

It was a bit of a hike to where I lived and I was on the last stretch across a little park where some small boys were playing. As I passed the children one of them stopped to look at me. He grabbed his friends and, pointing at me, he said to his mates, “Look, look, just like COMBAT !

I was tired but not too tired to smile at this rather flattering comment!

Check this out….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat!_(TV_series) …and this http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055666/

Irresponsible unions

I make no claims to be a businessman, economist or entrepreneur. I am just an ordinary person in the early evening of his life but I am saddened and angered by a number of things and try to engage when and where my small voice might cause someone to pause for thought.

I once managed a small factory in South Africa that employed a number of people. Black people, mostly from Zimbabwe.

One day our welder, who was also our driver, came back from collecting a cheque and I noticed him talking to some of the others and gathered it was about the cheque – which had not been placed in a sealed envelope so had been carefully scrutinised before being handed in to the bookkeeper.

Asking what it was all about I was told (I will refer to the owner of the company as Mike) that Mike had just received a cheque for R400,000.00. The general feeling was that he was really lucky to be getting such a big amount.

Curious, I asked if the cheque had been made out to the company or to Mike in his personal capacity and of course it had been made out to the company. So I asked if they really, really thought that that money was going to Mike in his personal capacity. I could immediately see that this was considered a silly question – of course it must be for him as he is the boss and he sent for it to be collected.

I then asked them if they budgeted their wages and proceeded to describe an oversimplified family budget – rent, school fees, clothes, food, water and electricity, transport et al. I ended by saying that once all that has been taken care of then, and only then, could one look at what, if anything, is left over. If there is some left over then maybe one can go to a movie, have some friends over for a meal and maybe even put some aside – savings for a rainy day.

This concept was clearly understood so I now proceeded to ask them what they think becomes of money that the company gets in – earns. I got a kind of a puzzled look and asked if they had given a thought to the fact that the company also had overheads.

Wages, utilities, vehicle finance and fuel and maintenance. Equipment maintenance and new tools as necessary.

Once wages have been paid…and I went on explaining that every penny that comes in has to be accounted for in terms of expenses and then raw materials to make more product and then, and only then, could the owners and directors look to taking a share, or their wages, out of what was left from the month’s income.

It took some effort to get these men to realise that the buildings were not just there for us to use. That we paid for the phones and electricity and water and everything else out of the income from sales after we had paid all our accounts, paid our staff and so on. It was a bit uphill but the message got through. It was obvious that the costs associated with running a business had not really been given any thought. The business was just there, where they worked.

We all know that making rich or wealthy people poor, will not benefit the worker or the job seeker. The person with the vision who is prepared to take the risk in business will take his abilities elsewhere, where they will be appreciated and not be penalised for creating an enterprise that provides the means for others to earn a living.

Now interestingly these factory workers were mostly men who had immigrated from Zimbabwe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and had benefited from the one thing Mugabe had got right up to that time –  education. It was interesting to hear from these men that they were surprised by the levels of illiteracy they encountered in the townships but for all that they were still relatively ignorant in terms of the VERY BASICS of how a business operates – and a small/medium business at that.

The point of all this is that every year South Africa has the same riots and demands over wages and these demands are often, USUALLY in fact, outrageous and not sustainable – not to mention destructive and wasteful with town centres trashed, shops looted and even burned. All supposedly to protest poor wages…there is no logic to it.

In my considered opinion the unions carefully do NOT school their members and shop stewards on how business works and whip up their uninformed members every year regardless of the harm that it does to the economy and the image of the country as a business destination.

The unions are irresponsible and culpable in this because if their members were informed and basically knowledgeable on how businesses function then they would better understand why certain things are not easily granted. They would know that minimum wages are keeping many of their friends and family on the outside of the workforce. They might even begin to realise that the riots and strikes for unsustainable and unreasonable increases are mischievous in the extreme.

Until there is better understanding – REAL UNDERSTANDING – by the various workforces around this matter it will never be resolved.

Building a home requires everyone to work together but building a nation that is prosperous NEEDS a united vision and every time that vision starts to take shape it is quickly obscured by irresponsible, inept, greedy and selfish agendas.

Can the unions be rationalised? As long as they see the ANC as their protector and benefactor I rather doubt it and until then the country will continue to suffer because what the union is meant to be there for – to see to the fairness or otherwise of the workers conditions – has been subsumed by that thing that seems to be at the heart of everything – power to the few.