Tag Archives: Life

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.

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/

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…!

 

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.

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)

 

 

 

 

Bureaucracy

I was still living in South Africa when I found an 87th Precinct book that I had not read. In it I came across this passage that I thought was just so apt in relation to the drama I had recently gone through in order to have some plans registered at my local municipality.

While I did not have to purchase a postal order I DID have to go to the lift, down three floors, go out of that building and through security then walk around the civic centre offices to the rates hall – several hundred metres. There I had to stand in a queue to make my payment and make sure I got a receipt to take back to where I had started. I then had to go down the passage for the second part of this procedure and lo and behold they ALSO needed a payment, and they ALSO were unable to take payment.  I am sure we have all had experiences that this scenario might fit. 


In this city, ten people were necessary to do the job of one person.

What this city did was hire high school dropouts, put them in suits and then teach them how to greet the public with blank stares on their faces.

In this city, if you needed a copy of, say, your birth certificate or your driver’s licence, you stood in line for an hour and half while some nitwit pretended to be operating a computer. When he or she finally located what you were there for, you had to go over to the post office and stand in line for another hour and a half to purchase a money order to pay for it.

That was because in this city, municipal employees weren’t allowed to accept cash, personal cheques or credit cards. This was because the city fathers knew the calibre of the people who were featherbedding throughout the entire system, knew that cash would disappear in a wink, knew that credit cards would be cloned, knew that personal cheques would somehow end up in private bank accounts hither and yon.

That’s why all those people behind municipal counters gave you such hostile stares.

They were angry at the system because they couldn’t steal from it. Or maybe they were pissed off because they couldn’t qualify for more lucrative jobs like security officers at any of the city’s jails, where an ambitious man could earn a goodly amount of unreportable cash by smuggling in dope to the inmates.

Quoted from The Last Dance by Ed McBain – an 87th Precinct novel
Ed McBain is a pen name used by Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle, Privileged Conversation)

Antenna – again

I first learned about antennas on my National Service signals course in the period December 1964 to February 1965 (that I mentioned in another post). I then did two further courses – my Regular Army Class 3 course followed by a Class 2 upgrade course some years later. In addition, I not only had to USE this knowledge in practical applications in the field but I also had to instruct on communications.

In order for people to understand that antenna size is dictated by the frequency that is being used we would do a lecture titled THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FREQUENCY AND WAVELENGTH.

As part of this course we would do simple calculations at different frequencies. This was so that the class could have some basic understanding of why different antennas would be found in use with different types of radio according the frequency band in which that radio operated.

Without belabouring the point, the basic calculation for a WAVELENGTH is 300 divided by the frequency in MEGAHERTZ (MHz) that would give a measurement in METRES.

Very simply at a frequency of 10 MHz the full wavelength would be 30 metres.

Very simple diagram of an open dipole for HF use

At those low High Frequencies* (HF) we used what are termed HALF WAVE DIPOLES and we calculated a quarter wavelength because the radiating element of the antenna would be a half wavelength overall with a quarter wavelength on either side of the feed cable (see the simple diagram).

*(Sounds like a contradiction in terms but is correct and quite a long subject to address)

Now, in about 2005 t0 2010 I found myself regularly doing orientation lectures, where I worked in South Africa, for new staff so that they might gain SOME degree of understanding of two-way radio industry equipment.

I was doing my calculation (which we in Rhodesia had shortened somewhat) and I told the class that to calculate a quarter wavelength they needed to use the standard of 75 over the frequency in MHz – writing it out and showing the result for 10MHz as 7.5 metres. Before I could finish a radio technician (should I use that term advisedly?) who was sitting in “just for interest” interjected that that formula was WRONG.

I invited him to call out what I should do and he said that I needed to use 300 over the frequency and then divide by 4 and as I followed his instruction and it became obvious that this longer method was going to give the same result I noticed the man heading for the door – while the people in the class started to smile.

“Where did you learn that?”, about all manner of communications-related matters was a question I was quite used to and always delighted in replying “In the Army, in Rhodesia, in 1964” which by then was 40-plus years previously.

Exercise Long Drag

In August 1965 less than a year after my basic training as a national serviceman and now a regular soldier I was deployed on Exercise Long Drag. I was, by this time, posted to K Troop, HQ 2 Brigade.

This exercise was the culmination of the retraining of the RLI from a light infantry role to a commando role and was to be probably the biggest exercise that the Rhodesian Army would hold before things became VERY REAL.

I was supplied with a C14 HF SSB radio and tasked with providing communications for the exercise’ umpire net. Mounted in a Land Rover this was the latest piece of kit in Rhodesian Signals and was a powerful, 100 watts PEP, 4 channel radio (8 channels effectively if you take the sidebands into account). I was attached to the SAS headquarters detachment who were to represent the ENEMY for this exercise. Major Dudley Coventry was the CO of the SAS and for this exercise he was provided with a new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup and the alias of FUNGAYI SING, leader of the infiltrating forces.

Major Coventry (picture from internet)

Major Coventry, an experienced veteran of Malaya and other conflicts, was one of those LARGER THAN LIFE characters with a flamboyant grey moustache and was respected and very well-liked by everyone who ever served with him. To suit the persona of his dodgy terrorist character he had fitted himself out with a headscarf similar to what one would have imagined Lawrence of Arabia wearing.

One of our earlier stops, at the beginning of the exercise was in the Lion’s Den area on a remote farm where we were visited by the Prime Minister, Ian Smith, who flew in on an Alouette helicopter. After a chat with the officers he went around to everyone in the camp and greeted us all, asking for a name here and there. A thorough gentleman completely without pretension.

Another memorable thing about that layup was that I shared a bivvy with one of the SAS men. I think his name was something like Erasmus (??) and that he was from a Rhodesian Afrikaner family. He was about my own age (19 at the time) and he made us one of the best rice puddings I have ever eaten – using only the ingredients of our 24-hour ration packs with the addition of some raisins that he said he never went to the bush without.

In those days I think our rat packs were the best ever (not that they were ever NOT good) and we got big tubes of condensed milk in them. Youngsters who had never been camping or in the bush would sometimes pack their rations badly and end up with condensed-milk flavoured clothing when the tubes ruptured in their pack! No fun if you were going to be in the bush for a while.

We moved on and proceeded along back roads, and sometimes the main road, making our way to the Karoi area where we drove off down a dirt road leading west and north in the general direction of Lake Kariba. After some time, we went completely off road and laid up in an area of bush that was pretty remote.

The exercise now being in full swing I found that the G5RV dipole antenna I had been given to use had no PL259 connector for the antenna socket. I used some matches to jam the ends of the antenna into the socket and rim of the connector and established communications strength five.

Contrary to some stories I have heard, the G5RV amateur antenna had actually been suggested by our Troop SM, Bob Jones, who was a radio amateur with the call sign ZE1-BF. I believe Bob had used the antenna himself with great success. G5RV was the British amateur call sign of Louis Varney the man who invented the antenna in 1942.  

I am not sure how long we stayed based-up in that location but, by probably the morning of the third day (having been there now for at least two nights), I recall that C Sgts Jock Hutton and Geordie Wright (both already legendary figures in the Rhodesian Army) were constantly on the Major’s case to move or we would be compromised. Major Coventry was supremely confident that we had arrived where we were without being noted by anyone and that we would not be found before we could move on and continue to elude the searchers.

About mid-afternoon that day I answered the call of nature with shovel in hand (I think I was unarmed because of being with the umpires). Casting around for a few minutes I reckoned no one could see me from camp, dug a scrape and relieved myself. After covering the evidence, I walked back into the camp.

An hour or so passed and shortly before last light BANG, FLASH, RRRRAATTATATA and much yelling heralded our camp being overrun without the slightest retaliation. I think Maj Coventry and his men were suitably embarrassed and it must have been hard for his senior NCOs not to play the I told you so game. Not so the RLI sticks that had overrun us so easily. They were absolutely jubilant. A rather chagrined, but always magnanimous, Major Coventry congratulated the RLI chaps on a job well done.

As part of the exercise pseudo TERRORIST FLYERS had been distributed in the area. A farmer had seen the Major and his distinctive vehicle and reported the sighting. This had given the SECURITY FORCES (read RLI) the general direction in which to patrol and search.

That evening we were all friends and all on the same side again and there was much chat and laughter around the fires (no longer a need to remain clandestine). It turned out that I had nearly been captured to silence me – which would also have meant the RLI springing their assault somewhat earlier. I squirmed with embarrassment when told, amid gales of laughter, of being observed only a couple of metres from the RLI forward scouts, having a shit!

The exercise was continuing down in the valley and along the shores of the lake. The SAS detachment and Maj Coventry were now tasked with carrying out ENEMY PATROLS to try to infiltrate the RLI protected area. I took part in one such patrol and was well and truly KILLED about two or three times. One memorable occasion was when the borrowed SLR rifle I was using jammed solid – just to embarrass me – on the blanks we had been issued and I was unable to clear it!

The exercise carried on for about another week and was deemed an unqualified success.

Joining the army part four

National service – first phase continued 3

“Does anyone want to join the regular army?” the instructor asked.

Two of us immediately stepped forward.

“Why do you want to join up?” the instructor asked me. I replied that I had always wanted to and I had a number of friends in the regular army. I had been turned down when I applied in 1963 but I now felt that as I was being trained I wanted to try again.

I due course I was marched in to see the OC A Coy (I think it was Major Willar). He posed much the same question and put me at my ease by sitting me down to tell him my story.

I explained to him that I had tried to join the army at the end of 1963 but had been turned down because of my eyesight. At his prompt I added that I felt that if I could be shot at as a spectacles-wearing short-sighted territorial or NS soldier then surely it made no difference if I was a regular and besides, my friend Graham in RLI signals troop was equally short-sighted.

“So where do you want to go if you join the regular army?” and I replied that I wanted the RLI signals troop.

I don’t really remember what happened then but a few signals must have gone between Army HQ and DRRR because when the intake was being split up into the various specialty training groups I was in some kind of limbo – not having been allocated anywhere yet. I was called in and told that while a decision was being made I would be temporarily put into the RPs (Regimental Police) – where I was to languish for about ten days.

A new intake arrived during this time and I was with the MEET AND GREET party of RPs at Heany Junction. With great enthusiasm we started cursing and swearing at these new recruits in exactly the way we had been welcomed on OUR arrival – doubling the men here and there (being bloody bullies actually, on the premise that WE had been subject to this shit so….)

Imagine our surprise when we were taken aside and told that we were to moderate our language and not make the men run until they had all had their medicals…WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD we muttered. As to the swearing we were admonished that there had been complaints from parents…we were gobsmacked that some youngsters could have snivelled to their parents.

I was in the guard room one day and heard a woman shouting outside. Keeping a low profile I looked out and saw that there was a woman BERATING the guard – in fairly robust language – for not saluting her and for not opening the boom – forcing her to stop her car.

C Sgt Gregan who was in charge of the RPs came out and spoke to the woman.

“Madam” he reminded her, “you are not a serving member of the Army nor are you an officer. As such you are NOT entitled to the courtesies accorded to such rank” (or words to that effect, as we used to say when framing a charge sheet). The woman was apopletic but the C Sgt went on and told her that the boom guards were merely doing their duty and following the orders of the CO of the Depot. One such order was that ALL VEHICLES will stop at the boom and the drivers will identify themselves before being allowed to proceed.

With some further rather startling invective the woman drove off vowing to have the RPs, and the C Sgt in particular, sorted out.

It may have been later that day or the next morning an officer came down to the guardhouse and spoke to C Sgt Gregan. He apologised if his wife had been rude (knowing of course that she had been) and assuring the C Sgt that he understood perfectly that the men had acted in accordance with standing orders. We suspected that Colour Gregan having a talk with the RSM about the matter may have had a lot to do with this apology. The clerks in HQ confirmed that it had started with bluster from the officer, a visit to the CO by both the officer and the RSM and a somewhat subdued officer leaving to speak to the NCO in charge of RPs.

A few days later C Sgt Gregan came into our quarters and told me to pack my kit. I was then driven down to Brady Barracks, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, and handed over the the School of Signals where I was to join the Regimental Signals course that the Intake 70 men had started nearly ten days previously.

I did not have too much trouble catching up and enjoyed learning voice procedure, basic electricity and battery charging, radio set handling, line and field telephones and – MORSE CODE and procedure. It was unfortunate that we were taught morse code in a way that some of us found difficult as the speed increased but we managed to pass it anyway.

At the end of the course I think I was in the top three (maybe I came first – I really don’t remember) and while everyone was getting ready to go home I was summoned to the School of Signals offices.

“Do you still want to join the Corps of Signals” asked the adjutant.
“No sir, I want to go to RLI signals”.

Looking at my records he commented on my excellent results as well as the results of my aptitude tests and said, “You can join the Regular Army, Corps of Signals, or you can NOT join the regular army at all.”

I accepted the ultimatum, not realising at the time that THEY wanted ME and that he probably did not have the authority to make that deal – to coerce me really. Anyway, a signal would have been sent to expect me at recruiting in Salisbury.

I attested into the Rhodesian Regular Army, Corps of Signals, on the fifth of March, 1965 – a few days after completing my national service – fourteen months after the dissolution of Federation and a mere eight months before UDI (the Unilateral Declaration of Independence) that was to take place on 11 November 1965.

The Signals badge BEFORE Rhodesia declared itself a republic in 1970

As it was to turn out I think that it was the right thing for me to go to Signals because I suspect I would not have been a particularly successful infantryman.

Joining the army part three

National service – first phase continued 2
(Pictures used were mined from the internet. The butts are somewhere in England and there was no caption on the picture of the range. No harm is intended by the use of these pictures – they will be removed if so requested by copyright holder).

A lot has been written about basic training in the army – the Rhodesian Army as much as perhaps any other army so I will not harp on this aspect too much. Once weapons training had started things became a lot more interesting and serious with weapons safety being a point hammered into us at every turn.

A typical military range see where LOW shots have gouged at the mantlet in front of and below the numbers. The STOP BUTT is the higher mound BEHIND the targets.

Before going onto the range for the first time for live firing A Company was addressed by WO2 “Pinky” Mould, an ex Guardsman who always had a rather red face made worse by the african sun.

The butts, on an army shooting range, is the area below and immediately behind the mantlet (the raised berm from behind which the targets are hoisted). The much higher berm further back is called the STOP butt – for the obvious reason that it is meant to STOP the rounds that have been fired at the target. Every so often a stop butt would be MINED for the astonishing amount of metal from spent rounds that could be recovered from it and sold.

Toward the end of his briefing SM Mould instructed that the butts party must ensure that they patched every target properly. There was plenty of target patching glue, he said, but should one run out he off-handedly suggested semen be used, emphasising this with a well-practised flick from the region of his groin that resulted in a large gobbet of patching glue splatting onto the zeroing target in front of us. Among the ribald laughter one of the men was heard, and seen, vomiting! Poor sensitive soul was teased mercilessly every time we were on the range after that!

Sometimes a shooter would aim too low and the butts party would get a shower of sand and grit as the round ploughed across the top of the mantlet. One day such a round hit the top of a target frame and ricocheted in under the mantlet where I was sitting on butts duty and landed in the crook of my arm. The round was spent but it was still bloody hot! I still have that item among my bits and pieces somewhere.

Typical view of the BUTTS the mantlet on the right protects the butts party. Note the target frames with zeroing targets fitted

We did a lot of live firing with many of those from rural backgrounds showing better results and those of us not used to firearms struggling a bit – but we all became proficient and passed the training.

One day we were being taught to shoot from fire trenches – in front of each firing point there was a roughly four foot deep slit trench and we had to learn to load and fire from this cramped position.

In one of the squads was a young man from Cyprus whose English was not really up to scratch but who had been disdainful of the training with claims that he had been in the fighting in Cyprus as a guerrilla a few years earlier.

DOWN RANGE was the mantra – the rifle must ALWAYS POINT DOWN RANGE.

Our Cypriot had a stoppage while in the trench at the number one firing point and turned to call an instructor. As he did so the loaded rifle was turned to point down the line of foxholes, the instructor screamed at him and nineteen heads disappeared into their foxholes! SM Pinky Mould had been standing behind this man watching him with considerable distrust and he leapt forward, snatched the rifle and stomped the man down into the trench – all the time yelling at him in the choicest language (and he had an impressive vocabulary) about how stupid and careless he was.

The Cypriot was incensed and tried to go for the SM only to get clobbered and marched off to the guardhouse for a week in the RP (Regimental Police) cells.

This was several years before the mandatory issuing of ear defenders for range work and anyone caught with four by two (weapon cleaning rags) in their ears would be teased and vilified implying deficient masculinity. I am sure that some of the problems I have today with hearing higher frequencies stem from those days – especially during zeroing when the number of men on the firing line was doubled and the rifles on either side were about a metre away. Further range exercises and listening to noisy radios while wearing earphones in my first few years of service probably also contributed!

Some very mean, bullying tricks were played occasionally. There was a very slightly built chap (a first class bloke – let’s call him Mike – with whom I was to become friendly a few years later) who had been made pony master (he was in charge of the regimental mascot) but he still had to learn drill and shooting. One day on the range some smartarse turned Mike’s SLR gas regulator to zero while he was not looking.

The gas regulator controls the gasses from the fired round directing some of them to sharply push back a piston to automatically reload the weapon. Normally set to around position five, lower settings meant the recoil became increasingly, and unneccesarily, violent – not good for the weapon nor for the shooter.

Not noticing what had happened Mike took up his prone firing position but when he fired the weapon he let out a yell of agony and laid the rifle down. I think he may have had a cracked collar bone. He was horribly bruised around the shoulder area and in considerable pain – much to the amusement of the bullies behind the trick. (I think Sgt Annandale sorted them out though).

A few weeks later we were to fire the Sterling sub-machine gun and Mike, who probably only weighed about a hundred pounds or so, turned up with a pad of cloth around his shoulder (not knowing or believing that the nine millimetre Sterling had no recoil to speak of). When the SM spotted the padding he humiliated Mike by showing it off to all those on the firing line which I felt was rather unfair and poor Mike was so embarrassed.

Young and overwhelmed by all that was going on – and feeling sorry for Mike – many of us did not say anything but when we were asked why we were not laughing we had to smile weakly in order to BELONG – and not become targets ourselves.

In spite of these unsettling incidents I feel there was nothing particularly special about my initial training.

Grenade training was fun if only for the TERROR shown by some of the men – some of the BIG DEAL bullies at that! Many of the guys wanted to throw the grenade and run and had to be held UP by the scruff of the neck by the instructor and MADE to watch the grenade land. I watched my grenade roll to a stop but did not need the instructor to pull me into cover though! Years later I had to instruct some people on hand grenades and it was odd to observe the “students” from the perspective of the instructor – and have to be ready to grab the runners.

One morning before we were marched off for another round of drill we were asked by the instructor:
“Does anyone want to join the regular army?”….

Joining the army – part two

National service – first phase continued.

The people in my barrack room ranged in age from around 18 – like me – to the early-to-mid twenties. Some of the older young men had been to university or been overseas but inevitably the call-up had netted them.

A few smug individuals had older relatives who had completed their call-up. They had, variously and through these relatives or friends, obtained boots that were highly BONED, brasses that had been squared and buffed for them and some even had mess tins and so on that had been CHROMED so that they merely had to wipe them for inspection and could use their issued kit for day to day use.

It was interesting to see how the various instructors reacted to this preparedness – some accepted it and others would throw these items off the beds and sneeringly tell these men to make sure that the ISSUED kit was presented for inspection. Of course the PREPARED boots and brass would pass muster. I remember that I battled with drill boots (we called them STICK BOOTS) until one of the batmen came round and, for about ten shillings or a pound they boned the boots for us. A few times the batmen’s quarters were raided and then those without boots for inspection were in deep trouble! I was lucky and was not discovered having my boots set up by the batman!

Many of those who had benefitted from the experience of their predecessors had DURAGLIT™ – something I had never heard of and was marvellous to use compared to Brasso™. I also learned to scrounge some beaverboard (sometimes call softboard) on which one could REALLY shine brass with the help of Brasso™.

Lots of tips and tricks were shared or observed and a team effort emerged because it was in no-one’s interest for any member of the barrack room to fail inspection.

About three weeks into training my feet and ankles started to swell from the hours of drill and the pain in my feet was excruciating. Sick parade was no fun and the doctor and medics were mostly indifferent to us recruits. I started to worry that I would be back-squadded – everyone’s biggest fear – that meant staying for a second round of recruit training. I don’t know what made me think of it but I stuffed my packs and other gear under the end of my mattress to elevate my feet at night. Within two days I was OK and had no further fear of being back-squadded. I did this for several weeks until I had no more problems.

Outside A company and ready to go on pass. The bush jackets were only for stepping out and ceremonial
Picture courtesy ORAFs

In those days all drill was done in stick boots (leather soles with hobnails) with puttees and hosetops, starched khaki shorts and shirts and a slouch hat with the brim up over the left ear. Of course the intricacies of putting on the puttees correctly gave the instructors plenty of scope for criticism at inspections – never mind the boots having to gleam. (the picture is from 1962 – two years before my time in those barrack rooms)

“You think those boots are shined, boy?”
“Yes, colour!”
“What!” screams the Colour Sergeant in the recruit’s face – so close that little specks of spittle land on the poor unfortunate’s shirt. “I’ll put my boot up your arse so fucking hard it will come out of your mouth and FUCKING BLIND YOU – that is what shined is you fucking arsehole!”
“Yes, colour” but the NCO had already moved on and was regaling the next unfortunate with his expletive ridden, sarcastic criticism.

We had THREE Smiths in our squad and one morning the instructors were observed marching up to the barrack rooms a few minutes earlier than normal. There was a scramble to get out onto the road and form up for inspection before they arrived.

This one Colour Sergeant, a small built man with an English accent that the rest of us struggled with (he was not our normal squad instructor) completed his inspection and looked at the squad, and looked at us again. Marched up and down each rank, looking each inwardly trembling man over and obviously puzzled by SOMETHING that was wrong.

He marched out again and turned to face the squad. Just as we thought he was about to march us off he SCREAMED – “SMITH!” Three Smiths took a smart pace forward. “Not you and you,” he shouted, stabbing at the other two with his stick and they, smartly and with obvious relief, stepped back into line.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Mr Smith” he bellowed, standing about a foot away from Smith. “What, Colour?” came the bewildered reply.
“Do you think you are fucking clever, Mr Smith? Did you think you could get away with this you little shit?” (made funnier because the NCO was about five foot six and Smith was over six foot)
“What, Colour?”

Most of us had seen what Smith had done and to this day I don’t know if he was bucking the system or if it had just been as a result of undue haste but his hat was on back-to-front. Where everyone else had the upturned brim with the badge over the left ear his was the opposite way round. (see picture above where all the hats are correct)

“Do you see that hangar over there?” said the NCO, pointing with his stick at an aircraft hangar made small by distance. Smith’s head snapped to the side, “Yes, Colour”. “You will DOUBLE AROUND that hangar and when you come back into view you had better be properly dressed, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“No, Colour, er yes Colour, er, what, Colour?” “Run, you fucking idiot or you will be on a fucking charge”.

As Smith took off for the distant hangar the NCO, who had been aware of the sniggers of the rest of the squad, suddenly screamed “What the fuck are you laughing at?” causing the squad to immediately brace up. “You keep laughing and you will join that fucking idiot”. A suppressed laugh or two later and we were off for the distant hangar, at the double and with dire warnings about being last back…

One morning, instead of being marched out onto the old airfield for drill we were marched towards the stores and issued with rifles from the nearby armoury – the SLR (Self Loading Rifle). Used by the British army the L1A1 was widely considered a more rugged improvement on the FN FAL that would become the Rhodesian Army’s standard issue rifle a few years later.

We were to do several days of drill with the rifle before starting weapons training but everyone was suddenly more interested in this new development.

Joining the army – part one

National service – first phase

I had thought about joining the army for some time when I was still in high school and after writing my high school finals in 1963 (in which I got terrible results – another story for another time) I decided to go for it.

It must have been about November 1963 when my best friend at the time, Willie van Rooyen, and I presented ourselves at the Army recruiting office.

I was quite short-sighted and wore heavy horn-rimmed specs and Willie had a bad limp.

Willie had fallen off a roof a couple of years earlier while bunking school. The neighbours in the council flats where we both lived thought it would teach Willie a lesson to be left in pain – assuming he would get up and limp away to nurse his bruised ego. What they did not know was that the head of his femur had popped out of the hip socket and, from lying there for several hours unable to move because of the extreme pain, the fluids in the joint had dried up (my understanding of what Willie was to tell me about it later) and it would now require surgery and bone work in order to be put together again.

The nett result was that Willie’s one leg was shorter than the other and he walked with an increasingly pronounced limp.

After our tests we went for a medical and were told we would be informed of the results. We were concerned about Willie’s tests because of his leg but when the letters came he was accepted with no restriction and I was rejected for being short-sighted! We had made a pact that if we could not BOTH join up then neither of us would and we kept to that pact.

I was puzzled though, because my friend Graham McCallum was in the regular army – and had been for about 18 months already – and he was as short sighted as I was if not more so. I approached the recruiting office and they said there was nothing to be done and assured me that any chance of serving was to be forgotten. “Even National Service?” I asked and was assured that I would not be called up. (with hindsight this was the end of Federation and that may have had a bearing on attitudes and so forth as far as recruiting was concerned).

I went and got a job with the OK Bazaars, supposedly in their advertising department hoping to become a commercial artist eventually but I ended up selling pots and pans, much to my chagrin.

Fast forward to September 1964 and I got a call-up notice and was promptly fired!! (they could do that in those days and I had said, in good faith, that I was not eligible for callup).

In mid October, having turned 18 in the August, I entrained from Salisbury station to join Intake 70 at DRRR (Depot the Royal Rhodesian Regiment). We arrived at Heany Junction the following morning where several army trucks, drivers and junior NCOs were waiting for us.
We had the usual hazing that all new recruits went through – on and off the trucks – never fast enough getting on or off with our luggage but eventually we were taken to the barracks quartermaster stores to be issued with our kit.

Loaded like pack mules with our civilian kit and our army issue we were formed up in a shambling column and marched (well sort of marched!) up to the A Company lines by our instructors.
Of course we kept calling the instructors SIR, this and SIR, that and got yelled at for doing so:
“I am not a fucking officer boy! I am a fucking COLOUR SERGEANT DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“YES, SIR”
“NO, YOU STUPID CUNT, YOU CALL ME COLOUR! I am a COLOUR sergeant!”
“YES, COLOUR”

This exchange was going on in every barrack room and was to continue for a few days until we got the hang of it.

We were then told to ensure that the floor of the barrack room was gleaming for the next mornings inspection and told to get the polish (in huge 25litre cans) off the back of the land rover.

On opening the polish (that waxy, stoep/veranda/cement floor type of polish) we found that it was black while the barrack room floor was green. Some brave souls approached the staff and told them there had been a mistake. “NO, THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING MISTAKE” bellowed the Colour Sergeant, “we want the fucking floor BLACK by 0600 tomorrow morning. Get the paraffin and rags and brushes off the truck!”

There were a few “But, buts” and other comments that brought down more wrath on the heads of the speakers and we all retreated into the barrack room to get started – by this time it was getting late and we still had to go and have supper (we had been introduced to the mess hall at lunch time).

It took all night. We moved everything to one end of the barrack room and cleaned and scrubbed and scraped then moved the gear to the other end and did the rest. We then had to put everything back in place and be ready for inspection. We saw the sunrise that morning without benefit of sleep.

Typically shiny barrack room getting ready for inspection
Picture courtesy ORAFs

We were to be cleaning waxy green/black paraffin-infused muck from under our nails and the pores of our hands for days but at 0600 the barrack room had a black floor. One of the junior instructors had come in a couple of times during the night and hazed us but also given some valuable advice. A few recruits from B Company messed us around but soon left us alone when a couple of them were nearly flattened.

We had a grudging approval from the Sergeant in charge of our barrack room who was a pretty decent chap named Annandale although the platoon warrant officer, WOII Mould, was not so easily pleased – ever!

We had one chap who professed to HATE the food and determined he would NOT eat what was served in the dining halls. He used to buy what he could at the canteen but there was not much in the way of proper nourishment available considering the extremely physical routine we were being pushed through. One morning he came to breakfast, wolfed down EVERYTHING he had been able to get on his plate and asked the people nearby for any toast or sausages they weren’t going to eat. No one said anything but everyone was highly amused.

I actually don’t remember too much of the first few weeks – it was a haze of doing things at the double, of marching, of weapon training and field work and we gradually started to work as a unit, as a team,  responding to the army way of doing things. We also became very fit in phase one training…

Beard coming…

There seems to be quite a fascination for beards here, where I now live – particularly among young men, and I mean YOUNG men!

Thing is, many of these beards just look so odd.

There’s this beard coming towards me. A huge, luxuriant brown handsome beard and I notice that the beard has this skinny little guy attached to it.

The beard turns so that it can look at someone and you observe a rather attractive young thing in animated conversation with the bush on legs. The beard turns to the front and continues its approach and then one sees the cap and a pair of eyes glittering behind the foliage, under the deep shadow of the cap brim.

This chap is so proud of his beard but it is TOTALLY out of proportion to the little fellow that it, the beard, is wearing.

Another time and another beard heaves into view. This luxuriant, reddish monster is forked. Each fork is about twenty centimetres long and the distance apart at the ends is probably also twenty centimetres. From the centre of the fork to the moustache is probably the same distance. As it gets nearer one notices a nose and a pair of eyes peering over the shrubbery. Once again the face is shadowed by the bill of one of those omnipresent baseball caps.

Below and behind this forked growth is a youngster of perhaps 20-22 years with the build and innocent-seeming eyes of a child. He looks up at something and the beard levers away from his chest to a position horizontal to the ground, weirdly reminding me of the bonnet of a car being opened!

Now there is nothing wrong with a beard – I myself have sported one since 1980 – but somehow these slightly built, young guys just look so incongruous with these luxuriant facial jungles that are so out of proportion to their stature.

I’m sure that out in the woods somewhere there are great big lumberjacks who would LOVE to have such magnificent growths as I see strolling around with these waif-like fellows attached!

Then again of course there are blokes who are in in charge of some truly smart beards that are perfectly balanced to their faces and frames. Where the man dominates and the beard knows its place!

I suppose it is like body art – to each their own…and I must add that some of these slight, magnificently bearded, fellows seem to have no problem with the chicks! Perhaps there is a lesson in that – but we won’t go there.

About CROCS – and bullies

A while ago I read an article by some smart fellows who were giving forth on sartorial dos and don’ts.

Right at the end of the article we, all of us – men and women, are exhorted to never, ever, under any circumstances and NO MATTER HOW COMFORTABLE they may be, wear CROCS©.

I remember a theatre nurse wearing CROCS© many years ago and I questioned her about them. She told me that irrespective of the lack of elegance and adverse comment about them they were the most comfortable and easy to clean footwear for someone who has to be on their feet all day and pretty much all her colleagues were wearing them at work. I went out and bought a pair of black CROCS© clogs.

Now the sight of skinny legs ending in those clumpy TRAINERS or running shoes while wearing little hide away non-socks, making said legs look like upside down lollipops, seems to escape comment from the stylistas…but, wear CROCS©!

CROCS© stay on your feet, are comfortable to drive or walk in, are as inelegant as hobnailed boots on a fashion catwalk…and make you a pariah. People will cross the street to avoid associating with you. Non-U does not even approach the disapproval the fashion police will heap upon you.

Comment or advice around the subject of CROCS© is usually offered in the most disparaging and derogatory of terms. Can terms that clearly reference one’s sanity and sense of community really be termed advice? Actually it is a superiorlookingdownthenose form of BULLYING!

However, having reached my three score and ten years, comfort rules, really it does. If I am casually dressed why are slops OK but CROCS© are not? After major surgery on my knees I wore Crocs© all the time during my rehab and walked miles in them with no discomfort.

With this in mind I had a little badge made, with an acronym that I shamelessly cribbed from Kevin Bloody Wilson, the irreverent Aussie comic. The badge blatantly reads DILLIGAF which, loosely translated, means:

Do I Look Like I Give A Flying damn

There is certainly nothing elegant about CROCS©, no matter what colour they are, but they are extremely comfortable and practical so at my age – DILLIGAF!

NB: where I grew up FLIP-FLOPS were always called SLIP SLOPS hence, SLOPS.

Postscript: NO-ONE turns a hair when I wear these particular CROCS©!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hitch Hiking December 1979

As December 1979 approached David, my brother, and I decided to go Cape Town.

We were both serving in the Rhodesian Army with plenty of leave available but to save money and have a bit of “adventure” we hitch-hiked and stayed with my aunt in Constantia.

Because of the situation in Rhodesia convoys, escorted by police and army reservists, ran between main areas. As soldiers and with our service rifles we would be very welcome on, or in, anyone’s vehicle.

Salisbury to Fort Victoria to Beit Bridge, about 600kms, was boring and uncomfortable. At Beit Bridge we signed our weapons in to the BSAP armoury.

We walked over to South Africa and got a lift to the Mountain View hotel in the mountains above Louis Trichardt. It was raining and the hotel owners let us camp in some disused, leaky, sheds. We put up our tents, (leaky roof, remember) ate, had a beer then slept.

Day TWO dawned cool and misty and after a wash in the gents we made our way down to the main road. The rain had stopped and it was misty but we held up our CA (Cape Town registration) sign. A young woman roared up and offered us a ride. She had a crow in a box on the back seat (don’t ask because I don’t think we found out why). She drove like the clappers and roared through misty Louis Trichardt – ignoring stop streets – while chatting away excitedly.

In Pietersburg (Polokwane) we found an excuse to leave our dangerously cheerful benefactor, got a bite to eat and went to the main road.

We soon got another lift, being dropped near the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) in Pretoria. We trudged for about a kilometre when a truck pulled over. Offered a ride in the enclosed rear – no communication, view or way to open the door, we declined his “kind” offer

At around 1400 we got a lift to Meyerton south of Johannesburg, pleased we didn’t have to navigate Johannesburg’s confusing highways.

We were wondering about where we would sleep when a bulk liquids 28-wheeler pulled up and offered us a ride all the way to Cape Town.

Our job was to talk to the driver so that he would not get bored and go to sleep…at the wheel!

It was late, very late, when we stopped at a sleepy Beaufort West for cokes and a pie and again, shortly before dawn, at a watering point in the middle of nowhere.

Going over du Toit’s kloof (a picturesque, and dangerous, mountain pass) was marvellous. Outside Paarl and about an hour from Cape Town though, the driver said we must find another ride – if seen with passengers he would be in trouble.

With no-one stopping to give us a lift I called an ex-army friend who came and fetched us and took us to the Pig and Whistle pub in Rondebosch. It was early afternoon on day THREE – not bad going.

I only stayed about a fortnight and  it was now Saturday of my last weekend and once again in the city and hanging around our uncle’s brother’s market stall I knew we would be doing bugger all else. We had been relying on my uncle for transport but always ended up going where, and doing what, he wanted and I really wanted David to get a better experience of the city. Even though I had only lived in the Cape as a child 20-plus years before I said to David “Let’s go, I’ll show you how to get around”.

We went on foot to the harbour and a pub then by bus to Clifton and Sea Point.

Friends in Sea Point took us to the Pig & Whistle and later we took the train to Wynberg where we bought the best fish and chips ever across the road from the station!

We got a bus to Alphen – and walked several miles to my aunt and uncle’s house in Constantia. I was wearing brand new jeans and was chafed raw, but we’d had a good time.

David was staying for a few more weeks which was why I had wanted to show him how to get around! He had a great time on his own after I left.

We got a lift into the City the next morning and I held up my sign, the one David is holding in the picture, with the Rhodesian flag colours and SBY (Salisbury) on it. My first lift to the Worcester turn-off left me stranded for three hours in 40°C temperatures.

Finally, in Beaufort West after having got another lift, I stood for five hours on the northern edge of town. When it started to get dark I got permission to camp on the lawns of the motel over the road. I had some food and was back on the roadside at 0500.

I read a book, standing there, an ENTIRE BOOK and at 1500 a car stopped near me and I asked bemusedly, “Are you offering me a lift?”

We slept somewhere during the night. I’d worried a bit about my benefactors but they dutifully delivered me in Joburg where I was able to spend the night with my brother in law. Next day I was on the road at Buccleuch interchange and got a lift all the way to Beit Bridge.

My convoy lift developed car trouble and, with the main convoy drawing away quickly, there was potential danger for a lone car. After a few roadside repairs and with a few other stragglers we made our own convoy. I think I was the only one among them armed but we made Fort Victoria OK. From there to Salisbury was straightforward.

I was home for Christmas with a backpack stuffed with gifts and bits and pieces others had asked me to get.

 

What it feels like to be a bully!

Well, my first reaction to this questioning statement was: “How would I know?”

Then I remembered a brief period at junior school when I became “friends” with a school bully group.

Other children with whom I would normally have played avoided us. The leader would push others around making other children feel afraid.

Then Mr Bully picked on a child who knew how to stand up for himself. He pushed back and when he was hit he retaliated so effectively that the bully was in retreat and in tears, still muttering threats.

The young man asked if anyone else wanted to try to push him around.

The group broke up and dispersed and I walked away with a distinct feeling of relief – not at the fact that I had not been involved in a fight but that I could return to being normal. My flirtation with bullying had lasted less than a week.

I have never been, or wanted to be, a bully and my brief brush with it left me with a profound sense of discomfort.

 

Time

Time and the river“, is the name of a song and the analogy is really quite apt.

On a lazy holiday one may encounter a slow-flowing stream that complements one’s frame of mind – and the song that so aptly describes the experience. Time seems to stretch itself out into a very relaxed tempo.

Conversely imagine being pursued by an enemy along a river in full flood, lots of rapids, in a steep valley. Time takes on the urgency of flight and the rushing river, the confused sounds of scrambling along, rushing water and the PURSUIT adds a dimension of confusion and rush.

And life? Life at times seems to be proceeding at a leisurely pace and dragging along – especially when waiting for a long-anticipated event.

Then again, at every turn of the week we are startled to find the time gone as we exclaim “Is it time to put the bins out, again?”

 

The Record

These days gramophone records are obsolescent at best – having nearly become obsolete they are experiencing a nostalgic resurgence.

The historical record is one that will never become obsolete but it IS one that some agencies seek to corrupt and rewrite to suit their own agendas.

Not enough people seem to care that the records of history are really important if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past – such as world wars.

A frightening trend appears to be sweeping the world with new generations often seeming to align themselves with suspect organisations. Organisations that would, for their own (and sometimes unknown) purposes deny the lessons of recent history – that which has happened in the last hundred years.

If the record is not truthfully maintained and honestly taught, and the lessons of that history are not fully understood then the future record will speak of the repetition of untold tragedy – of a history unlearned and a record ignored.