Risky laughter

In the army one attended many courses and this incident happened on my Operators Radio and Line Class III signals course.

We learned many things besides radio operating in the Corps of Signals and on this course, in addition to the expected Morse code (yes, in 1966 it was still in use), voice and morse operating procedures and antenna theory and practical we learned basics of electricity and electronics, batteries and charging and, covering several slightly unexpected things, the LINE part of the course.

This included laying field telephone lines, line termination and repairs, connecting up the field exchanges, basic maintenance of the field telephones and SWITCHBOARD operating procedures. (I was to use one of the LINE lessons I learned about twenty years later when a tree I was pruning for a client snapped a Telkom telephone line and my temporary line repair, as per army training, remained in full view for several years afterwards).

Switchboards could be multiple line Field & Fortress installations where up to fifty lines at a time (or more if needed) may be terminated – mostly however we used the ten-line field telephone switchboard known by its official nomenclature as: Switchboard magneto 10-line. This was generally adequate for most field deployments at brigade level or below.

The PROCEDURE for connecting a call was twofold – there was the actual connecting of the call and the spoken procedure to be employed as a call was received and connected.

The spoken part was easy enough: (not sure how accurate I am being but near enough)

Exchange, sir, who can I connect you with?
Ops room, please (some officers/callers actually said, please)
One moment please, sir.

(you then connected yourself to the ops room and announced a call from whoever had called)

Ops room, I have a call from Provost, sir.
Put it through….
Now you connected them while remaining connected yourself and announced: You are through to ops room, sir.
Listen for a moment to ensure that they are connected and talking then disconnected yourself. Simple enough – although the subscribers were supposed to RING OFF many did not and after a time you had to plug in and ask – and sometimes get an earful for your temerity.

The physical PLUGGING THROUGH of these calls, while quite
straightforward, is where the hilarity commenced for Brian – because of the terminology.

While it is easy to say that the operator plugs himself through to the calling line and then partly connects the called party to the caller’s line while getting through to the called party etc, etc the use of the correct instructional terminology is where it fell apart for Brian.

The switchboard has ten sockets and under each one is a cable with a plug. Above each socket is a little label that can be numbered or otherwise marked and this drops (it is, surprisingly, called a drop indicator) when a call is received so that there is no doubt as to which line is calling (or called first as the case may be).

The SOCKETS are called JACKS – the correct term is jack socket while the matching PLUG is really a jack plug. Now, if you read this aloud you may understand why it tickled Brian so much. (Never mind the chat previously described that also had to take place)

This is, with reasonable accuracy, how the instruction was given:

On receipt of a call the calling line drop-indicator will fall.
The operator will take his own plug and plug it into the caller’s jack.
The operator will then take the called party’s line and, after removing his plug from the caller’s jack he will put the called party’s plug partly into the caller’s jack.
Plugging his own plug into the called party’s jack he will ring that extension.
After getting a response that the call is accepted and to complete the call…
…the operator now pushes the called party’s plug fully into the calling party’s jack and….
…announces to both parties that they are connected and then…
…after listening to ensure that two subscribers are connected (talking) he will remove his plug from the called party’s jack.

Brian started to snigger quite early in the above description and by the time it got halfway he was shaking – paroxysms of laughter that he was DESPERATELY trying to suppress. Of course once you are in that situation you just CANNOT suppress it. Every time you try, the reason for your laughter kicks in and you burst out again.

“LEGG” yelled Staff Sergeant Sager, “what is so fucking funny?”

“Nothing, Staff” he gasped, unsuccessfully stifling another bubbling, rocking gale of laughter that was entirely at odds with the look of horrified fear on his face.

“Well what are you bloody well laughing at?”

“Nothing, Staff!” all the time snorting and gasping to suppress the laughter that just WOULD NOT go away.

The rest of us were, by this time, wholly amused while trying not to show it – or WE would also get a share of the Staff’s anger. Laughter is infectious and I think I remember a slight smirk on the Staff Sergeant’s face – quickly wiped off – as he once again demanded to know what Brian was finding so damned funny.

Staff Sergeant Sager, our course NCO, had a reputation as something of a martinet in the lecture room and was renowned for his often harsh punishment of those who crossed him – which explains the look of horror on Brian’s face as he laughed uncontrollably. He must have felt he was digging his own grave.

I cannot remember if Brian was punished or if we were punished as a group (there were nine of us on the course) by being CB – Confined to Barracks – for the weekend or whether we all got away with it (I think Brian took some stick though).  


Plumtree – about 1977

When I was attached to the Rhodesian Armoured Car regiment as RSI / Acting Signals Troop Commander the regiment did a deployment to the Plumtree area.  I don’t actually remember the time of year but I think it was  late winter…?

In Salisbury the vehicles were loaded onto a special military mixed freight/passenger train. The trip took a day and a night and we all slept on the train while it travelled through the night. A good time was had on the train (some had a better time than others…).  On arrival in Plumtree and unloading we harboured up in a base camp just outside of the town.

I recall that during the deployment all HF communications went for a ball of chalk countrywide due to some spectacular sun spot activity and I had to institute some innovative measures to maintain communications. For me, however, that was not the most memorable part of the trip – it was something seemingly mundane yet something not many get to experience.

The Rhodesian Army ensured that its troops were well fed and when deployed with a headquarters element that had a decent caterer we ate the most marvellous meals made from the excellent fresh rations supplied. On this trip, as with many others, it was discovered that there was plentiful game around and one of the local farmers gave us permission to shoot a kudu to increase our already generous meat rations.

Several men went out on the hunt vehicle – a doorless Land Rover. I heard later that the person who had proclaimed himself the MAIN HUNTER fluffed his shot- Steve “FRANTAN” van Niekerk, who was driving, snatched his service rifle from its clip by the driver’s right leg and with one left-handed snapshot brought down the kudu.

The cook soon had the beast hung, skinned, cut up and into the freezer truck.

Next morning breakfast at the senior NCOs and officers’ tables consisted of the usual coffee, toast, eggs, bacon, sausages and little medallions of kudu fillet in a delicious sauce. No matter the heavy government crockery and cutlery – this was not just a meal but the stuff of safari legends that, as I observed to the chap next to me, people would travel far and pay big money to experience.

Us soldiers? Well, we were at work of course!

I should add that the troopers and everyone else in camp benefitted from this venison bonanza – not just the officers and NCOs.


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 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.


Picking up the pieces

Life can be like a favourite jigsaw puzzle that you have made many times. Then, in the strange way that these things happen, a few pieces go missing.

When your partner unexpectedly dies under unexplained circumstances your life falls apart and you can, after a while, gather together most of the pieces and even replace some of those that are otherwise irretrievable.

Some pieces however you can never find again. That person who shared your life and dreams – who frustrated and often angered you – is gone and, most painfully, it is when you see something you would have shared and the thought “I must tell…” dies in your still-bewildered mind that the enormous finality crushes you over and over.

All these things do fade and they do become less painful but the worst is when you are let down – by all the authorities who should determine the causes and allow you the solace of what is called closure.

Strange word that because it will never close – that door that will forever be ajar.

You go forward with new circumstance and a new partner building a new life but the pieces that could not be found will scratch and scratch at your thoughts forever.



I love reading and, as a child, my reading was always years ahead of my age.

As a result, I had a pretty good vocabulary from an early age.

The pitfall is that no one is teaching you, so you GET it but you do not necessarily know how to SAY it.

For years the most misleading thing in my life was that I thought MISLED was pronounced MYZILLED. I DID, really, I did but for some reason I had never been conscious of speaking it  correctly – my mental autopilot just used it I suppose but I never connected it to my READING misapprehension.

My EUREKA moment came one day when the word MISLEAD occurred in what I was reading. Of course!…the present tense of MISLED that I had heard, understood – and even spoken – so many times, while my brain had persisted with MYZILLED! I looked around guiltily for a moment, as if everyone knew my little secret!

Years later I was listening to a discussion programme and a woman told how her father had always read MISLED as MYZILLED – suddenly I was not alone.


After Guinea Fowl School (GFS)

Guinea Fowl School is/was located in the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) midlands halfway between the towns of Gwelo and Selukwe – roughly eleven miles either way. (today those names are Zimbabwe, Gweru and Shurugwe and the distance would be 18 kilometres). It still exists, GFS, having been reopened but it is not the same and is very run down and rather sad in the pictures I have seen. (The GFS blazer badge – as worn in the period that the school was originally open is shown here).

I attended GFS, where I was in Wellington House, from January 1959 to December 1960. There were six houses then – located at TOP school were Wellington, Lancaster, York and Stirling (Stirling was still a girls’ house in 1959, the last year in which girls were still at the school). At bottom school, just over half a kilometre away on the other side of the main road and railway line, were situated Lincoln and Blenheim houses. Anyone who knows anything about the air war in Britain will recognise the names of bomber aircraft of the RAF and a picture of a Wellington bomber is shown in the photograph.

With each house accommodating about 60-70 of us there would have been around 400 students.

In retrospect I did not realise how happy I was at GFS until quite some time after I had left.

The school was on the site of a WWII training airbase and the hutments that had been used to house staff and trainees had been converted into school hostels, teachers’ single quarters and houses for the married teaching staff. When I arrived there the new school classroom block had just been built but there were still a number of classes being held in the old buildings including one of the old aircraft hangars.

With its own small hospital, a chapel, swimming pool, large communal kitchen and dining halls and vast grounds and sports fields it was a great place for young people to be educated. Long rambles into the surrounding bush were the order of the day on most Sundays. After eating the breakfast cereal we would make a sandwich of our bacon and egg and sneak it out in a handkerchief to eat for lunch later. There was a kind of overarching esprit de corps at the school. The same esprit pertained in the individual houses with fierce inter-house rivalry, helped by the fact that each house had its own accommodation buildings. The large dining halls were shared and each house was seated in its own section of the halls. Bottom school had its own dining hall and kitchen complex but all school work and sport took place at TOP school.

The reason I left the school was because my stepfather had experienced some setbacks and could no longer afford my boarding fees. The Department of Education ruled that because my parents had moved to Salisbury (today’s Harare) I had to go to a day school near home as the family was now living in an area served by a local high school – we having previously lived in the Sinoia/Karoi (Chinhoyi/Karoi) rural area.

I hated Cranborne Boys High (my new school) – it was new and rough. I remember Mr Brown the headmaster, as he was about to cane me (because I had been falsely accused of something and would not counter-accuse), saying something like this to me: “Young man you need to realise that there are no traditions such as you had at Guinea Fowl, at this school. These boys think you are a mug and none of them would dream of owning up. By keeping silent you are accepting their accusations and I have to punish you”. I received three cuts and was laughed at on my return to class.

I never did tell tales and was bullied for a time until I clocked a couple of the ringleaders after which I was left alone.

I had all but stopped Latin at GFS because I would not have been taking it in Form 3 had I stayed, so I refused to do it at Cranborne. As a result, I was moved down from the four year A stream to the five-year B stream.  My classroom colleagues were not A-streamers either.

In June 1961 my stepfather was killed in a car accident on the Lomagundi road. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister only three months old.

I missed a term of school while my mother took us to Cape Town (where she was born). She decided Rhodesia would be better for us and we went back. She told me if I passed that school year I would get a bike. I came seventh in a class of over forty and she kept her word. I only realised later the sacrifices she made in order to do that.

We lived at Cranborne hostel (as we had before my stepfather died) for several months. This was the old WWII air base that was to become HQ 2 Brigade a few years later. We then moved to Queensdale and finally Cranborne Park.

1961 was to be the last year that I really did fairly well at school and although I got a good pass at the end of 1962 in Form 4 and a full CoP (College of Preceptors) my work deteriorated. I got a lousy GCE O level and battled to find work – it was also the first year of GCE replacing the Cambridge certificate which had caused some confusion.

I wanted to join the Air Force or Army on leaving school but the air force turned me down (I suffer with colour confusion – I see colours but not in quite the same way everyone else does). The Army also turned me down for being short-sighted. I took a job with the OK Bazaars under the impression I was not ever going to serve in the military.

When I got called up in the September of 1964 the OK promptly fired me but that left me free to get into the Regular Army – a lot of friends were already in the army.

In my interview at Llewellyn Barracks the reason for being refused at the end of 1963 was brought up and I said if I could be shot at as a short-sighted territorial surely I could as easily be shot at in the regular army with the same condition. (I think that the break-up of Federation at the end of 1963 was to blame for them not taking too many people when I first applied?)

I was attested into the Corps of Signals because I did so well on signals course and my request for infantry was met with the option of not joining up or joining signals (sometimes referred to as a dog’s choice vs bugger all choice)!! I think it was the right CHOICE in the end and I did very well in the Corps. I served from my National Service call-up in September 1964 to the end of April 1980 with a short break trying the BSAP in 1975 (I hated it and promptly transferred back to the army). I was a Warrant Officer Class 2 in 1979 up to the end of my service and my next logical career move – that was not to be – would have been to go for a commission. I served until the 30th of April 1980 after which we sold up and moved to South Africa.

The picture of me at Victoria Falls was taken on an instamatic in mid-December 1966. We were returning from a one week signals course exercise during which my detachment had been based between Victoria Falls and Kazangula. I was 20 at the time.

I left the Army in 1975 at the end of my first ten-year contract in a vain attempt to save my marriage which ended in divorce that year. It was not the fault of the army although the tensions of the day played a part. Janet and I have a daughter who was born in 1974.

The BSAP (British South Africa Police) was the national police force of Rhodesia. In 1975 when the police advertised for individuals with a communication background I applied and was accepted. The job was in plainclothes and, oddly, not really police work at all. I was not at all happy and transferred back to the army on 1 March 1976, almost exactly a year after leaving.

In the Army I had done several courses and been fortunate to serve with some really good officers who mentored me. I found that as a senior NCO and as a Warrant Officer I was frequently in charge of sub-units and was appointed in acting positions in the absence of available officers. I ran two signals troops as acting OC and near the end of 1979 I was attached to the Commander, Rhodesian Signals, for the last 5 months of my service.

During this final period of time I carried out liaison for a short time with the communications elements of ZANU PF and ZANLA then took over the running of the communications for the Salisbury District area of command for the elections period. The area was vast – Darwendale to Marandellas (Marondera) and Mazoe (Mazowe) to just north of Beatrice. HQ Salisbury District at that time was being run as a brigade headquarters.  I drew up the Signals order, drew and issued all the required equipment, deployed the personnel and oversaw the successful completion of the operation.

After that I was tasked with putting together a team to provide communications backup for the Independence Celebrations. I and my team were afterwards congratulated on a signals backup that enabled the complex logistics to proceed when the telephone system could not cope with the volume of communications traffic. Once I had returned all the equipment and given my team their Independence Medals (a most informal medals parade, it was held in the lounge of Meikles Hotel over drinks) it was the end of April 1980 and the end of my service.

The letter to the right is the one thanking the Army for our assistance. I got all my team to sign it when I issued them with their Independence Medals. I also received a separate, personal letter of thanks from the department.

In South Africa I worked in the two-way radio industry for most of the time with a couple of forays into my own handyman business while unemployed after being retrenched (made redundant). I have always had something of the square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling as a civilian having made up my mind before the end of the seventies to make the army my permanent career.

After my late wife, Rose, died I remarried Janet who was again divorced and with whom I had maintained a close but long-distance friendship. After visiting her in 2014 we decided to remarry and she came to SA in 2015 for the ceremony. My application to join her in Australia, where she is a citizen, was approved in 2016.

I now live in an area called the Sunshine Coast in Queensland which is very beautiful – the Pacific Ocean is ten minutes away. If it had been suggested a few years ago that this is where I would be, very happily remarried to the person I have always loved, I would have scoffed at the idea!

To clarify that last statement. After the divorce from Janet (that I did not want) I had to get on with my life and I dearly loved those to whom I was married in the interim but, to use THE BEATLES’ song IN MY LIFE as an analogy:

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before

(and) I know I’ll often stop and think about them
(but) In my life I love you more

If you have sound listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAGvON_WjUA

Having always been the “go to” person for letters and proofing, and having worked at a typesetting company (during one of those REDUNDANCY periods), I found it natural to start a business doing proofreading, editing and copy writing. It is something I enjoy, suits my attention to detail (am I a bit OCD?) and the WWW is the perfect vehicle for it, for Erik the Ready and…I also still take on small DIY / handyman work. …and I am starting to add blog-type copy on my site to satisfy my love of writing