Refurbish workmate copy

Refurbish old WorkMate-type portable workbench

I was given this old piece of equipment and have found it very useful but difficult to use.

It only had two plastic dogs for clamping and one of the cranks for opening and closing the clamping action of the top was broken off.

I first fixed the broken crank handle with a piece of scrap aluminium tubing, an M6 bolt, some washers and spacers and a nylok nut. It looks odd but it does what is required, and the opening and closing of the table is smooth and effortless. (See pic V1)

I then found that the two plastic dogs were not satisfactory (see pic V2) and obviously would not hold a work piece firmly and squarely on the table.

I decided to make some new clamping dogs.

I first cut some pieces of 25mm hardwood dowel in 50mm lengths and got a friend to turn them on his lathe so that I had 20mm at the original 25mm diameter, the next 20mm at just under 20mm in diameter and he last 10mm tapered down to about 18.5mm. (also see pic V3).

After some sanding these PEG-type dogs fitted just fine (see pic V4) and held a work piece really well BUT…

I felt that if I clamped soft wood with the round hardwood pegs they could dent or bruise the wood unacceptably.

Only having some pine lying around, I made four dogs to slip over the pegs so that the clamping surfaces will be flat (see pics V5 & V6). The notches enable odd shaped pieces to be clamped and held too. I think I may have to scrounge around and find some harder, finer-grained wood and remake these because the pine might be a bit TOO soft – not at all hard wearing.

Overall, though, I am pleased with the result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clamping for drill press

Clamping a workpiece squarely for benchtop drill press

I was making some clamp dogs for a portable workbench and needed to drill 25mm holes in the prepared squares of wood.

After drilling a small pilot hole I then had to clamp each piece in my press vice and was concerned about getting them clamped so that they would be square (90°) to the drill. If my holes were not accurate then the dogs would not sit flat when slipped over the 25mm pegs.

I suddenly had the thought that I should look at the problem differently.

I lightly clamped the wood block then turned the vice upside down on the drill table. I loosened the vice and, by pressing on the body of the vice and, at the same time using a finger to press the wood down, re-tightened the vice.

Now when I presented the vice with the work clamped in it I could be confident that the work was SQUARE to the hole saw.

 

 

 

SOMERSET WEST – miniatures and Brooklax

I was probably ten when the miniatures collecting craze took hold in the school.

I think it started with one or two children having tiny bottles of Coke in miniature crates.

Soon we were getting into it quite seriously with dentist’s samples of toothpaste and any other “miniature” we could get our hands on.

In the town, maybe one street up from the Primary School and just off the main street was a company called EPEE Distributors. It was easy to remember and sort of a joke because my initials are EPE.

I had been into EPEE a couple of times to ask for miniatures, which, in the form of rep’s samples, they gave me. I remember they gave me a tiny tube of Kolynos toothpaste. It was quite distinctive with the yellow tube with black print on it. (If anyone remembers its colours differently then put it down to my colour confusion). There was also Ipana toothpaste and I had also got a tiny tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts and one or two other things from there.

The woman at reception told me that we could call in every couple of weeks and if there was anything new she would put one or two items aside for us.

One day after I had been playing at school, or at with some friends, I was going to hitch a ride to the Cylnor – if I got lucky, I might even get a lift part-way up Helderberg College Road. As I walked past EPEE Distributors I called in with my friend (I can’t remember who I was with) to check if they had any new miniatures. I think they were busy but they gave us a handful of samples (miniatures) and we scampered out to divide our loot.

Among the two or three items were about six sample packs of Brooklax, consisting of about six small squares that looked, innocently, like a tiny, thin slab of chocolate. The chocolate was even wrapped in silver foil and slid out of the wrapper just like Cadbury’s.

For those who do not know (and we didn’t) Brooklax is a fairly powerful laxative.

We got up to the garage where the fork in the road went right for Stellenbosch, and home for me, or left for Cape Town. My friend lived somewhere near there and went off home and I started walking up the hill. I got a lift as far as the Cylnor and started to trudge up Helderberg road.

I had read the instructions on the Brooklax wrapper without REALLY understanding the dire warnings. I decided a little taste would do no harm, would it? I mean it was just chocolate medicine that they would not just give to children if it was dangerous?

By the time I had walked to Irene Avenue I had eaten, if not all of one pack probably most of it. As I started into my road my tummy rumbled. Google Earth shows the distance from the corner to my then front gate as being 160 metres. I was probably 50 metres from the front gate when I rushed headlong into the bushes, barely able to adopt the position before my bowels emptied.

I made it home with about two more stops by which time there was nothing inside me and I was somewhat worried I was going to turn inside out.

When I told my mother why I looked so terrible she could barely contain her laughter but she made sure nothing bad would happen and I was OK to go to school next day. The lesson was well and truly learned.

To this day I avoid laxatives and even if a doctor wants to prescribe them, as has happened literally once or twice since, I try to talk the doctor out of it!

We children hiked everywhere if we did not cycle and thought nothing of it. Our parents forbade it of course but we did it anyway – a much gentler, law abiding and less dangerous world it was then.

SOMERSET WEST – Wa Wiel – Wagon Wheel

David, my friend, suggested I enlarge on this children’s farmyard game that I mentioned in my first Somerset West article.

We would draw the general shape, shown above, in the dirt in the yard. Usually by dragging out feet along to make the lines. It was perhaps thirty metres in diameter? A lot depended on the available space.

Much like what we called ON-ON (in Rhodesia I learned it was called Touchers) where the one who drew the short straw or lost at several rounds of one-potato, two-potato (we did not know about rock-paper-scissors yet) would be ON and have to take station in the BOSS (the middle) of the wheel.

As long as you were between the tramlines in the RIM of the wheel, you were safe – the boss and the spokes belonged to the person who was ON. Now I hope I have the rest of it right!

The object was incredibly complex – run down a spoke to the centre and run OUT on a different spoke, without being touched in the centre – or without being caught while on one of the spokes and dragged back to the centre. Do you see where the potential for it to get physical comes into play?

If you ran outside of the tramlines of the spokes you were deemed caught and would have to take your turn in the middle. No jumping across from one spoke of the wheel to another to avoid capture allowed. You could retreat, back up the spoke, if you changed your mind and were quick enough.

The person who was ON, tried to LOSE that position as soon as possible while the others’ ambition was just the opposite.

Several players would start to advance to the centre at the same time, tempting the ON player to try to catch one of them. If the guardian advanced towards one player on one of the spokes the hub would be temporarily unguarded and someone quick enough could score a point.

When play stopped the person who had made the most successful runs or points would be the winner. It was a pretty loose system though – mostly we just had fun. Generally, play stopped when we were tired, it got dark or the resident parents called time – often with some biscuits and cool drinks or tea.

I found a similar game played in the USA called Fox and Geese…here http://grandmaideas.com/fox-and-geese

SOMERSET WEST – I can see clearly now

Another version of this story can be found here:  http://eriktheready.com/goggles/

I think I was in Standard 3 aged nine, when they discovered the problem.

Our classroom at Somerset West Primary School that year, 1956, was long and narrow. You entered from the veranda through a door in one of the narrow ends of the room. The blackboard was on the long wall to the right with the teacher’s desk in front of it and about four rows of desks facing it. Each row was about four desks deep and each desk seated two children. I cann0t really remember dimensions but it was probably two or three times as long as it was deep.

Like all boys, I had grabbed a seat at the back of the class – probably only about five metres from the front.

Soon, however, the teacher had me moved to the front of the class and, horror of horrors, sitting next to a GIRL! (I am not sure that I really minded but peer pressure demanded that little boys and little girls should avoid each other.)

The reason for the teacher moving me was that she soon realised I was having trouble reading the notes written on the blackboard. More to the point was the fact that most of these notes had to be copied into our notebooks and I was sitting there, less than five metres from the board, unable to read what the other children were having no problem seeing.

I think part of this ritual was that we got to practice our handwriting and it set the salient facts in our minds. With many of these notes – in geography for example – we had to illustrate the notes to further show that we had understood the lessons. Unlike today with the singular focus per subject, good English was always expected. Whatever the subject, Geography, History, Arithmetic etcetera, you lost marks for poor spelling and grammar. I have noted that most people educated in that era have good language skills and often remember, 50 or 60 years later, what they learned.

However even from the front row, I was squinting and unable to read the board. The upshot of this was that the teacher took the book of my desk mate (girls’ handwriting was generally better that the boys’ anyway) and told me to take it home and copy the notes from it.

When Cyril saw me copying the notes he bristled and accused me of cheating and cribbing other children’s work. Well that was the gist of his tirade – and wanting to report me to the school for cheating. My mother, who I had told and who had the note from the teacher, tried to intervene but was met with scorn for trying to PROTECT me.

In those days, a team from the health department used to come to the schools and give the children a rudimentary health check. I think the check was primarily for TB but it also ensured that any underprivileged youngsters would not fall through the cracks because the parents could not afford to take them to the doctor. Most of us were disgustingly healthy and the checks never bothered us.

Eye testing teams also visited schools for the same reason – quite progressive thinking in the fifties.

A few days after one of the episodes of copying notes from another child’s book, the optical team visited the school.

I failed! I was chronically short sighted and, because of the alarming result of my test, I was given a note for my parents.

Cyril was openly scornful again. I was just playing up, he said, and being too lazy to do my work. This was just another excuse and so on and on…such fun!

My mother put her foot down. Reluctantly and with dire warnings of the consequences if I was malingering, Cyril let my mother make an appointment for me to see a well-known optician in Cape Town. I think his name was Townsend…could that be?

There were no Spec-Savers® type opticians in that day. We arrived at a very ordinary building in central Cape Town and climbed the stairs to the optician’s offices on the first or second floor. A very plain door with the name of the optician and his business on it, opened into a tiny reception area and a rather old-fashioned waiting room.

The optician’s office/consulting room was all wood panelling and books with none of the modern paraphernalia one expects today. I sat in a chair and he wheeled his apparatus over and proceeded with his tests.

I was vaguely apprehensive. What if the optician somehow found it was my fault that I could not see properly – effectively supporting Cyril’s stance?

The optician confirmed that I was very myopic to the point that he did not understand that no one had noticed this before. I suppose it is a sort of a boiling frog syndrome – my eyesight deteriorated but to me that was normal as I continually found ways to WORK AROUND the problem. He also discovered that I have a degree of colour confusion. This was to preclude me working in the electrical and electronics fields and it would probably have stopped me had I ever had the opportunity to learn to fly.

I was prescribed spectacles and my mother helped me to choose a pair of horn-rimmed frames that she thought looked good. Cyril muttered direly in the background.

About a week later my parents came home from work with my new specs. The optician had counselled that I should not wear the glasses to school at once and I should only wear them at home until I got used to them.

I seem to remember that I was outside when mom gave me my glasses – probably doing the hated watering of the garden.

 I put the specs on and I think my eyes filled with tears.

A step back.

Where we lived on the slopes of the mountain the view over False Bay was one of the most spectacular that you could expect to see ANYWHERE. It was simply breathtaking but I had not even been aware of its beauty. To me it was just, the sea is over there and on the right , I know, is Simonstown and Muizenberg and over to the left is the Strand and Gordon’s Bay and the mountains that we drive along to Hangklip. I KNEW this but my VIEW of it was a vague blur. The photo, mined from the internet (acknowledgement to GORDO), is not an ideal image but serves to give some idea of the vista from Helena Heights on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain. 

Analogy is my strong point but it tends to elude me when I get to describing this. Imagine your TV is slightly off station and the image is a sort of sepia blur. You fiddle and suddenly it is in sharp, brilliant colour. Can you imagine that? I thought of a blind person seeing but that would be presumptuous for I can, and could, see. I don’t think one can imagine being blind but it is perhaps as difficult if you have always had 20/20 vision to imagine the transition I experienced.

Technicolour – that was my first thought. The world has changed to Technicolour – and it is beautiful. I just stood, and stared and slowly looked around at all the things that I had never noticed. The detail of the rocks on the mountain, the dynamite factory and the lake in its grounds five kilometres  away near the sea and more than 200 metres below us…. everything was pin-sharp and in TECHNICOLOUR – even the chickens, thirty-odd metres away, were no longer a heaving blurred mass of white as they fed – I could see individual birds.

Overwhelmed, I cried.

I suppose that is the only time I have experienced what is termed sensory overload. My mother just put her arms around me and held me as, confusedly, I tried to tell her what I could see and how beautiful it was. I suppose it was a kind of revelation to her, too. After a bit she chuckled quietly, genuinely pleased for me, and told me it was alright but to wipe my eyes and act normally to avoid any nastiness when we went back into the house.

Next morning I was to leave the specs at home…NOT. After assuring the parents that I HAD left the glasses in my room I got into the car to go to the bus stop, with the precious specs in their hard case at the bottom of my satchel.

As soon as the car had disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust, I put on my glasses and marvelled at all that I could SEE.

At school there was some teasing about four-eyes and so on. I silenced that by saying I would rather see than not see – the teasing NEVER bothered me and because of that it never lasted and I, and my glasses, became just part of the normal school scene.

My schoolwork improved and I told my mother later that I had never left the glasses at home – she had known but not said anything.

A few years later, in 1959, I started at a boarding school called Guinea Fowl in Rhodesia. It was a wonderful school out in the bush and there I was given the nickname Goggles. I wore the name with pride and it never bothered me. One or two people still remember that nickname – Goggles.

Somerset West – the bike and Cyril’s cock

I always wanted a bicycle. I had never ridden one but I had seen plenty of other people, and children younger than me, effortlessly riding around on bicycles. How difficult could it be, I thought to myself? I made a point of making a point of this whenever I could!

While I was at boarding school it was never going to happen, I suppose. We were living way up in Sea Point just below High Level Road and the thought of a bicycle, that hill and me, scared my mother I think!

Shortly before we permanently moved to Somerset West – I think it may have been Christmas 1955 – I got my bike!

Cyril had gone to a lot of trouble with the presentation of it, only bringing it into the house after I had gone to sleep and packing it in a special bike-sized cardboard box he had had specially made. Inside and packed around the bike were a number of other presents.

Of course, when I came out and saw this huge, beribboned box I had no idea what it was so when invited to open it I was stunned to find the long-awaited two-wheeler. As much as was my joy at getting a bike so too was my apprehension because I KNEW I could not ride a bike – having insisted that I could in order to get the thing.

After breakfast, Cyril took me out to one of the more level roads and was dismayed to learn that, in fact, I could not ride a bike! He was both annoyed and disappointed and now, with an adult perspective I suppose I can understand – especially as he had gone to such trouble to surprise me with it.

That, sort of, spoiled the rest of the day.

After we got to Somerset West, I tried and tried to ride the bike. Even with Cyril helping, I did not have enough confidence to develop the intuitive sense of balance. Cyril’s scornful opinion of my bike riding and other abilities did not help in the slightest as far as building confidence was concerned.

Enter Ellis Jackson. How this came about I am still a bit unsure but I think my parents knew Ellis’ parents. One day he was at our place and the subject of riding, or not riding, a bike came up. Ellis offered to help and patiently got me riding the bike, with him helping to balance it by holding onto the saddle behind me. I am not sure how many lessons like this it took but I clearly remember the day he let go.

I was talking to him and realised he was not replying. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Ellis standing in the road about twenty metres behind me. In that instant the fact that I was riding solo never entered my mind – instead my confidence fled. After a series of wobbles, I proceeded to make intimate contact with the gravel road.

Ellis had me up and, wise beyond his years (I have learned he is only two years my senior) he encouraged me, got me to dismiss my scratches and get in the saddle again. He pointed out that I had just been riding solo and promised not to leave me to my own devices again. (He did though – let me solo without telling me first – but the scare only lasted as long as it took for the next attempt).

Ellis Jackson kindly sent me this picture of himself in which he thinks he would have been about eleven so it was taken about the time that the cycling lessons took place….

It seemed it was not long before I was soloing on the bike with no one in attendance. Fall I did, many times although it seems – from the distance of years – that it was only a short time before I was riding with absolute confidence. Actually, too much confidence.

One day I came barrelling down Annandale road towards our gateway a bit too fast – and a bit too late on the brakes. The little bump before the gate acted like a pivot and instead of zooming, ramp-like over it the bike catapulted me over its handlebars to land in a heap in the drive. Luckily, a couple of additional scratches and a bruised ego were the only result! I did learn how to ramp that bump though…

Cyril, who was already – and without great success – into keeping rabbits, pigs and sheep for the pot decided we should keep chickens and be self-sufficient in eggs and chicken for the Sunday roast.

Now I am uncertain, all these years later, if the breed I have described is actually the correct one but I do know they were all white. There is a chance the pictures I have chosen will not be correct – to the purists, forgive me.

Accordingly, after some research, a large box appeared in the corner of the dining room containing a hundred day old chicks. Over the box was suspended a high wattage light bulb to keep the chicks warm.

With his usual thoroughness, Cyril then built a large chicken run at the bottom of the plot with a nesting and roosting enclosure in the middle of it, so that the chickens could be closed in at night.

When the cross Australorp/Leghorns (for that is the type of chicken they were) were old enough they were placed in the chicken run and I (read we, my mom and I) had the job of seeing that they had ample water and feed and that the eggs were collected. Oh, and that the cages were kept clean and the enclosure swept and raked from time to time – the sweepings to be used in the garden as fertiliser. 

One day I had gone into the chicken run – a job I disliked because the chickens seemed to be rather aggressive (I may have been approaching my tenth birthday). We had a large cockerel, with a magnificent red comb, that was the bossiest chicken you could imagine and he always intimidated us – mom and myself.

On this day, I think I was putting water in the troughs with the hose, Mr Rooster came buck-buck-ba-cawing over self-importantly, as if to interrogate what I was busy doing. I sprayed him. Bad move.

He fluffed up and spun round once or twice then stepped towards me, muttering in chicken. I sprayed him again. Once again a couple of pirouettes, a couple of more noisy buck-bacaws were followed by more aggressive  steps towards me.

Maybe I kept up the teasing and spraying a bit too long but when I moved to do something else, Buck-Bacaw was right behind me and very vociferous. I moved away from him quickly. This must have encouraged him to think he had me on the run (well, he did I suppose) and he went to peck at my foot. I jumped, he jumped in, I jumped back and before I knew it, the massive chicken had me running around this big chicken enclosure shouting for help.

Mom was in the garden and came hurrying into the chicken run, grabbing a broom as she came. Getting between the rooster and me, she jabbed at him. He flapped up into the air ba-cawing with some anger now and landing closer to us. Darting in at our feet, mom jabbed again. The performance repeated a couple more times but the fowl was now in a foul mood and with much chicken-shouting came flapping in in attack mode.

This time mom swung the broom like a hockey stick connecting the rooster on the head. Down he went, motionless. We tentatively stepped forward to examine the creature and mom gently prodded him with the broom handle. He did not move.

“Oh, my god, Erik,” she exclaimed, “we’ve killed Cyril’s cock!” then immediately started to giggle. I was much too young to realise what was causing her to laugh at this serious incident but she continued, her voice genuinely worried, through her chuckling, “What are we going to do? What are we going to tell him when he gets home?”

She took a tin and threw some water on the chicken’s head. It stirred! It shook its head and scrabbled in the dirt as it struggled to its feet.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me to the gate while the groggy rooster was still getting its bearings and gathering up its somewhat damaged dignity.

It was to be YEARS later when we were telling someone this story that I REALLY saw the funny and understood why she had been laughing – and, I recall, she would laugh heartily every time we talked about the incident.

Not that they were our favourite creatures but I think the chickens were the only halfway successful FARMING venture undertaken on the plot. We got plenty of eggs and mom and I had no qualms about eating chicken. In any event, they were so anonymous we would never have known which chicken was missing.

Somerset West – of rabbits and woodwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somerset West childhood memories

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

My mother married my stepfather in early December 1953, The end of my first year of boarding school. They went away for a few days to a place called MOON RISING on the road that ran from Helderberg college up over the shoulder of the mountain and down into Pérel Vallei (Silverboom Kloof Road, according to Google Earth). When they had been there a day or two a friend or theirs, named Jimmy Brookes, took me to visit and I stayed with them for a couple more days after which we all returned to Moullie Point where we were living in a small flat in Moullie Court – it is still there to this day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: My mother at around age 20

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

HF Radio-telephone Botswana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HF Antenna Lesotho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antenna – it ain’t broke!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About HF antennas

This article will, of necessity, be VERY basic…

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

A large stream bisects the area from north to south.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trish, Tish and David

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

This is stuff you cannot make up.

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

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

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

Still with me here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORDERS! ORDERS, SHUN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spell check

Excerpt from:

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

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

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

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

Nursery school wisdom

A bit of whimsy…


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

These are the things I learned:

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

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup.

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

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

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

LOOK.

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

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

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

Even sea otters hold hands…!

 

UDI – The day it all happened

11 November 1965 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Irene Morning Market

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

The Medal

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I was told I was a qualified soldier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I became a trained soldier.

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

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

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

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

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

eriktheready is a work actively in progress