The First Waltz


Have you ever had that feeling in the pit of your stomach, that indicates your either afraid or that something bad is about to happen? Its never nice I know but perhaps an essential human emotion to show us that we are still alive and have feelings

So I guess that I need to ask myself “am i alive, do I have feelings” last year I would have said no to both questions, but now I know not only am I alive but I have incredible feelings for a wonderful woman. So how did this metamorphosis happen? How did a good for nothing drifter and troublemaker get to change and turn his life around, to be honest I cannot pin-point the exact moment, but I do thank God every day that it did.

The war years had taken their toll on me, as it had on so many young men of my generation. Perhaps being part of an elite unit added to the pressures, we probably saw more combat than I care to remember, I had on many occasions killed, it was a case of kill or be killed, initially it had worried me, my faith was under attack, “had it not been drummed in to me at church Thou shalt not kill” yet here I was taking the lives of men who my country regarded as the enemy. After a while the killing no longer bothered me, it was part of the job that Uncle Sam was paying me to do. Daily life was a grind, nerves strung tight from being so close to death every day and while small cracks in my armour had started to show it was not until the woods of Bastogne, that my humanity and will to live cracked.

We had been sent there to stop a last gasp effort by Hitler’s elite SS to break through to the Normandy beach heads and by doing so split the allied forces in two, enabling Hitler and his cronies to prolong the war. The 101st Airborne had parachuted in to occupied France on D day and had spent almost every day since fighting our way through Europe with almost every day seeing us come under fire or having to fight from street to street in a occupied village or town, its hard to believe that more men did not crack under the intense pressure. Perhaps it goes to show that a human being can be conditioned to endure most things. For me it was the desire to stay alive and get home to see my fiancĂ© Jenny. I kept a photo of her in my helmet and every morning I would do two things, one was to thank God that I was still alive and the second was to kiss the photo of Jenny, this ritual seemed to give me strength to get through another day.

The top brass in their wisdom had sent us to defend the woods near Bastogne without winter clothing without enough ammunition and in an infantry role. How in hells name did they expect us to hold off over four thousand crack SS troops and a SS Panzer division and survive? The first day of shelling we lost twenty men, one of them my good friend Tommy, he was literally blown to pieces in front of me, perhaps it was at that moment I lost it, “don’t judge me and call me a coward, its easy if you have never endured being under artillery fire in the most trying circumstances or seen your friend vaporised in front of your eyes. As I sit here writing this down I can smell the fear that permeated from the men, not the fear of dying, we where prepared to give our lives in the defence of Democracy, it was the fear was of having a limb or limbs blown off and going home less of a man than when you left. Apart from the constant shelling it was cold, like nothing I had ever experienced, it was like being immersed in a bath of ice water for hours on end, your fingers and toes where constantly numb and many men got frostbite

Christmas eve and Christmas day of 1944 the men tried to cheer each other up, but what was there to be thankful for, we where cold, dying and very very hungry, home seemed forever away and I am not ashamed to say I cried in my foxhole just thinking about my family and Jenny singing around a brightly decorated Christmas tree, singing carols. Where they thinking of me, could they even comprehend the hell I was experiencing. The Germans where held in those woods and the 101st fought and killed the Germans for another four months. When we reached the Rhine river we received news from up high that the “Bastards of Bastogne” where going home.

“Home” the mere word conjured up thoughts of my folks, home cooked food and Jenny. After I had been demobbed, I headed straight home all I wanted to do was to see Jenny, hold her in my arms and smell the sandalwood soap that she always used. I knocked on the door and Jenny’s mom opened, she gave me a big hug and started to cry, “why is she crying” I thought, then she told me: Jenny had been killed in a car crash the day we had been sent to Bastogne, they had sent me a letter, but in those woods the only messages we received where from the Germans.

I did not even cry, I turned round and left, the next few years where a blur of motorbikes, odd jobs, excessive drinking and bar fights. Like many men my age who no longer felt they fitted in to a civilised society or had nothing left to live for, I became involved with the motorcycle culture, not the straight laced American Motorcycle association but with the boys that chopped and bobbed their bikes, we rode around in groups, “some called us gangs”, we wore leather jackets (mainly 2nd world war surplus), drank a lot and generally caused mayhem in many a straight laced conservative town. It was perhaps at Hollister in 1947 that the 1 percenters as we became known had there “finest hour ”An AMA sanctioned track meet and get together at Hollister in California attracted more people than they expected and many camped where they found a spot, the trouble started on Saturday night when thousands of people, “mostly the one percenters” where not allowed in to the clubhouse to attend the dance and awards ceremony. We took over the bars in the town and behaved like hooligans, I had a photos taken sitting on my chopper with a pile of beer bottles surrounding the bike (this photo as well as many other where staged by the press) and this is how we gave bikers a bad name. I believe the wild bunch with Marlon Brando made in 1953 depicted this event and is today considered a classic amongst bikers

From the highlight of Hollister my life just got worse, I travelled from city to city town to town, by jumping on box cars and spent hours drinking and fighting other men who had decided to become hobo’s, I slept under bridges, in tunnels or if I was lucky in homeless shelters. It was at a homeless shelter in Chicago that like an angel sent from God she came in to my life. Her name was Sarah and she was helping in the soup kitchen, I don’t know why she spoke to me but will be forever grateful that she did. I was sitting by myself as was the norm and she came over to me, Sarah told me that I had the saddest eyes she had ever seen and perhaps it was time, because I poured out my heart to her, what I had gone through in the war and what I had done after I heard that my first true love Jenny had died, at times I sobbed like a baby and Sarah listened, when she felt it was necessary she spoke comforting words, a day became a week a week became a month, we spent every day together just talking and enjoying each others company. I started to clean up my act, I stopped drinking and got a part time job, it did not pay much but there were prospects for promotion, I moved out of the shelter in to a small boarding house, life was looking up.

I plucked up the courage and asked Sarah if I could meet her parents, she agreed and I asked her fathers permission to take Sarah to a dance that was going to be held at the local country club, to his credit he gave his permission and Sarah agreed to accompany me. I will never forget how beautiful she looked as I collected her from her parent’s house or how proud I felt as all eyes focused on us as we walked in to the ball room. “Shall we dance” I asked extending my right hand that Sarah took and I led her on to the dance floor. I know it may sound silly but all those years of anguish and hate seemed to dissolve as we danced around the dance floor in a slow swirling circular motion. It was our first waltz and after nearly fifty years of marriage I still think back to our first dance and how lucky I am to have a woman LIKE SARAH LOVE ME.

Roads less travelled

I am busy reading a fantastic book called “On The Back Roads” (encounters with people and places), by Dana Snyman. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy it’s a great read with Dana taking you places you may never have been.

In the chapter “The lessons of the open road” Dana writes the following. “Today it is possible to travel the highway all the way from Musina to cape Town and to drive down the main roads of only two towns Beaufort west and Laingsburg. Whether you drive from Gauteng to Kwa-Zulu Natal, or from Cape Town to George, it’s the same story: you miss all the towns along the way. And, yes, some people prefer driving from Ultra city to Ultra city to reach their destination as soon as possible. But that’s not travelling, It’s driving”

This is the type of book I would like to write one day, to me to travel this country by motorbike take photos of the old villages and dorps and to interview the old residents would be first prize. I enjoy writing so much, its almost become therapeutic for me and I find myself wanting to write everyday, whether it be for the Blog or working on other projects. I hated English at school and to write an essay was akin to you sticking needles in my eyes, so how did this metamorphosis come about you may ask. I would probably have to attribute it to a good friend Paul Els, who, to make a long story short 6 years ago persuaded me to research and write the story of Daniel Roxo. I then started to write articles for the local Speckled Bean magazine in Clarens, it was here that I also discovered that I am not half bad at taking a photograph and with the encouragement of Garth and Karen I started to take more than just holiday snaps, today I love combining the story with photographs, not that I am ever going to win competitions or become world famous, but again it has become therapeutic for me and I have learned to look at the world in a different light and notice the small differences in light, shade and colour that do make a difference when looking at something, this I would not have noticed or even cared about in the past

Garth last year sent myself and Kathleen, another SB contributor on a writing course and to be honest at first I thought what a waste of time, “it’s a girly thing” Well I may have been sceptical at first but by the end of the two days I seemed to have discovered another side of me that I had not known before, dare I say it, ‘I discovered my feminine side”, a phrase that I was given to write on initially had me saying “I cannot write a story around that, in fact I wont” was perhaps the best story I wrote over the two days, I will at some stage let you read it, for those perhaps curious to know the phrase I was given , it was “The first waltz

I suppose what I am trying to say is that if I can get enjoyment of writing stories then so can you and so many other people. While its great to have someone come up to you and say “I really enjoyed your article” the enjoyment of writing for me is to compose something out of nothing. I believe that we all have at least one book in us and even if you do not ever publish you can keep a journal of your family that in later years will be treasured by your children or grandchildren. I have learnt there are no set rules as to writing, you can write what you want in your voice and in a language that you understand, its about what makes you and readers happy, that is what makes writing so great, I was always of the opinion that you had to be a Shakespeare, Hemingway or a J K Rowlins to write, this is not true, so if I do anything today its to encourage you to write, this is a gift that Paul inadvertently passed on to me and I will forever be grateful to him as it opened a whole new world of possibilities and challenges.

Just Like Oprah

Just like Oprah

For this particular Blog I considered a mini thesis for those people looking to “Semigrate” to either this or a similar village on how to survive village politics as well as financial hints and tips for those less fortunate not to have inherited or won a million or two, but that may just be boring and a little self indulgent, instead I decided that like Oprah I would share with you “My favourite things of Clarens”, now those who have not ever seen Oprah (surely there can be no one left alive on the planet who has not seen at least one show?), one or twice a year she has a show and explains to her adulating audience what her favourite things are and they range from cup cakes to cars, what happens next is the envy of everyone watching as every studio member goes home with a boot full of gifts. It’s the hottest ticket on TV. Anyway I digress (must say ever since Garth, my editor sent me on a writing course, my language skills have increased to grade 6 levels, “Thanks boss”). Like Oprah I will tell you what my favourite things are in and around Clarens, unlike Oprah you will not be able to pack them in a boot of a car, it will be up to you to experience them for yourself, that means getting in the car or on the bike and coming to the best village in the Free State if not Southern Africa. “Ok so without further ado” lets get on with it, the list is in no particular order and by no means all the things I like to do

1) Happy hour at the Highlander: Friday 5.30pm - 6.30pm is an institution in the village,anyone who is anyone is there, it’s a great way to unwind from the week and meet up with the locals, Steve and Dylan are the barmen, Steve is a lunatic and Dylan is not far behind. Great guys though and they always remember what your favourite tipple is.

2) Fertility caves: Situated about twenty kms from Clarens on the Fouriesburg road, this is one of , if not the biggest sandstone overhang in the Southern hemisphere. It’s a truly spiritual place and well worth the trip.

3) Spending the day taking photographs in the village or surrounds: Now if I am honest I could spend every day doing this, its just the best and if I combine it with riding the Triumph then I am in heaven. There is so much to see in the area, that the choices are endless, I am hoping to do a combined two day ride that takes me to all the dorps in the Eastern Free State, as well as allow me to take some great photos and look for stories.

4) Riding the motorbike with friends on the best road in South Africa, sitting on the stoep of the Fouriesburg country Inn and just talking crap: This ranks up there with number 3, usually on a Sunday afternoon a few of us will meet and take a quick blast to Fouriesburg, some 35 kms away, what’s getting better is that recently my daughter Gabriella wants to join me, Gabby is a great pillion rider and enjoys the fast sections and sweeping curves as much as I do.

5) Climbing the hill behind Berg street and just taking in the view: I don’t do this as often as I should, usually take a cool drink and an snack with me, once at the top there is a large rock tat I sit on and just watch the world go bye, its Rush hour Clarens style.

6) Watching the Boks play or Super 14 with my mates Jaapie de Clerq and Carlo di Mezza: Usually meet at the Mont d Or Hotel, this I enjoy as it’s a good opportunity to just chill out , have a few beers and a few laughs. There is usually a good crowd and the atmosphere is good, the fact that the rugby is shown on big screens also helps.

7) Sitting with Wingman on the stoep of the Grouse and Claret: Usually discussing the weekends sports, world events and Goromonzi Farmboy business over a cup of coffee or a beer (depends on what time of day I stop), this is also a good spot to watch the world go bye.

8) Clarens Jamboree: Now this year was the first time Tania, Gabby and I attended and what a great time we had, music, food , kids , dogs, beer, friends. If you are here in December (usually held the nearest weekend to 16th December) then you have to make a plan to be there on the Saturday night, you wont regret it.

As I said these are just a few that come to mind and I have not even mentioned Snow, the yearly Village vs Farmers cricket match, Sunday afternoons sitting at the Street Caffe watching the tourists go home and you know that you live here “that’s pretty cool”


I always thought that Epiphany was an aunt of mine, turns out that it is actually “A moment of sudden revelation or insight” Well I had one this week and if you have not had one yet, don’t feel left out because I believe that we are all entitled to one Epiphany in your lifetime and if your lucky maybe two. “So what was it I hear you say” that made you feel you had this Epiphany. For those who don’t know me that well I was in the hospitality industry for twenty five years and to be honest it nearly broke up my marriage and my health levels where at Defcon 3, nothing a move to the country and assisting people we thought where friends in a small hotel wouldn’t fix. As the saying goes “all good plans blah, blah, blah” the people we thought where friends where ass-----es, the jobs beneath our skill levels and my wife was offered a position with the Speckled Bean and Caledon fly tying factory and still works there to this day an added bonus of Tania’s new job was the owner was hated by our “friend”. I had to hang around a while longer, being a barman and a waiter, was a large let down from having been a General Manager of Multi-million rand companies, In ways it was not so bad because I worked the way they treated me, which as you can imagine did not lead to a conducive working environment, but we needed the money and a job is a job. I then moved to another business in the village and worked my ass of, without the reward that I thought that I was due. I then was thrown a lifeline from an unexpected source and started to sell properties, however to survive I have also had to look at doing other jobs (part time or semi-permanent) to survive. I wont lie its been hard at times, with many sleepless nights, but with the love of family and friends we seem to have overcome challenges and become better people from the process.

I have over the last couple of years had an itch to get back in to the Hospitality business and the means to scratch this itch presented itself last week when I was approached by a large Hotel chain that moved in to the area over a year ago to apply for the marketing managers position. I thought my wife Tania would have a fit, but she agreed that I could do it for a three-month trial and I duly started some training last Friday. By this Thursday morning I was wondering if this is actually wanted to do, but Pride was telling me “even if its stressful and hard, you have to do it, otherwise you will be letting down your family as well as yourself”. Around midday “POW” it hit me, I asked myself “is this what you want to do? do you want to miss out on all the things over the last two years you have become used to” I answered myself almost immediately and it was not the answer I thought that I would give. “No this is not what I want, I want to spend my evenings with my family, I want to be able to attend my daughters sports days, I want to be able to stop and have a cup of coffee with a mate at one of the restaurants if I want to, I want to be able to assist the local school with sports etc etc” That night I spoke to Tania and she was “as always” supportive and understanding, I spoke to the hotel manager on Friday and told her how I felt and that I could not take up the post. It was like a giant load had been lifted from my shoulders, don’t get me wrong the extra monies would have been great, maybe we could have got DSTV or other things we have done without over the last few years, but it does not matter because I have come to realise that while money is important , it does not buy happiness or family and friend that I am so blessed to have.

I am very lucky to have parents that are the best, they are supportive and I know they love me and my family unconditionally, this applies to my wives parents as well. Mom, Dad, Keith, Lois, thanks for being there for us when we need you most, thank you that you never interfere with our life’s, but we know that you are there should we need you. Mom I know that I am getting older, but it means so much to me to hear you say that you love me and that you are proud of me, I know that I will always be your son, no matter how old we get. You have shown me that you can overcome bad times and that family is important. Dad while I may not be of your blood you are the only dad that I have known and you have been such a influence on my life, from you I have learnt so many things that a son should learn from his dad.

My wife Tania is the most amazing person in the world and I am the luckiest man in the world to have her love me and I am sure there have been times when she wanted to strangle me especially when I put my work above her and our daughter Gabriella, Tania “I am sorry, I Love you, I have since the moment I saw you all those years ago and I will do long after I am gone. Without you I would not have the family and the home that I have today I would not have a beautiful daughter called Gabby, you balance me, you always see the best of life and I love for that and I love you more than anything in the world.

This weekend was a good one again, we had a Braai at Kath and Marks house on Friday and a number of people where invited over, what was great is that Dave and Barbara brought there dog, a Border collie called Holly to play with there dogs one is called Buddy, also a Border collie. Yeah I know what your thinking “Buddy Holly”. Saturday was ok, had a couple of people at the office and a good show round at a fishing cottage that is for sale, Sunday woke up late, had a few hours at the office and another couple looking for a stand, the afternoon Dave Gabby and I took a ride to Fouriesburg on the bikes, so all in all a pretty decent weekend.

Proudly South African

Face book, the way that millions of people, especially South-Africans all over the world are keeping in touch with family and friends, setting up contact groups with names such as “Proud expats” and “We love South Africa but……..”. I am not on face book at present but seriously thinking about setting up a group that is called “Proud to be South African and actually live in the country”

I don’t know if others out there feel like me but I am sick and tired of reading about South Africans who have moved overseas because they have decided that the grass is greener on the other side of the ocean, but whinge that they are homesick, pine for African sunsets and Highveld thunderstorms that rattle your teeth, they also miss Rooiboss tea, Mrs Balls chutney, Nik Naks, Wors and Biltong “to frikken bad, get over it”. Just look at last years hiding of England by the Boks at Twikenham (42-6). Of the 82 000 supporters there were at least 25 000 South Africans, it was like a home game for the Boks. The Bok supporters all are wearing the Bok jersey, faces painted, waving the South African flag and singing Nkosi Sikilele with gusto, many hold up signs like “we love you mom”, “I miss Poffader” or “South-African till I die” The same happened for Madiba’s birthday party last year in Hyde park, London, you would have thought you where in South Africa with so many “ We love SA, but not enough to make a contribution” brigade at the concert. It actually amuses me that so many Afrikaans people are holding out in the UK to get a passport, from the once dreaded enemy. I think De la Ray, De Wet and other Boer Generals would be turning in there graves to know that so many Strydom’s, Kruger’s, Potgieter’s and Pretorius’s are willing to trade in there SA passport for a British one, “how the times have changed”. These are the same people that are saying we cannot host a World Cup in 2010, as we don’t have the expertise or the skills, I have three words for you “watch this space”

Lets not fool ourselves SA has problems and there are many challenges on the horizon, but I believe that we need to be part of the solution and not take the easy way out. Recently on SABC adverts have been screened that promote that South Africa is alive with possibilities and that “change starts with you”. Perhaps we should all stop looking at the negatives and become part of the solution to make this country great. We should be asking “What can we do for South Africa, not what can South Africa do for us”.

However it’s not just South Africa that has problems, many of the countries that South Africans move to also have their share of crime, “yes I know hard to believe isn’t it”. Not that ex-South Africans will tell you that, they also tend to hide the fact that they hate the people and the weather by telling us how wonderful life is, that you can walk home without being accosted, how much money they earn, how disciplined and clean everything is “nowhere is that perfect”. In London last year alone over twenty teenagers where knifed to death, old people are mugged at will and in many European cities you have the honour of being caught on CCTV camera on average 320 times a day (George Orwell where are you??). In France this new years eve over 1500 cars where set alight by partygoers, not a big outcry from the media but can you imagine that happening in South Africa over a new year, it would be front page news all over the world, major TV stations would run and re-run the footage, the Rand would take a hit and crude oil would hit an all time high. These stories where in the newspaper recently “Lets print more money”, “100 000 stranded in day of Chaos”, “Council tax bankruptcy charge”, “Drunk driver gets seven years for crushing toddler at school gate”, “Pay rises will be slashed to the bone”, “Recession forces closure of 27 stores”, “3000 taxmen are paid to go to work…. And do nothing” “Wrong man is buried after blunder by undertakers”, “The low-energy bulbs that wont fit your light sockets”. So was it the Star, the Citizen, the Sowetan ?, surprisingly enough no, they where in the UK Daily Mail 8th of january 2009. “I thought the Island was so perfect !

So after all of us that have stayed behind and assisted in the difficult times to get the country on track again and believe you and me there have been many a night that I have not slept worrying about how bills will be paid and what the future holds while dreading the latest SKYPE from the friends or family overseas telling us how much money they are earning, what latest gadgets they have bought and what countries they have just visited. “No economic melt down for them” it makes me think that here they must have been earning a pittance or they where not entrepreneurial enough to make a success of their careers and need to go to a country that rewards mediocrity. They then sponge of the government systems, free doctors, free medicine etc when they have not contributed long enough to that economy. But then they also want to vote in South Africa so they want their cake and they want to eat it, how can you expect to have a say in the country that a) you don’t live in, b) don’t contribute to the economy or c) don’t have good things to say about it.

Another thing that irks me of is the fact that those “Leaving for London”, “Packing for Perth” and “High tailing it to Hobart” seem to look at settling down in expat communities, have more South African friends in their new found paradise than they did in South Africa and often get together to have braai’s, “mostly in crappy weather”, watch Currie cup rugby together, drink castle at the local pubs, with names like the Springbok arms, buy SA products from the expat who saw a gap and opened a shop so they can buy all the items they miss from home “ at a price of course” Its like living at home but without the “Swart gevaar” They walk around with T shirts, that have Nelson Mandela’s face emblazoned on it or the South African Flag, they wear T shirts that espouse they are 100% Boer or Proudly South African. As I have already mentioned all you get from friends or family is the good news of how wonderful life how many pounds are being earned, how disciplined everything is, there is no mention of 3 hour tube journeys to get to work and 3 hours back every day(that’s if your lucky and the train is not delayed because they are either on strike or something has broken, (“yes things do break in first world countries”) where you dare not look up and speak to anyone on a bus or the tube, where the doors of department buildings tell you to watch the door does not close on you (“are the Poms all idiots”?), of the chronic underage drinking and drug problems, that the majority of kids are rude and undisciplined (I believe the only thing that separates Prince Harry from the usual UK soccer hooligan or lager lout is the fact he was born in to a privileged family, “he is just a very rich Yobo”, whenever you read about him he has been drinking, fighting or generally making a nuisance of himself). The ecstatic South Africans forget to tell you it rains most of the year and in winter you don’t see the sun for months at a time, “come to think of it they don’t see the sun for most of summer either, that’s why they all look so sick and pasty.

Xmas time they really get homesick and morbid, (the only thing keeping them going are the January sales). They get all teary because they miss the family and skype or phone constantly, they also get upset because they are out of the loop regards family matters. Radio stations all over SA are inundated with requests from listeners overseas asking them to play South African songs and send messages of love to their families, “if you miss South Africa and your family that bad then move back here.

When they lived here would have not thought about buying expensive items, but drop thousands of rands for frivolous items that they would not normally have bought, my feeling is “if you earn the money there, spend it there”, contribute to your host nations economy, as I believe they are also having a hard time of it on the island at the moment and could probably use the extra cash, perhaps if you had spent the money there Woolworths would not have had to close down and retrenched thousands of staff.

Would they be so keen to live in a country that they admit to hating the people and the weather is atrocious if the exchange rate was in SA’s favour or a mere 5-1, “I think not”. I believe they should be charged a non-patriot tax when the fly in to the country on a “look what we have now and lets show you how we can spend spree” charge them the difference between the exchange rate and the R and lets see how many of the buggers flock in to the country for cheap food, beer and cloths. When they lived here they would have been hard pressed about buying expensive gadgets or fashion accessories, but when they come over for the “holiday” drop thousands of Rands on items that they would not normally have been able to buy and can only do now because of the exchange rate as I have said ‘If you earn the money there, spend it there”

Those who decide to have children overseas, mainly to enable them to become a citizen of the country due to the child being born there and costs them nothing as they use the healthcare system. They then want the rugrats nursery to reflect Africa. Why? “If South Africa is not good enough for your child to be born in or live in then why show them the good stuff that he/she wont see”? Make his/her nursery up like an Indian restaurant or as a Middle Eastern country and call him Habib if a boy or Kareshni if a girl “I believe Muslim names very popular at the moment in the UK. I have friends here from the UK and they recently had a baby, no requests to England for items to ensure that the room resembles London, Brighton or Manchester, no requests to family for stuffed toys resembling badgers, foxes or Paddington bear, they did not put in 3 fridges and leave the doors open, so the baby felt he was in the UK, no murals of a Tandouri restaurant or mosque to make the baby feel he was not missing out on essential UK culture. And they called him Jason, not Frikkie or Thabo.

Sour grapes ? “Perhaps”, jealousy ? “Maybe” however you can call me what you like, I believe in this country as well as her people and together we will make it a better country for all. As a friend of mine told me recently “Africa is not for sissies”


Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome weekend, “did I mention the word awesome”

Friday my good mate Paul Els and his wife surprised us with a visit, happy hour at the Highlander (if you visit Clarens every Friday 5.30-6.30 pm happy hour at the Highlander is a must). This was followed by a good dinner and a evening of catching up.

Saturday evening was Walter “Wingman” Siviters 60’s Rockers birthday bash at the backpackers and what a goodtime boogie, beer drinking “howl at the moon” party it was. 10 of the 15 GFBI (Goromonzi Farmboy International) members arrived from far and wide, many guests got in to the mood and dressed for the occasion. “The Grumpy old men” played the “tunes”, they are a local band and played music from the sixties and seventies. one of the best parties that I have been to in a while

Today. Tania Gabby, Annie (Gabby’s best friend) and I had a braai with Mark and Kathy at Dave Greens farm, on the Caledon River. Dave was kind enough to drive us there (as the trip needs a 4 x 4 in some sections), we just chilled while the kids swam in the river and had fun on the farm. Tomorrow is nose to the grindstone again, but it could be worse, we could be living in a big city.


As I have mentioned in my Profile, “I live in a small drinking village with a fishing problem” Its Called Clarens and is situated in the Eastern Free State of South Africa, GPS co-ordinates are 28.5117 E, 28.4228 S, It is a tourist village with many of its inhabitants (450 white and 6000 black permenant residents) involved in the industry, this number increases dramatically over Long weekends, Public holidays, Christmas, New year and Easter. I have lived here for nine years now and seen immense change, however I am getting ahead of myself. I would like to give you an idea of the History of this village so that you have a better understanding as to where I live and how and why the village was set up.

Established in 1912 on two farms Naauwpoort and Liliehoek Clarens was officially proclaimed a town in 1913 and a municipality in 1920. Unlike today Clarens was then a sleepy hollow that consisted of a few sandstone buildings and a general dealers. The road that brings you in to Clarens from Bethlehem passes through Naauwpoort Nek and is probably best known for the battle between Paul Kruger’s Commando and the Basotho in September 1865. After the attack and murder of a small group of trek Boers from the Transvaal near the present day Harrismith, the Transvaal Republic decided to send Paul Kruger and 400 men to punish those responsible, after pursuing the Basotho from present day Witsieshoek through the Golden Gate, on the afternoon of the 28th it was decided to laager on the north side of Naauwpoort Nek, very close to the present day site of Clarens. Around 3am on the 29th under cover of rain and darkness the Basotho under the leadership of Lesoeana and Slangaal attacked the sleeping Boers and managed to kill five in the initial rush before being driven off. This valley used to be part of Basutoland but after the Basotho wars had ended in 1869 it became part of the “conquered territory” and was sold to those men who had fought in the Basotho wars, title deeds date back to 1870 and decedents of those original owners still live in the valley, farm names to keep your eye out for as you drive to the Golden gate, Bethlehem or Fouriesburg are Craigrosse, Clifton, Schaaplaats, Kromdraai, Dunblane, Madrid, De Molen, Bokpoort, Damaskus, to name but a few.

On the 16th of December 1895 residents of the Caledon valley erected a monument where the five burghers had been killed. On the 9th of November 1962 as part of Clarens jubilee Celebrations it was moved to Presidents Plein, (later changed to Mosiea park, after a long time municipal worker by that name ,the locals call it the square or market square) and unveiled by the then State President Mr. Charles Roberts Swart where it still stands to this day. In 1912 to honour the contribution that Paul Kruger made to our valley it was decided to name the village after the town in Clarence Switzerland where Paul Kruger died in 1904

The first hotel in the village “Maluti mountain lodge”(there are now another two hotels with the Clarens Protea being the latest addition as well as a multitude of guest houses and bed and breakfasts) overlooks the original road that brought hunters and trek Boers from the Cape Colony probably as early as the 1820’s and would have been transporting animal hides as well as their meat and biltong (for those non South African this is dried meat, I think its called jerky in the States) Southwards. Today this road brings in many thousands of tourists to our village and the impressive Titanic rock watches over all those who visit our beautiful village. The Titanic rock was given the name in 1912 shortly after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, “the rock resembles a ships bow”.

Lesser known facts or places of interest in Clarens and surrounds

Clarens is the highest habitable village in the Free State and the 3rd highest in South Africa .

The Golden gate Highlands National Park, 18 kms from Clarens was established in 1963 and was made up of three farms Noord-Brandt, Witsiesoorsprung and Vuurland encompassing an area of 4792 hectares, after the amalgamation with the former Qua Qua National park it is now some 11 634 hectares in size. The Golden gate got its name from Jan van Reenen of the farm Vuurland because of the sun casting soft rays against the sandstone cliffs

According to Basotho legend, the mountain Setlofe (Mount Horeb), is a shy maiden, she was betrothed to the warrior mountain Matsa (Rhebokkop) who jilted her for another, this broke her heart and even now, when she thinks about the rejection, she draws her veil around her head and weeps. So when Setlofe is covered in cloud, it will soon rain in Clarens. The early pioneers also recognized this forecaster of rain and called Setlofe “Reenmakerskop” (rainmakers head)

The Swartland contains some of the oldest houses in Clarens and is the most historic part of our village there as well as one or two short walks in to the hills behind the Swartland that give you stunning views of our village as well as the distant Maluti Mountain ranges

Clarens can boast of more resident artists than any other village in the Free State and probably South Africa, some of the more interesting galleries are not situated on the square. Residents such as Al Tiley (watercolours), Enslin Vorster (watercolours and oils) Diana Reed Gallery (pastels) Belubas, barn (approx 5kms on the Fouriesburg road). We are trying to establish a monthly Made in Clarens Market to give locals (that do not have a shop) an opportunity to sell their home-grown, homemade or handcrafted goods.

Not 500 meters down the road from the Maluti Mountain Lodge opposite Di Mezza blanket shop and general dealers is an old sandstone post that marks where the trek Boers would “Uitspan” (rest) on there journeys through the Naauwpoort Nek, in the early days, a nearby graveyard has a number of Boer children buried there from these early travelers to our Valley

Surrender Hill 15kms from Clarens on the Fouriesburg road is where General Prinsloo and 4300 Boer men (mostly Free State burgers), handed themselves over to General Archibald Hunter on the 29th of June 1900. Most of the men including many locals were sent to prison camps in either Bermuda or Ceylon, although a few were imprisoned on St Helena. Some say that General Prinsloo was paid handsomely by the British for every Boer soldier that surrendered.

The Lesotho Highlands water scheme is an engineering marvel and one of the reasons that Clarens expanded the way it has. A visit to the Ash River outfall 10kms out of Clarens on the Bethlehem road for any visitor is a must. The river was a stream before the tunnels where built (90 kms of tunnels) and the water comes from the Katse dam in Lesotho and to answer your question “yes the water is coooolllllllld”. The river is known as the Ash but its real name is the Axle river as the speech maker who prepared the speech for Kader Ashmal who was then the minister responsible for this project thought that As was Afrikaans for Ash when in fact it was the Axle of a ox wagon also pronounced As. This river now has two River rafting companies Extreme adventures and Outrageous adventures taking tourists for half day or full day trips and is an adrenaline rush of note. Both outfits are very professional and its well worth the trip.

Ok I think this give you a bit more insight in to the village and with the photos give you an idea as to where I live, “not bad hey”.

So this blog is called “The diaries of a village idiot”, I suppose then I need to start telling you what happens here on a daily basis, “I probably wont, but will keep you up to date with the important events and disasters that befall the village”. First let me tell you that living in a small village is vastly different to living in a city. In the city you don’t even know your neighbors, but here in Clarens we all know each other and there is a saying here that goes like this “If you wake you in the morning and don’t know what your going to be doing, don’t worry someone else will” We have JR Ewing’s, Legends in there own lunch boxes, black widows, recently divorced or young ladies looking for the older richer man, hippies, people running away from their problems etc etc.

Here huge personalities, ego’s and politics between residents play a large roll in daily life and sometimes you feel like a kid on a playground, “remember when one friend would tell you, If you play with Johnny, then I wont be your friend again” I have often thought about setting up a hobby shop in the village, as there are to many people with to much time on there hands. If I am honest I have also at times fallen in to one or two of the above categories and sometimes it is hard to keep out of the village intrigues

So what it like living in Clarens, if the majority of us are not sitting around all day doing nothing but counting the bank balance. Despite all the politics and personality clashes its

the best, the positives way outweigh the negatives and in times of need, like the big fires that hit the area in Mid October of 2008 the village pulled together, I must say that soon after there was a huge outcry and a debate about how we should thank the farmers that once again came to our aid, “but hey that’s Clarens”. Ok I think I have bored you enough for today and my fingers are getting sore. I am sure if you read the blog, you will get to know the village and its people. Better still come and visit the best village in South Africa and experience what we are lucky enough to experience every day.

My Daughter

Having my daughter with me on the Pasta advert was great and I was proud of the way that she handled herself, especially on the second morning at 3.30am, when I know she was dog tired and did not really want to go. I told Gabby that she had two choices.

1)Go back to sleep
2)Get up and complete what she had started

Gabby got up and decided to complete what she had started, this trait I believe she gets from her mom and I and we in turn got from our parents . Watching Gabby over the last couple of days made me realize how fast our children grow up and before we know it they will be leaving home. This in turn got me to thinking about how Gabby came in to our lives and changed it for the better and it’s a story I would like to share with you.

I never ever thought that I would become a dad, my wife and I for whatever reason where unable to conceive. Either my little Ryk Neethlings were unable to read a map and swim in the right direction or my wife’s eggs just decided that they where far to ugly and would not go out on a date with them. After a number of failed artificial insemination procedures we thought that we would never have a child. While we may have thought that, the man upstairs had other plans and through a chance meeting with a lady who assisted couples to adopt. To cut a long story short, probably a year after that meeting we received a call to tell us that a Birth mother had been found and instead of a three month lead up time, she was about to give birth.

Nothing like a dose of reality to get the juices flowing, Tania and I rushed to Johannesburg (was not called Gauteng then), met the birth mom and found out it had been a false labour. My wife used this opportunity to buy out baby city (Oh I forgot to tell you we where running a hotel in the middle of nowhere and was about four hours from Johannesburg), with the help of Tania’s brother and sister (both younger than Gabby is now) as well as 5 trolleys we nearly achieved her goal, as the carts got filled up I saw my credit card balance diminish. Another two weeks passed before the big day arrived.

Gabriella Ayla Dunkley was born on the 26th of November 1996 at 1.40pm on an overcast afternoon. I was there to see my daughter come in to the world, take her first breath and cry for the first time, I do not think that I will ever forget that moment and to be honest whenever I think of that day I get a tear in my eye. I was a dad and Tania Gabby and I where a family.
Gabby is now 12 years old and like all kids that age I will be sending her out to work soon, as she knows everything:- ). I cannot believe that she has grown up so fast, one moment she was dependent on us for everything and now she is becoming a woman, "wow where did the years go to" Gabby is a natural horsewoman and I am sure that one day she will own her own horse farm, Gabby is also very creative and much to our joy an avid reader. Like her dad she also loves history and likes going for motorbike rides.

Having grown up either in the country or in Clarens, Gabby has been lucky to live a life like we knew as kids, climb mountains, swim in dams, ride horses etc etc and it shows in her confident manner. Gabriella Ayla Dunkley, I love you Billizons, have done from the second I saw you and will do until the day I die. I am the luckiest person alive to have you for my daughter, to have been chosen out of all the people in the world to be your Dad xxxxx

Pasta advert

The Pasta advert finished today and has been 3 loooooonnnng but interesting and fun days. I have worked on adverts before, but not as an extra so this was a first for me. As I said yesterday my daughter also had a part and while very tired (as yesterday we worked 14 hours and close to that today) she also had a great time.

A number of Clarenites (that’s what we call people who live in Clarens) where also extras and I have to say while I know many of them from sight or to say hi to, they have only recently moved in to the village so the last two days was a chance to get to know them better. On Sunday we had a dress rehearsal and a number of us showed that we could use the Scythe and that was our job. Hard work and I have respect for the farm workers of days-gone bye. It was interesting to think that Danie, Stanford, Francois, Andre and myself where probably the first people in many years to actually cut wheat in the area as they did way back when.

Its late so that’s it for today. Enjoy the photos

Pasta advert

Hi, just a short entry today, Spent 14 hours in make up or on set at a local farm today as an extra in a Pasta advert to be screened in Italy. Its set in 1871, we are dressed in period costume and myself as well as four other gents have to use Scythes to cut the wheat, not easy but something i have never done before. We are back tommorow again at 4am to get a sunrise shot. What was great about today is that gabby my daughter was also an extra so it was awesome to have her there and experience this. Just another way that i have made money in the village, I will add it to the list. More about his advert later.

Way back when

Have you ever sat and thought about what your life was like when you where a teenager? At a recent weekend break, I did just that comparing my life to date to the hotel that we where staying at. Like myself the hotel was still functional and did the job, but if you looked closely you could see that she was getting a little old in the tooth and probably in need of a refurbishment. I closed my eyes and imagined the hotel as it opened brand new, easy on the eye and full of promise, “just like a teenager” After a number of years of constant use however things start to sag, a paint job is in order and there is a definite deterioration in the structure.

Looking back now, being a teenager where probably the best days of our lives. Lets face it what did we have to worry about apart from passing exams and ensuring your acne was kept under control. A number of things stand out from my high school days in the early 80’s. Things like my first illicit cigarette, the excitement of ordering a drink at sixteen at the local German club and not being thrown out, the first serious but clumsy fondling of the opposite sex and listening to Heavy metal music like ACDC, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest (just to mention a few), this was the music that we where told by adults would play satanic messages if played backwards, I wonder how many of you, like me destroyed countless Sony C 90 tapes by trying to turn them inside out to listen to those messages, that sounded like Klingon in slow motion “Yok nah yeh mug suom paragney” I was also flummoxed as to how you play a record backwards and badly scratched many a LP (for those younger readers an LP was a long playing record, something like a CD but much larger and like the model T Ford only came in black), I suppose English speakers where lucky as we had so many groups to choose from to try and expose these messages, if you where Afrikaans however then your choice was limited to Bles Bridges or Ge Korsten. Rumour had it if you played their music backwards you got Potjiekos recipes.

If you where the average standard eight schoolboy perhaps the one thing that played on your mind the most in those years was “will I be getting a motorbike” and what would it be. Why was this so important some of you may ask, well a “fifty” was more than just a mode of transport it was my passport to “coolness” it was a teenagers equivalent of a Ferrari 308GTB for some fifty something “poser”. It represented many a teenagers first uncertain steps to manhood and freedom; visions of fast bike and loose girls clouded the mind.

My first bike was not a brand new “out of the box” Suzuki RG 50 or a green Kawasaki AR 50 but a second hand “in the box” Honda SS 50, seriously it cost a princely R50 00 and comprised a frame with three checkers packets as well as a box full of parts, the money having been earned working in a local steakhouse, but that is a story for another time.

To say I was disappointed when my dad took me to collect the bike is an understatement, his words “it’s a project that will not only bring us closer together but will let you understand the engineering of the bike” had no meaning as my immediate dream of donning a open face helmet and a pair of goggles seemed to disappear faster than you could say “Freddy Spencer” he was the eighties version of “Valentino Rossi” the two nights I spent polishing wheel spokes was almost enough to put me of motorbikes forever, but I am proud to say that my dad persevered and while I watched TV he not only got the bike running but it looked almost new, it was not quite as fast or cool looking as the other bikes mentioned, but it was the most beautiful piece of machinery that I had ever set my eyes on. Not that I knew how to ride it and if you had a dad like mine, “everything had to be done properly or not at all”, so it was of to the local field and after a few hours of shouting, swearing and crying, (yes I am not ashamed to admit that my dad cried) I was able to keep the bike in a straight line and change in to second without falling of, or crunching the gearbox in to oblivion.

Roadworthy was a breeze, but then it was the big test of getting a learners licence, now in those days the traffic cops looked where menacing and I am not sure if it was because of the uniform (big black boots, black jolper pants tucked in to the boots, khaki shirt and an a official/amptelike cap) or the fact that none of them could speak the queens English very well, or in some cases at all. I remember one particular officer telling my mom after she had parked the wrong way in a one way street (in her defence we had only been in SA for about a month) “ R lady you’s R not in England now hey”, my mom re-payed his kindness of not giving her a fine, by riding over his feet about a month later, while he was performing traffic duties on a road near our house, it was the first time I had seen a traffic cop break dance, but with my mom driving a large Ford Taunus, it would not be the last.

As luck would have it my moms favourite cop was the gent giving and marking the learners test and I have to say even in the early 80’s Rooineks where still not the flavour of the month in Vanderbijlpark, in fact I think we where still being blamed for the camps that Kitchener and his henchmen had set up in the early 1900s that saw so many innocent women and children (black and white) die unnecessarily. It was there fore with great trepidation that I paid my five rand, had my eyes tested and was ushered in to a room with about thirty other pimple faced short haired 16 year old hormones on legs. If I remember correctly the exams where a tad easier than the current K53 and one question that sticks in mind was. “You are allowed to stop at the side of a national highway if”

a) You want to take your dog for a walk
b) You have an emergency breakdown
c) You want to have a picnic

As you can see the questions where tricky and that was probably the reason that twenty-four of the thirty failed the test, “really hard those multiple-choice exams”. I arrived the traffic department on a bicycle, but with a motorbike at home that could do 80kms an hour “with a tailwind down a mine shaft” and now some brain dead government official had given me a licence to ride it on public roads. I was now officially one of “the Manne”. 80kms an hour is fast especially if you have been riding a bicycle most of your life, but once you get used to that heady speed you start looking at ways to get more speed out of the machine, the easiest and cheapest method was to find the longest downhill stretch that you could, open the throttle and lie as flat on the bike as possible, with this method it was possible to get it an extra five to seven kms per hour on the clock, “I know I also used to wonder, why did they put 100 kms per hour on the speedometer if it could not get anywhere near that”.

Most of my friends looked at ways of permanently “souping” up there steeds, ideas included adding additives to the petrol, like cooking oil and methanol to converting the engine with cylinder heads being ground, sprocket ratios being changed, and fairings being added. None of this really helped, but we did it anyway.

One thing for sure is that during those years the different manufacturers where able to create a bond and a loyalty between themselves and there customers many an argument was had about which bike was the best, I was a Honda man and took a keen interest in Super bikes (the CBR 1100R was doing well) and the Grand Prix series, with Freddy Spencer being the man. I often wonder how many of my friends and teenagers of the early 80’s still ride today, hopefully all that left the biking scene when they got married and had children are riding again today.

Today I ride a 1200 Triumph Trophy and belong to the world famous “Goromonzi Farmboys International” motorcycle club. I am sure the antics of the gents that make up the membership will feature prominently on the blog from time to time. The legendary Wingman, “Mighty rocket rider”, “Hurricane tamer” and “Road warrior of considerable note” is our fearless leader and you will defiantly be reading about his birthday party next Saturday, it’s a combined sixty (Wingman) and fourty (his 69 Triumph) birthday “Paartay”. As the invitation states its going to be a Goodtime boogie, beer drinking hoooowwwwl at the moon bash with a band called Grumpy old men providing the music. I for one I cannot wait, dress is sixties biker, rocker or hippy, (no mods allowed) there will be twelve of the fourteen Farmboys at this bash and I am sure there will be plenty of beer drinking and howling at the moon from everyone attending. “Let the good times roll”

Road trip

“Road trip” two words that have spawned countless movies and books over the years, probably an experience not that fashionable in South Africa, is almost a rite of passage amongst college students in the United States of America with the annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale being at the top of the list. I suppose the closest SA teenagers get to a road trip is the annual pilgrimage to Margate by matriculants who go to this popular sea side town to let there hair down and from what I hear a few other things as well. A cult road trip movie would have to be Easy rider starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson with a recent addition to that genre and one of my all time favourite movies “Wild Hogs”.

Do yourself a favour, the next holiday you plan don’t take the main roads, plan the trip via the back roads that were used before the National roads became the conduits between the major centres. Recently we spent the festive season with family in Port Elizabeth and the drive there was a flashback to happy childhood holiday memories as well as a sadness as to how parts of our country has deteriorated over the years. While there is a regeneration of some platteland dorps (Clarens being a prime example) there are unfortunately to many that have been left to the ravage of time and even iconic towns such as Grahamstown have unfortunately not been spared. Derelict and abandoned farmhouses,sports fields, roadhouses/padkafees, farm stalls, filling stations and shops in once vibrant and populated towns and villages such as Rouxville, Jamestown, Whittelsea, Seymour and Fort Beaufort bear testimony to better days before the pace of life got to hectic and time became all to important.

If you happen to be an amateur photographer then the journey on the back roads ensures countless photographic opportunities with scenes that you would not normally see or even stop for on the highway. Abandoned farmhouses, old steel railway and road bridges, ancient stone walls, river names such as Holspruit 1 and 2 or Kronkel and derelict railway sidings with names such as Tidbury Toll, “yes there is a railway siding with this name, its near the village of Balfour in the eastern Cape and I believe that this siding was the drop of and collection point for guests that stayed at the Katberg Sanatorium (today an eco estate situated in the Katberg mountains) back in the day when a train journey was the accepted way to travel. Sadly during the trip we came across many broken down railway stations and sidings, we never saw one train using the rail system that was once the pride of the African continent. Perhaps the biggest drawback on using roads less travelled is potholes, however again if you are not in a rush then this is also not a huge problem and on the 822 km journey to Port Elizabeth there where only two sections of road that the Minister of roads his Honourable Mr. “Slaghate Pothole” was unable to attend to before the festive season, otherwise the roads where not that bad.

Children these days have it easy when it comes to going on a long trip, back in my day, dad planned the trip to ensure that we stopped at the right places for petrol, I remember a trip from Johannesburg to Pilgrims rest would take seven to eight hours, now it’s a mere three (some may remember the fuel ration years, with no petrol over weekends from Friday 6pm to Monday 6am) while mom made “padkos”, for the obligatory side of the road picnic, with the mandatory hard boiled eggs that always had a habit of coming back to haunt the car occupants, especially on a long trip. Sadly many of those lay-byes are in disrepair (especially in the Eastern Free State) and this tradition has also been lost to the younger generation. “Its just not the same hurtling down the highway and popping in to a Steers or a Wimpy for a meal” One of my fondest childhood memories about family holidays has to be being woken up very early by my dad and carried to the car, while still in my pyjamas. If I close my eyes I can almost remember the smell at that time in the morning and I will always remember the excitement of waking up in the back of the car, knowing that we where on holiday and if I was lucky I was awake in time to see the sun rise, those are great recollections.

Boredom on the road back then was kept away by playing car cricket, eye spy, guess the car registration (for example TJ was Johannesburg and OA was Bethlehem) singing dull and repetitive songs (Puff the magic dragon springs to mind) and if you where lucky or rich a magnetic chess/snakes and ladders set. These days the kids have I pods, portable DVD players, Gameboy’s and multi-functional, linked to the internet cell phones to keep them occupied. However one constant with children over the years on a long trip have to be the dreaded words “are we nearly there yet”. How many times have we heard those words as parents or uttered them as children ?

A trip like this is not about the destination, its about the journey and discovering parts of the country that we have probably forgotten about.

The beggining

Hi, My name is Stephen and as from today I will be writing on my Blog "The diaries of a village idiot" (hopefully someone will read this :-))I have to tell you right from the start that my spelling is not that great and i do not believe in using commas and full stops. I am not going to give you the story of my life and bore the hell out of you in my first posting, that i will gardually get to do over the days, weeks, months and years to come.

I live in a small drinking village with a fishing problem called Clarens and have lived here with my wife and daughter for the last nine years. I will not only write about life in the village as well as the people that live here ("and believe me there are times that we should be a reality TV show") I will also post stories and photographs that i feel are relevant at the time or just feel like writing

Writing for a local magazine "Speckled Bean" the researching and writing of a military political history book "the Phantom of the Forest" hopefully to be edited and published this year have given me the confidence to create this blog and if you had of told me a few years back that I would enjoy writing and taking photographs I would have laughed at you.

well that's it for now, not very exciting i know, but the postings will get better and hopefully more people, other than my wife, daughter and mom will read what i put down.

The Diaries of a Village Idiot

This is my new blog... the Diaries of a Village Idiot... this is me:
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