Rock and Roll Sherry
After I turned 18, a couple of friends and I used to play snooker at the Plough Hotel (it and the Offsaddle Inn were the two hotels in town). We also had a drink or three. The cheapest drink available was a sweet Rock and Roll Sherry. It cost one shilling a tumbler full and was only served in the separate Indian/Coloured bar (no bars for Africans allowed). Helpful Harry, the cheerful young Indian barman who served both bars would go through to the other bar to pour our drinks! We and Harry became good friends. The sherry was no friend. It may have been cheap, but the next morning hangover price was very steep.
Peacocks in the mist
We had a flock of peacocks and peahens that used to roost at night in the fir trees near the house. They served as brilliant watchdogs. If disturbed by anything they would let out piercing screams that sounded a bit like someone was being murdered. This eerie sound was much amplified by the thick mist that often descended on the farm at night, The males – the peacocks – regularly put on spectacular displays of their tail plumage. Enough to turn on even the most discerning peahen.
Hailstones the size of cricket balls
Sometimes the mist would come in, and then a storm would sneak up over the mist. One evening we were at the far dam. We drove there in a combi and then walked the 200 metres or so to the dam. On the far side of the dam there was a big splash (a fishing jumping?). A short while later another big splash with a plume of water shooting up (someone throwing rocks into the dam?) And then a giant hailstone, the size of cricket balls, landed on the dam wall, just missing us. We ran for a combi as a nearby burst of thunder split the air. None of us was hit, but it was a close shave. We quickly drove the combi under a tree and waited for the hail to subside. We kept some of the hailstones in the kitchen deep freeze for years, to prove to visitors that we were not exaggerating the size of the hailstone – as big as cricket balls.
Coaching horns and dogs
My father had two or three brass coaching horns. Where they came from, I regret I never asked. Originally coaching horns were blown by coachmen to alert the villages they passed through of the arrival of the coach.
The horns (about one and a half metres long) are blown into with pursed lips at the one end and a very loud noise comes out the other end. On the farm, they were a decoration in the lounge and also very useful for calling in the dogs when they went missing (hunting). Blow the coaching horn close to dogs and they all immediately start howling. Blow when the dogs are far away and out of sight, and they come racing towards the sound (from up to a few kilometres away).
Spikey dogs and porcupines
Some farm dogs go off hunting, It is their natural instinct.
Some of these ‘hunters’ come back injured, and feeling sorry for themselves, especially if they run into the back end of a porcupine. Although porcupines have soft hair in front, the back of their body is covered with tough, long, very sharp quills. The quills of African porcupines are about 20 centimetres in length. When pursued by predators they erect their quills, scurry away and then suddenly stop, causing the pursuer’s face to run into a wall of quills. The ‘sharper than a hypodermic needle’ quills stab into the face of the predator and sink in deep. Each quill has hundreds of tiny barbs that make the quills difficult for the animal or even a vet to remove.
Goldfish as bait
Later we introduced trout to our two main dams, but initially, the dams were stocked with large-mouth bass. The family often accused me of stealing ALL the goldfish from the fishpond in the garden. In fact, during one teenage holiday, I had taken two of the goldfish to test whether or not they made good bait for catching bass. The results were spectacular. Six good-sized bass in about two hours. Each time I threw a goldfish baited hook into the water the bass flew at it. Eventually, the two goldfish were more deceased that the sleeping parrot in that Monty Python skit. What did happen to the rest of the goldfish? I suspect a couple of hamerkop birds that lived in the area did them in.
Sunday braais at the dam
We used to have great braais by the near dam on sunny Sundays in summer and in winter. Pack everybody, plus food and drink (and ice) into a combi or two and off we would go to the very effective DIY braai we had built next to the dam. Shade from a tree or two. Lovely sunny days, crystal clear air. In summer we also used to swim in the dam but we always had a feeling that something (aside from fish and Platanna frogs) might be lurking beneath us. We were right. One year the dam sprung a leak and needed to be emptied so that repair work could be done. All that remained were some pools, and in those pools were dozens of fish and a whole bunch is slippery writhing eels that must have migrated overland to the dam.
Teenage dances, tennis tournaments and bioscope on Saturday night
During our teenage years (in the ’50s) there were regular holiday time dances in the various farmers’ halls – in Ixopo, Lufafa Road, Highflats, Umzimkulu and more. The same band, I forget what they called themselves seemed to play at most of the dances. I think the band leader was Mr Francis who also owned the Plough Hotel. He played the tea chest! There were also regular teenage tennis tournaments in these towns and as far afield as Richmond and Kokstad. The Ixopo farmers hall also offered ‘fillum bioscope’ movies on Saturday nights. The films were old and worse than awful. So old that the celluloid on the reels used to break several times a night. The movie could not continue until the two ends had been spliced together. Meanwhile, there was loud heckling from the teenagers in the upstairs gallery. The teenage gallery heckling reached a crescendo when the reels were played in the wrong order!