From Boatsheds to Battlefields 20 Facing his Future

 

End of 19th Entry: A tiny crowd of people drawn by curiosity or the desire to buy fresh fish gathered round and proudly Mick sprang ashore noting with glee the envious looks of half a dozen school companions.

A people of Puritan upbringing to whose ancestors and themselves life had been a simple old world existance was suddenly swamped by rivers of gold. What could they do with it? None had any wants they knew of – their homes filled with solid ancient furniture were comfortable enough, land they possessed in plenty – the lure of the cities were absent.

So the contented Boer went on much as he and his people had always done – more children went to schools and remained longer there – his ponies and horses of cape breeding were sold to less favoured districts and the best bloodstock imported from Ireland and England. Thoroughbreds were mated to Hackneys and Oom Piet and his sons rode behind pairs of horses for which fabulous sums were paid – and when the satin coated mares and geldings had nothing better to do, Oom Piet or Johannes his son in-spanned them as leaders to the spans of mules in plough or waggon.

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Oom Willem thought nothing of paying £200 per acre for ground his father had sold at half a crown – Oom Jannie bought a double floss Ostrich cock for a £1000 and thought it cheap, yet smoked tobacco at a shilling a pound and wore evil smelling corduroys at forty shillings a pair. The golden harvest added nothing to their comfort, little to their lives – land went up to miraculous values, ostriches, horses and merino rams fetched what prices their owners wished to ask – every inch of land that could be bought under irrigation was covered with lucerne – the farms were stocked to their utmost limit with ostriches, horses and sheep and the worthy old Boers looked from their wide stoeps (verandahs) and were content.

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From one of the houses two lads stepped out into the main street and strolled along looking at the people and horses.

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“We’d better go and call on Mr Van Zyl first Mickey” remarked the younger boy a heavily built Dutchman, “He will probably want you to go out to the farm this afternoon.”

Mick sighed – “Righto” he answered, “Man Zack! I’m darn sorry I didn’t clear off to sea though. I simply couldn’t break up my Dad and his Mates, but I’m not keen on blooming farming. Still I’ll give it a try and I’m darn grateful to you for getting Van Zyl to take me on. I couldn’t stick school any longer.”

The Dutchman with a serious air turned to his companion “Man Mick you must work and keep your mouth closed at Van Zyl’s – you English are too – what do you call it? Flighty, ja! You yourself are over sixteen and have been trying a lot of schools but you never work at what you don’t like. In English, in History, in Geography you are always first but Maths and other things don’t appeal and so you simply leave them. Nearly three years in the matric form! Man its a disgrace. Now if you would have worked hard for a few months you could easily pass your matriculation and with your father’s influence would in a few years be a rich lawyer – Man Mick you’re a fool. Nobody ever did well mixing with fishermen and mountain people and reading all kinds of books and going to Roman Catholic Churches. The Good Lord won’t like that Mick! He has given us the Bible to read and Protestant Churches to go to and He doesn’t want us to be friends with low coloured fishermen and flower sellers.”

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Mick laughed – “Lord you people are narrow minded – Jesus Christ didn’t mind going amongst the fishermen.”

Zack cried out in horror – “God, Mick! Don’t talk like that or the Good Lord will strike you dead.”

“No! He won’t – I don’t know if there is a God but if there is He isn’t goint to be taken in by a pompous well fed swine who is getting paid to preach two sermans a week and go about looking holy and better than other people. Anyway God doesn’t strike people dead – when my people moved I found an old money box belonging to a mission and I got about three pounds out of it, and spent it on canvas for my canoe and fishing tackle. I didn’t get struck dead or drowned or fall down the mountain. God had lots of chances to kill me but He didn’t.” His son was a pal of fishermen and I bet He reckoned it was more sensible buying lines and getting a boat in order than spending it on spoiling blacks.” Zack pondered on the subject – I don’t believe in missions to Africans” he said “God would forgive you taking that money because Missions only make thieves and cheeky blacks, but here’s Mr Van Zyl’s place.”

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 7 The Untamed Wildness

As I have been typing the story I have come to realise that Grandad borrowed names and I believe he may have blended first and last names, he calls himself Mick Osborne. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank family, friends, and friends of family and their ancestors who have played a part in Bernard Leffler’s autobiography and his life. 

End of 6th Entry from the original:

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From here there are pages missing in the original and rewrites of the opening chapter in the typed manuscript with scattered page numbering.

A FEW STEPS BACK IN THE TALE

I was born beneath the immense grey walls of that flat-topped Table of the Gods which is set beside the blue waters that cap the old town first begun by Van Riebeeck and his sturdy Hollanders.

From boyhood I grew up amongst tales and traditions of gallant East Indian men, Portuguese, Dutch, and English, of flight and cattle, of Hottentot and wild coast – of the ships and frigates of France, England, and Holland which had cast anchor or run out the gun in our Great Bay.  I grew up a dreamer dwelling in a world of shadows, of ships o’ the line, caravels and mighty cluff (clough) bowed merchantmen.

Myself of an ancient family of Holland on the one side, of an adventurous Scandinavian on the other related by blood and marriage to a score of old Dutch, Irish and Huguenot families I had a great wall of legend and history to climb before I entered the world of those whose people have but newly come to our portion of the Cape.

Old manners, old furniture, old names, grey old world houses and a crumbling vault – a tiny world of bygone days and customs was where I spent my childhood days.

Always in my ears thundered the Atlantic surf breaking on a cruel rocky shore – ever in the eyes was the looming bulk of the Table overshadowing the crouching mass of the Lion Hill with its steep heather and sage-covered sides crowned by the stern crags and cliffs of Lion’s Head.

All boyhood memories are tangled up with mountain wall, brushed hillside, granite shores, the heave of the sea and its breaking fury or wooing loveliness, woodland of sombre pine, glen of silver poplar and green oak – the howl of the mountain wind and the sullen murmur of the Ocean.

I went to school – to a great school half hidden by surrounding oaks and gardens, standing well away from the noise and bustle of the city. A school whose children have writ their names not only on Africa’s scroll of honour but through the world. Politicians, soldiers, priests, scholars, and sportsmen are richly represented and college and school combined it nestled under the rampart of the great grey mountain and looked down on the ship crowded Bay giving its sons ever a vision of far-off  lands, of tempests fought and won, of heights to be surmounted, of ways up, across or over seemingly impossible.

And from my classroom to the great neglect of Caesar, Ovid, Euclid and other ancients my mind everlastingly pondered on the view set before the wide-open windows. Mighty cliff, the silver thread of mountain torrent, huge awful buttresses, jutting pinnacle, dark gloomy gorge and pleasantly wooded glen.

As I look ever and aye the untamed wildness called and longingly and full of craving my soul flung its answer to the rocks and corries, to the woods and glens.

Always the mountain called, but mingled with the sagas wafted from the stern walls so often all but buried in eddying, whirling mist, stung and gashed by cruel maddened howling wind came another song – the salt-tinged spray and limitless horizon in its call – the hymn of the sea and I listened.

Freely have they given their joys, fully have they taken me for their own. In all their moods, their anger and their pleasures have I shared. Much have I given them but more have they lavished on me. greatly have I suffered through them the joys they have given me repay. Nor yet have they finished with me nor yet do I grudge them my service.

My vow of dedication has brought me hunger and thirst, rough fare, coarse living, led me to sickness and hurt, plunged me to depths of fear and horror, raised me to the topmost heights of joy and glory in feeling and winning of a man’s victory through manhood’s powers.

I have lain crushed and torn crying for Death to release me from hurt and I have sung a song of glory in the wonder of the mad gallop over ridge and slope, of the gale-driven craft tearing her way through wave and squall, flinging from her bows the green smashed water and wandering through the wild of mountain and forest and ocean.

It has given me to meet many a gallant man and fair maid and noble mother, some of gentle birth, some of the people all of the stock of the mother from whom sprung Hengist and Horsa, Rollo Hereward, the Crusaders, the Elizabethans, the Cavaliers and Jacobites, the men of Nelson and Wellington and all the countless host of hero and heroine who fill the pages of Britain’s weal and woe.

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 5 What are you going to do with your flowers?

End of 4th Entry: Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out to search for flowers.

Turning to the South the lads, still picking an occasional flower, worked up to where the Disa Valley, dammed in two places by stupendous stone walls, formed two blue lochs.

Backed to the East by the mass of heather and bracken-covered hill which formed the back of Table Mountain, a tiny moor flanked the West and North, the head of a glen filled with pines bounding the Southern end; the two great reservoirs which supplied Cape Town with water presented as wild and beautiful a sight as any Scottish mountain scene.


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Woodhead Dam

Passing over the hundred and the twenty-foot wall of the Woodhead Reservoir Mick and Bertie worked the moorland to the West until they came to the pines. Regaining the path they passed a little white beach on which the blue wavelets broke playfully, then striding outreached the head of Skeleton Gorge.

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Leaving the path the boys struck up a brae face and began to reap a good harvest of red crassula and cluster disas until coming over the braehead they arrived at Window Gorge.

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At the shelter, rucksacks were again discarded and a fire made. Both lads were now beginning to feel the heavy tramping and climbing. Blackened, sodden with sweat, scratched and muscle weary they thankfully lay basking in the sun too weary to unpack food or feel inclined for it.

“It’s a queer thing now,” remarked Mick “how girls spoil everything. If we had had girls with us we wouldn’t have had any fun. Just walking on the paths talking silly rot. It’s the same with a boat – have a girl in her and the day’s wasted. If there’s a wind you’ve got to reef down and watch other chaps carrying full sail. I hate girls and fellows that are always mucking around with them.”

Bertie grinned – “You’re a queer lad Mick – all you Boatshed mob are like a crowd of heathen – girls are all right – better than a lot of Malays and half-caste and sinful old white men that have been in gaol. Man, your brothers and sisters must feel rotten when they see low fishermen and flower sellers greeting you.”

“Then they’re blooming snobs – the fishermen and flower sellers always take off their hats and say Sir in the streets. They’ve got darn sight better manners than the stiffs one meets all dressed up. They’re men not blooming stiffs that sit writing and tallying figures all their lives. Chaps that play tennis and walk about with girls – that’s not life man Bertie.”

Flowers seller, Adderley Street, Cape Town. Franco Frescura Collection.

“A chap isn’t a milksop if he plays tennis or walks about with girls – if he doesn’t he’s low and a disgrace to his family and he’s sure to end up poor and looked down on – ends his life sitting in a corner getting the family’s scraps and cast off clothes – a chap must be steady and work his way up otherwise he will be a burden or have to join the Salvation Army or go into a home or be like old George, or old Bowman doing odd jobs and getting drunk – all your sailors and soldiers and other chaps that aren’t steady end up that way.

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Night watchmen, porters, doorkeepers and so on – look at Smith and Williams, they were at Oxford and are of a good family yet roving around has landed them with the Malays.”

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Mick grunted, “Heaps of respectable people end up badly and lots of adventurous people get rich and powerful its just if one gets a chance and grabs it.”

“That’s all rot! Let’s get coffee made.”

As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 4 A life full of adventure

End of 3rd Entry:  Bertie moved away from dangerous ground – “You take the Claremont side Mick and I’ll keep straight on – bet you I get more disas than you do.””Bet you, you won’t,” replied his chum and the boys took to the moor again.

For a mile or two they wandered seeking orchids then came to the head of a dark deep gorge, slowly and cautiously the two boys began to climb down into it. The drop was one of some fifty feet with an almost vertical cliff face, hand and footholds were crumbly, wet and full of slippery moss. Disdaining the help of their ropes however the boys managed the dangerous descent and at last stepped into the bottom of the ravine.

Seating himself on a rock Mick drew a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and offered them to his chum who shook his head. “They’re rotten for a chap’s wind,” he said.

“It’s a queer thing now,” said Mick. “Every darn thing that’s nice isn’t good for one – smokes, girls, beer, everything – not that I can see anything nice about beer or whiskey, but they seem to give some chaps a lot of pleasure. But every time a chap wants to do anything he wants there’s always someone to tell him that he mustn’t do it.”

“Life,” said Bertie, “is a continual battle – the things you want to do are suggested by the Devil, and if you want to become rich and respected you’ve got to kill the old Adam in you and live a clean, godly and sober life.”

“Well I don’t want to be rich and respected” answered Mick, “I want to be a sailor, soldier, cowboy, and miner, knock about the world and have a darn good life. God can’t put every chap that has a happy life full of adventure into Hell, and all people that have made money into Heaven, if he did I’d want to go to Hell myself. Christ and the Apostles were fishermen and Christ didn’t jolly well go live with all the blighters who wore top hats – he went down to the docks and in the pubs with sailors, soldiers, and fisherfolk.”

Bertie grimaced – “Well it doesn’t sound respectable and I’m not going to argue not until we’ve no more rock climbing anyway.”

The gorge into which the boys had climbed deepened sharply from its head. A few yards down, it’s walls rose several hundreds of feet sheer above them, wet, slimy and mossy. In the gorge itself ancient mountain trees, great tree ferns, and brambles flourished amongst the loose waterworn boulders. Growing amongst the moss on the cliff sides were hundreds of blue-grey rock orchids, amongst them scores of buds of the glorious Disa Grandiflora some just beginning to show a tinge of red.

Discarding their rucksacks the lads sought for and cut a long stick at the end of which Bertie fastened a pair of scissors. To the one handle, he made fast a length of thin fishing line and taking a small grappling iron bent his Alpine rope onto it. Carefully the boys began to climb the slippery eastern wall of the gorge. The fluttering blue butterfly flowers were always in the most inaccessible spots, the ledges were narrow and wet, and the holds precarious, but with infinite care, the flower seekers crawled upwards.

Now and again Bertie would find a fairly secure hold and Mickey climbing on his shoulders would bring hand or rod into play to snip off the coveted blue treasures. Sometimes the grappling iron was used, being flung upwards until it caught. Testing its hold one boy would climb, aided by the rope, until he found good holding ground, then making the rope fast around his body take a portion of his chum’s weight as the latter climbed either upward to him or outward to the flowers.

An hour of this and Bertie began to complain of twinges of cramp whereupon the two started to work back into the gorge a hundred feet below. Slowly, carefully, testing every hand and foothold the adventurous couple regained safety and Mick wet, mudstained but gloriously happy lighted another cigarette.

“I didn’t funk much there, did I?” he enquired of his pal.

“No you were fine,” answered the other handsomely. “But that’s only a second class climb – wait until you get on Silverstream Buttress or Stinkwater Needle or Kloof Corner.”

“Rats!” replied Mick “A chap that’s used to ships can climb anywhere. Bet, you don’t come down to the Docks tomorrow and climb up to the top-gallant of a full-rigged ship.”

“Bet you I could, only tomorrow’s Sunday and I’ve got Sunday School.”

“I’ve got to go to the eleven o’clock service in the morning,” said Mickey with a sigh. “I wish I was like Clive and Renè, they don’t have to go to church and it hasn’t done them any harm. I bet God would sooner see me out in a boat enjoying myself than sitting for hours in church hating religion. That’s one good thing about Catholics as long as they go to Early Mass they can spend the day as they like.”

“Well, you’re not a Catholic. Come on Mick we’ve got 30 disas each and three Grandiflora buds – let’s get out.”

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

 

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