From Boatsheds to Battlefields 23 Farming and Romancing

End of 22nd Entry: A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.

Breakfast over Van Zijl and the boy harnessing a pair of sturdy ponies to a light single poled cart drove off on a tour of inspection.

Half an hour’s drive brought them to a pumping station where Mick was introduced to a hard-featured Australian named Wallace who was in charge of a suction gas plant which pumped a large stream from a broad river up to an irrigation furrow. Half an hour was spent in explaining the working of the engine to Mick and then Van Zijl re-entering the cart drove into his lands.

Some four hundred acres lay under irrigation furrow of which a hundred were under cultivation. He explained that the Government was contemplating a scheme whereby a large canal would bring over two thousand acres of his lands under irrigation – “I took over this farm as a debt a year ago valuing it at fifteen shillings per acre – it is worth £2 per acre today and if the canal is built may be valued at £200 per acre in a couple of years time” he said. “I am willing however to give your Dad an option at forty shillings per acre over 700 acres or to rent them to him for two years at £40 per month. I will be advancing the implements and superintending the working of it until you are capable of doing it yourself.”

Mick thanked Van Zijl profusely and promised to write to Mr Osmond that night – inwardly he thought “Well Mick you won’t be staying anyway – perhaps Dad will let me go to sea.”

At one of the lands Van Zijl stopped at a plough pulled by sixteen oxen. “Now Mick if a farmer wants to show his employees how to do a job he must know how to do it himself. I don’t believe in false pride – to master a job a man must start from the very beginning. I want you to take the leader’s place on that plough for a few days, then lead mules, once you know a leader’s job I’ll put you on holding the plough and then to driving. Meanwhile you’ll learn to milk, handle animals and implements after which you will be able to take an intelligent interest in farming.

Three weeks of hard solid work followed. From dawn until breakfast time Mick worked in the stable, byre and dairy – after breakfast fetched the oxen or mules or held the plough or handled the long bamboo whip with its twenty-five foot lash. At midday his lunch was sent to him – a bottle of separated milk or cold coffee, cold meat and badly cooked bread – then after an hours spell back to plough, harrow or waggon. Just before sunset the animals were freed and walking back to the homestead Mick once again took up the farmyard routine until long after dark. A hasty sluice and a poor meal followed with an hours devotion ending the day.

Mick cursed with all the fluency gained by much mixing with hardened sailormen – unbosomed himself to Wallace with whom he had struck up a firm friendship.

“I like the work – I don’t mind leading and I love holding the plough or handling the whip – I want to learn to ride, drive, milk and the rest of it, but I hate Van Zijl he’s just a creeping — and his wife’s a bitch.”

The Australian laughed – “You’re right Sonny – that’s the worst of these lawyer blokes and book farmers – everything is theory and not practice – an ordinary boss is bad enough but a lawyer one is a bastard. I’ve worked on sheep runs, cattle stations, copra schooners and been in the army and I never struck a boss that hadn’t something wrong with him. Still if you’re lucky you’ll be a boss yourself one day and then your employees will curse you – it’s always a comfort thinking that.”

Mick found little opportunity for riding – once or twice Van Zijl took him out and Mick to his delight managed to sit the stallion which having been a pet from birth proved easily manageable.

A long course of twisting about and hanging onto ships rigging and mountain precipice had given young Mick all the nimbleness of a monkey and being entirely without nerves riding came easily and naturally to him.

Relations between Mrs Van Zijl and Mick became more and more strained – Mick complained openly about the food especially the quality of the bread – Mr Osmond wrote stating that he neither was nor ever would be likely to assist Mick financially and the Van Zijls began to look sourly at him.

Miss Van Zijl, a sixteen year old school girl, came to the farm for her holidays – like most South African country girls she was a robust pretty damsel full of rich blood – fresh from a boarding school and longing to play with boys. Susie immediately began to make eyes at Mick – Mick’s Celtic blood flamed and on several occasions Mrs Van Zijl’s eyes looked suspiciously at a flushed daughter who in answer to her calling had appeared with some excuse for her absence. Mrs Van Zijl watched, Mrs Van Zijl laid traps but Mick was a wily bird and Susie was experienced. Mrs Van Zijl felt, knew that her daughter and Mick were enjoying a little boy and girl romance but poor Mrs Van Zijl could gather no proof.

 

From Boatshed to Battlefields 21 Employed

End of 20th Entry: “…… here’s Mr Van Zijl’s place.”

Entering an attorney’s office the boys were shown into an inner room where a tall grey haired gentleman rising shook hands with them and told them to take chairs.

A few questions to Mick elicited the facts that he was strong, healthy and could speak a little Dutch, couldn’t ride, knew nothing about farming, and failed twice his matriculation and had just left in the middle of his third attempt. However he was willing to work at anything.

“All right Osmond call round at four this afternoon, and we’ll go out to the farm. I can’t pay you anything until you are useful to me, but you will get your board and lodging, and as I’m starting on a virgin piece of country you’ll have a golden opportunity of learning farming.”

Emerging from the lawyers office Zack suggested calling on one or two English residents. Zacharias De Wet was the youngest brother of three of the wealthiest Ostrich farmers in the district and he and Mick had been schoolmates. Zach, with a Dutchman’s honest pride in his home place, was intent on showing the city youth that Straun small as it was possessed inhabitants of culture besides the native worthies. Leading the way the young Boer first led his chum to the rectory where he introduced him to a kindly Anglican parson who greeted both boys warmly; then to a charming little house to proudly make Mick known to a tall sweet faced English lady and two pretty, merry looking girls.

Leaving Mick with his countryfolk the Boer sauntered off to call on relatives, Mick accepting a kindly invitation to lunch settled down to entertain the ladies. Time passed quickly until three o’clock when with many thanks for a most enjoyable time Mick departed to get his luggage together and bid farewell to Zach’s people. Punctually at four Mr Van Zijl drove up in a Cape cart, loading on his kit Mick climbed in and with waving hat made his adieux to the De Wets.

Related image

For two hours the cart drove amongst hills and glens whilst Van Zijl drew his young pupil out or answered an endless stream of questions.

“I have sold my practice and am giving up the law for farming.” He said. “I knew your father very well – what South African lawyer doesn’t? And am very glad to have a son of his with me – its a hard life farming Mick but it makes men strong and healthy. Mrs Van Zijl will look after you and if you like the life perhaps your Dad might like to buy a portion of the farm for you.”

Mick grinned as he thought of any proposal to Mr Osmond regarding the buying of land. A Civil Servant even though a departmental head was not usually in a position to invest ready cash in farming, and in his case there were three sisters and two brothers in the family. Besides themselves, were relatives who had to be helped – Irish families are usually large and his grandmother’s people were of exceptionally prolific stock – Blood they had in plenty, titled cousins and distinguished ones – but Money – No – that was the only thing in the world they hadn’t got.

But a Celt will never confess himself to be but an ordinary average man – few but have distant kin who have been lost somewhere in Australia, Africa or America – there is always the chance that one having amassed a fortune had thought of Terence who was named after him or Norah who married Patrick or that back in Ireland itself estates or wealth had by the miracle of fate fallen to a younger branch.

So Mick began to question his employer, conveying a strong impression that Mr Osmond was keenly interested in the question of buying Mick a farm, and that there was money a plenty waiting if only Mick well treated and happy took a liking to the life.

Shortly after sunset the farm was reached where the two were welcomed by a large stout lady of fair complexion.

Related image

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 19 Parenting Advice

End of 18th Entry: “Smartly done me, lad! Smartly done!” said the Skipper laughing as he dropped his line overboard.

For an hour the crew fished catching a few of the reddish white Silverfish and a couple of large-mouthed goggle-eyed red bodied fish called Jacopever whose name was supposed to come from a resemblance to an old sea captain of that name.

Image result for Jacopever fish

The fish were not biting briskly though and Old Jack’s grumbles became a source of irritation to the Skipper who at last gave the order to weigh anchor and make sail.

“You’d make a darn good success driving a hearse Jack,” said the stroke oar a taciturn worthy “Pity your mother didn’t smother you when you were a kid.”

Growling some indistinguishable reply Jack proceeded to slack away the anchor rope from the bow-post and slip it on the small wheel over which it was hauled. The rest of the crew tailing on the rope soon had the anchor up and hoisting it aboard proceeded to make sail.

“Had a good day, Mick? asked the Skipper as he shipped the rudder and slackened off the sheet.

“The best of my life!” answered the boy enthusiastically.

“Well if your people will let you, I’ll take you out on a real fishing trip – be at the boatsheds at four on Saturday morning.

“Oh! Thank you, Mr. Pienaar, I’ll be down, no fear.”

“I don’t hold with little byes going in boats.” Remarked Jack “I reckons as how boats and sojers spiles byes, makes ’em unsettled and takes them from their learning, if I had a bye I’d learn him better than go mucking about wi boats and ships I would – put wrong idees in byes heads it does.”

“How’d you bring up a youngster, Jack?” asked the stroke oar.

“I dunno exactly – never had one to bring up but the way people brings up byes and gurls nowadays haint my idee of bringing up byes and gurls it haint, take the byes and gurls of this here place, they haint byes and gurls to my thinking they’s wild animals” and Jack expectorated at a passing gull.”

Image result for children on the beach 1900 south africa

Mickey gazed at the Old Salt with speechless indignation, then said, “I suppose he likes a blooming milksop in a lace collar and a velvet suit, a girlie girlie with long golden locks!”

“Oh Jack likes everything that’s contrary to other folks’ opinions,” remarked the Skipper grinning.

The boat was running before the wind with the mainsail squared away, and pleasant though the smooth run of the boat was to others, Mick began to yearn for something less tame. The stroke oar had shown him how to tie his fish into a bunch by passing a strip of osies (can’t find a translation) through the gills and mouth – he had asked all the questions he could think of for the moment and at the end of the trip was approaching too rapidly for his liking.

c952c-2524242349025247eviolet25247eglen25247eold25247ecolour

“Can’t we have just one more run against the wind, Mr. Pienaar,” he asked “Only a small one.”

“Sorry Mick, it’s too late and we are not for pleasure – this is our job and like all jobs, we’re glad to see it over just as you are when school finishes.”

“I said a kid shouldn’t be allowed in boats,” remarked Jack ‘it spiles them and they’re allers in the way askin’ questions and worrying folk – you gives a bye a happle and he wants a cake to eat with it, byes is a worrit to their pa’s and ma’s and to everybody else. I don’t like byes I don’t.”

Mick put out his tongue at the fisherman’s back a feat which drew much silent mirth from the two Malay half-breeds.

By this time Boat Bay had been reached and with a fast dropping wind the fishing craft rounded the reef and the tide being high ran onto the tiny beach.

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.

Image result for Boat Bay Cape Town 1900

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 6 On Women and Religion

End of 5th Entry: 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.”

“If I had I wouldn’t be giving them to her. I want them myself. I like flowers and so do Dad and the Mater. Think I’d bally well give Disas to a girl? Not much!

Old Jack reckons women are a necessary evil. Get keen on them and it’s all up with a chap. They’re like snakes. I know a chap that makes pets of snakes. Well he plays with them and likes them and some are jolly pretty but he has to be jolly careful or they’ll turn on him. Girls are like that or like a kitten – she plays nicely as long as you do, but if you get tired or don’t keep giving her things, she scratches.

Old Muhammad Abdul, he’s old and he has been to Mecca – he’s a Hadji and can handle a boat better than anyone in the world – well if he doesn’t know about girls who does? He’s had ten wives and has scores of children – he told me the Holy Prophet said God only made girls to be playthings when young and to be workers when old.

Old Jack says the same and he has sailed round the Horn and been in the South Sea Islands.

Abdul he says girls are made to give men enjoyment and women to work for men and ease their lives – the Prophet said so and he reckoned women and girls didn’t go to Heaven, they just died, bar the prettiest and they were taken to Heaven to minister to the wants of men. I reckon Muhammad was a darn good man and made a fine religion.

The Christian religion is all ‘You mustn’t do this and you mustn’t do that’. I reckon the parsons have made it all quite different to what Christ wanted. He was always chums with the fishermen and publicans and sinners and if this religion was like the Christian religion today none of the fishing crowd would have followed him.

I like the old Norse religion too – Thor and Odin and their crowd had a good religion. I feel darn sorry for the old jarls and Vikings in the Sagas being driven into the North and killed by the followers of the White Christ (term used by the Vikings because the converts wore white robes). I reckon the Vikings, Moors, and Aztecs were a better crowd than the Portuguese and Spaniards.

All the crowds had civilizations without Christianity and they stuck to their religions. I reckon the Catholics were right to have the Inquisition. If a nation has a religion all the crowd that isn’t true to it ought to be tortured – only its got to be a proper religion where everybody knows what are the rules of it like the Catholics.

Bertie looked at Mick in a worried fashion – “Why on earth do you keep thinking about deep things like religion, Mick? No other fellow of our age does.”

Well, sailors and fishermen and mountain folk do. The Malays are always talking about the Prophet and the Koran, and sailors talk about God; not like Sunday School people, but wondering what God’s like and whether he takes into consideration Jack’s hard life, or whether he’s like a Yankee Skipper with Gabriel and Michael and St Peter (Peter, a Jewish fisherman, was called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) as mates and boatswain. Most reckon they’ll get a square deal up loft but skippers and mates and bo’suns and shipowners they’ll get chucked into Hell. Well, let’s get moving.”

“Let’s get out on the side of the Window first,” replied Bertie and swinging on their rucksacks they made off down the stream by which they had camped. A hundred yards and they paused – the tiny burn dropped over into a huge cleft of incredible savagery – wild rocks, great precipices dripping water with nowhere a possible route to be seen.

Thousands of feet below lay a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean, its long rollers breaking against the white beach of Muizenberg – All False Bay backed by its mighty mountain ranges lay before them – just under was the famous Constantia Valley with its ancient Dutch Homesteads, its vineyards and orchards and the beautiful suburbs of Cape Town below.

A while they gazed awestruck at the immensity of it all, then turned to once again continue their tramp.

 

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.


woodhead dam

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.

Related image

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.

Image result for window gorge table mountain

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.

Related image

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.”

Image result for Malay Cape Town 1900sWomen and children from Cape Malay circa 1900

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.”