From Boatsheds to Battlefields 13 To the Crags

End of 12th Entry: So passed four happy years of life spent in continual struggle with wind and wave and though always the mountain loomed in the background and often thought lingered on her cliffs and hovered over her hidden joys of heights ascended, glens explored no opportunity came to wrest them from the unknown, until I reached nearly sixteen.

At fourteen I began to be entrusted with the loan of goels (The Yiddish word for redemption) and to be sought after to take the tiller when surf broke heavily in our tiny cove. Also, I knew just where the fish were and what varieties to go after so more and more I left the canoes and went out from other bays with older fellows or gathered crews for boats I borrowed in the home-place. I found myself always sure of a place in any canoe which put out at times when I was short of hands or anxious for a spin. Gradually some of us began to get in with yachting men and to devote much of our time to sailing in racing craft in Table Bay.

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Then when near sixteen I made a chum of a boy of my own age whose people had come from suburbs lying inland against the mountain. What the sea was to me the mountain was to him and we began to compare the two. I took him out, taught him sea and fish love but always his heart clung to the Crags.

We began walks on the hillside, made a few ascents on Lion’s Head and did one or two cliffs and soon the glamour of the lonely places and the grandeur of the hills caught me so for a while the sea was left in the background and my eyes turned to and were held by the mountain.

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Together we climbed and explored, rent the treasure of flower and heath, faced wet and cold, sun and heat, mist and wind, cliff and crag and ever the fascination grew. Many an evening, many a night and many a day the two of us tramped the hillside, clamoured amongst the peaks and corries, drank at the crawling mountain burns. Often early hours found us perched on the roof of the world watching tiny white-winged craft skimming over the blue main where my old-time chums followed the old ways.

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But I was content. I loved the harsh naked rock walls, the deep gloomy wooded chasms, the wild crags of my new world. Crawling along the narrow ridges, an immensity of space below, a sheer unclimbable wall above; worming through natures chimneys carefully, painfully climbing rock corners, zigzagging a perilous way up some louring buttress I was ever filled with joy o’ life in feeling the thrill of adventure, of surmounting Death’s traps of playing with the grim enemy.

Together with mountaineering I took up cycling and on foot of bike searched the long wonderful coastline of the Cape Peninsula. The fairyland of Constantia – old world farmhouses, set in vineyards and orchards and woodland, clinging to hill and mountainside, backed by frowning cliff and wooded cleft, overhung by gigantic dark ramparts, broken with glen of silvery poplar, intersected with grove and thicket of fir and oak, looking down on blue lagoon and snow white strand with the deep azure of waters of the mountain-locked False Bay fringed with crested wave.

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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 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.


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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 1 Three Anchor Bay

A stiff wind was blowing in from the North. Overhead the stars were hidden beneath hurrying torrents of mist. Seawards the Atlantic broke heavily on the iron coast.

Four of the little colony boatsheds at Three Anchor Bay were open and some dozen men, white, coloured and Malay sat around braziers in the biggest shed. Watching them lay a boy of fifteen curled on a heap of nets.

Now and again one of the fishermen would stroll down to the water’s edge and returning shakes his head. At each pessimistic gesture, the youth’s face lengthened, lightening again as an old Dane began to argue that it was all right if the boats would get out.

“It vos noding! De darkness yus make him seem bad but I vill get out mit mine pram. It vos a goot day for geelbek”.Image result for geelbekThe Boy, thrilled – the ambition of his life was to catch a geelbek or Cape Salmon, and it did seem hard that after getting up at one in the morning the weather might make a trip to sea impossible.

A couple of hours past, then the day began to break but with the coming of light, the prospects of putting to sea appeared negligible. The wind was blowing strongly, and beyond the line of breakers, the Atlantic was a flecked mass of curling, breaking waves racing shorewards. Surf combers were immense and the narrow rocky channel was a churning mill race.

Softly from the Atlantic came the croon of the surf. The heavens loaded with jewels hung low over the ancient Tavern of the Seas, as it lay shrouded in the violet mists of night. Through the starlight ghostlike rose the grey of Table Mountain.

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Seawards the sliver of the moon cast a shining road across the heaving waters and far in the North rolled a smokey mass of sea fog.

Steadily climbing the heather brae of Lion’s rump two lads in football clothing filled their lungs with clean sweet air from sea and mountain. Many hours of hard climbing and walking lay before them leaving little leisure but in each bosom every chord of being responded to the witchery of the surroundings and the hour.

Reaching the summit of the Lion Hill the lads paused to regain breath and drink in the wonderful panorama before them. The grey mass stood proudly gazing at the immensity of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Flanking the Tavern ran the long narrow Lion’s Hill on which the youths were standing – at its end the black tower of rock which formed the Lion’s Head; across the Table Valley rose the wild Devil’s Peak its stern savage head rising naked from forested slopes. Beyond them, all stretched mountain ranges, bog, moor, and forest.

Another impatient call from his companion tore the younger lad from the scene, and the two tramped off into a forest of scented gum and beautiful broad-leaved silver trees mingled with patches of bracken and fields of protea.

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Photograph of Sea Point circa 1910 from