THE SAMS CLUB
Most of this project has dealt with the work aspects of the twenty or so months that I spent in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria, while I was working at 1 Military Hospital. Looking back at that time, probably more vivid than my experiences at 1 Mil, are memories of the people I mixed with 'after hours', in the South African Medical Service Club, or Officers Mess. No account of this period of my life would approach completeness if I were not to mention in some detail the extra- curricular lifestyle I enjoyed during that period, and the friends I made. For the most part, we were "Just a bunch of regular guys, making the best of their situation ..."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have tried to observe the privacy of the people who I go on to describe, and have deliberately omitted some stories which might be embarrassing to those concerned. I aim to let each person mentioned read what I have written at first draft stage to identify areas that they wish to have omitted.
THE POST PRANDIAL CLUB ('PPC')
"I have a very pleasant social clique at the mess, consisting of a tight regular core with some peripheral members. We tend to eat at the same table and then move out to the lounge where the self-appointed chairperson, Fred, sits and smokes his pipe. He's a vet, originally from Yorkshire, in the army after having been made an honorary South African. We tend to sit around talking in the lounge for hours after supper."
"We go out to dinner at fancy restaurants in Pretoria at least once a month, which tends to cost, for one evening, what it costs to stay in the mess for a whole month. So it goes. We also go to movies together fairly often."
"Living in an army mess and seeing mostly young men at the hospital makes one much more aware of having women around when we go into town. I find that I had become quite blasé' with the abundance of women we had strolling around the campus last year."
"When I arrived in Voortrekkerhoogte at the beginning of 1986, I was expecting to be fairly miserable, believing that in a military environment I would have to keep a low profile, and I expected that I would spend most of my time in my room, reading and writing. But the year became a social JORL! Most of this had been due to my involvement with the 'Post Prandial Club', which is what Fred has named our clique. It apparently means 'after dinner club', but we took Fred's word for it.
FRED S.(A veterinary surgeon and English country gentleman.)
Fred was the person that I got closest to in my time in Voortrekkerhoogte. We had similar interests; he was a Scoutmaster, and I had been one the previous year. We both read, and read each other's favourite books, and disagreed vigorously about what constitutes a good book. Fred has read just about everything serious that I have ever written, including my masters thesis. Partially inspired by some of my writings, Fred used my word processor to write a humorous journal article on the possibilities of commercial tortoise farming.
Fred had a very strong image; of a nineteenth century gentleman sadly stranded in the twentieth century. He read Charles Dickens as a hobby, and enjoyed traditional lifestyles like good conservative clothing, dining out and wines. He had an account at a gentlemen's outfitter called 'Grant Mackenzies'. Fred was always very gentlemanly in his behaviour, but somewhat intolerant of emotions, or the softer sides of life (which might have been a stable balance for me.).He could also be very dogmatic, and rigid in his thoughts and subscribed to policies which he presented as inflexible. I wasn't entirely convinced of these, seeing occasional chinks in the crusty exterior ...
I helped out with Fred's Scout Troop in a non-uniformed capacity for much of 1986. I have many written stories of adventures and experiences with Fred, but these would not be appropriate here. I include anecdotes which have the strongest relevance to the military environment in which we lived and worked.
Fred started off as a National Serviceman, having become South African by the 1984 South African Citizenship Amendment Act. Late in 1986 he joined the Permanent Force, as I did, so the two of us had that in common as well.
During the national service part of his military career, Fred worked at the Police Dog School;
"Fred told us at dinner about how he had laboured since 10 am to save the life of a 'skipperttjie' which had been held by the neck and shaken by the police dog with which it had shared a cage. It was the surrogate child of the sergeant, who brought it in with tears in his eyes. Fred had invited me to go with him to visit the dog school when he went to 'ventilate' the dog at about 10 pm, but he arrived at my room at 8 to tell me that the dog had died and he wasn't going to ventilate it anymore as there didn't seem to be much point in the operation.
The story that follows was told by Fred; "Barry offered to help me drown my sorrows, so we went along to the bar where he drowned himself and I had a few drinks."
While Fred worked at the Police Dog School, the favourite pet dog of one of the Police Generals escaped from its kennel. The dog, being whose it was, was searched for with a large manhunt, but to no avail. Fred reported that his senior at the kennels had been threatened with a posting as punishment, and this posting was to be so unpleasant that "... the last week of the journey has to be done by camel."
Sometimes I would accompany Fred when he had to go in to the Police Dog School after hours, and occasionally we would be challenged by the sentry. Once Fred reached into the glove compartment to take out the identity disc for his car. He saw me watching curiously, and told me that they had received a directive suggesting that they should not display such discs on their cars, as such cars were often vandalised. That's how to tell who the 'good guys' are in this country at the moment. They're the one with the smashed in windshields.
On one of my visits to the Police Dog School, I saw a sign which I found to be particularly interesting. It pointed the direction to; 'Homo Sapiens; single quarters'.
When Fred joined the Permanent Force, he became - I think - the Senior Veterinary Officer for Northern Transvaal Medical Command, which meant that he was on a 'mutual recognition' level with God, or was it Brigadier Dippenaar?
His new job involved him doing a fair amount of visiting National Service veterinary officers in remote locations. This produced many interesting anecdotes; some concerning his use of unit pubs at different locations. Military Etiquette dictates that one should ask the most senior officer present for permission to 'join the bar'. Fred walked into an NCO's bar once, and those present asked his permission to stay. In an officers' bar he asked what he thought was the senior officer present if he could 'aansluit' [join] only to be told to ask a drunken Brigadier slumped in a heap in a corner.
Some of the vets whom Fred had to visit were on detached duty, working in the homelands. Homelands can be dangerous places for military personnel to travel, so he was issued with a pistol to use for self protection when he went into the homelands. On his most recent trip he was issued with a pistol and two magazines, and it was only later that he discovered that the magazines did not fit into the pistol. It was useless.
"Don't worry," his driver assured him. "If we get attacked, we could always throw the bullets at the attackers." A comforting thought.
Fred's big boss, Brigadier Dippenaar, had a pet cat which became ill, and he asked Fred to 'make it better'. After giving it to Fred, the Brigadier set off on a tour of various places under his command, but his concern for his cat was such that he would phone, seemingly whenever he had the chance, to ask for a progress report on his cat's recovery.
Fred had a brilliant sense of humour, usually delivered in his crusty 'I am absolutely sure of myself' style. I've heard his style described as a 'knight's move' (from chess) where one deliberately side-steps the obvious. For instance, Fred reported the confusion that resulted when at his military clinic he named a kitten 'Rover'. Our senses of humour complimented each other, so we could continually expand and develop a theme. One could make a statement based on a fantasy which the other would reply to thereby confirming the fantasy, or maybe developing it further.
An example of the complimentary senses of humour followed when I postulated that wearing headgear was just for uniformity, and this could become redundant if everyone's hair was exactly the same colour. Fred pointed out that this would have the disadvantage that troops would then have to have their hair dyed in the unit colour, which would not trouble the armour people (black), but would not be popular with infantry or ordinance services; (Green and light blue respectively.) "Oh, dear! You're at Catering School. You have to dye your hair light blue!"
I remember Fred commenting; 'Watch out for lightning, chaps," after some comment I made which might have been sacrilegious.
Fred had some interesting friends. One, a Scouting friend in the Permanent Force, he quoted as having said; "There is no such thing as a 'Good Conduct' medal - only the 'undetected crime' medal."
One of Fred's friends - another vet nicknamed 'Bal' - was under open arrest when I met him due to him having attended a party at Onderstepoort (Veterinary Branch of Pretoria University, where all the white vets were trained for the whole country) where he overdid things a bit, and the management called in the military police. What can they do to him? Send him to the Border? He would laugh at them. He's going to be there for the rest of his National Service anyway. His thought on religion was: "A man needs religion as a goldfish needs a bicycle' - profound.
(I included this anecdote in a letter to a sixteen year old friend, who had been a Scout, but was no longer one when I sent that letter. My letter fell into Natal Scouting hands, who used it to indicate that I was an atheist, and as such unsuitable to be allowed to be a uniformed Scouter!)
Another story of 'Bal', the totally irreverent vet, who seemed to have a total disregard for the military responsibilities that rest on him as an officer; He was apparently the water-polo coach for the Defence Force in South West Africa (I also thought SWA was desert?!). Anyway, for one tour, he was given a large army truck to be used to 'transport the water- polo team'. The officials who had authorised his use of the truck probably didn't expect that he would use it to take the water-polo team pubcrawling through the streets of Windhoek, parking it outside each of the pubs that they went to drink at.
As the Officer Commanding the Onderstepoort Military Veterinary Clinic, Fred attended Northern Transvaal Medical Command Order Groups. He reported that Brigadier Dippenaar (Also see 'Pete B.') liked to have a brief quiz to start off the order group, possibly to wake everybody up. The duty of preparing the questions was rotated, and Fred, as a Scoutmaster solemnly included 'Who was the founder of the Boy Scout Movement?' amongst his questions.
Fred and I applied to join the Permanent Force at the same time, much to the amazement of our national service colleagues and friends. We conjectured at the possibility of the two of us growing old and grey (or, in my case, bald) together, still drinking after dinner coffee in the SAMS club lounge - reminiscing about when we were young, and the PPC were still around.
BRIAN R.(Scandal mongerer and gossip!)
Brian R. was an intelligence officer who would resume his work with the South African diplomatic corps when he finished his national service. He held an honours degree in political science, from Stellenbosch University, the most liberal of the Afrikaans medium universities. Brian spoke impeccable Afrikaans, but he saw himself as English speaking, though his father, a senior civil servant, was originally Afrikaans. He was always exquisitely groomed, and looks the part of a diplomatic cadet.
He was dark, and apart from a permanent five o'clock shadow, looked boyish. He was very keen to go grey, which he thought would made him look 'distinguished'.
Because he was in 'military intelligence' (that eternal 'contradiction in terms'), and because he had done basic training and officers course with Robin R., the two of them tended to be seen as a sub-clique, though they didn't work together. They seemed to be constantly bickering with each other. It also seemed that both of them would get a little left behind in conversations - was it because they were frantically taking notes? There was much mickey taking aimed at them and their supposed constant intelligence gathering activities.
Brian loved to name-drop, and to bait people. He would also distribute misinformation, which is the political word for 'telling tall stories' to get reactions, and then feels hurt when people don't believe him when he is actually telling the truth. (Crying wolf!)
One of these wind-ups was telling us that he had to read banned magazines all day, and he refused our offers to take 'Playboy' and 'Penthouse' off his hands. He declined, the swine!
Brian started to bait Fred one evening, telling him how he feeds tuna to his dog, the very best canned tuna, because 'the dog likes it'. Fred was determined not to be drawn in, and give Brian the reaction that he was looking for. Fred was patiently telling him that if he looked at his dog's eyes he would notice white flecks which would indicate something wrong with the dog's health. Brian's finale was quite noteworthy; "Also he loves oysters," he told Fred.(Fred had made the point that oysters were almost lethal for animals.)
Brian told us (probably for effect) that at work he would look for old reports that gathered dust in cupboards, and he would the shred them, and then wait quietly to see whether anyone noticed or anything happened. Nothing did, so he destroyed another, and again waited to see.
Brian reported that he had once been arrested by the police during a demonstration or some such activity at Stellenbosch University. A policeman bundled him into the back of a police van, and set off to capture other students, but he neglected to shut the door. Brian sneaked off and disappeared.
At one of our PPC dinners, we compromised our standards and went to a steakhouse. Fred decided that it was time to toast the queen (And her Mother!). We stood up for the toast - except for Brian R., who refused to participate - or was he not allowed to as a South African Diplomatic Cadet? Normally it is only the person who is being toasted who remains seated during the toast, so Brian had labeled himself as a queen, and we were not going to let him forget it. Other toasts were made to Muhammer Gaddaffi and other celebrities of the entertainment world.
Brian actually went to the Operational Area to hand some documents to someone important. He strode into the lounge at the SAMS club on his return, wearing his nutria combat working dress, and with a pistol in its holster on his belt. Instead of diving for cover, or being impressed, someone commented that the pistol was bigger than he was.
Late one evening, Brain walked past the C-Block common room to find two people manhandling the television set. He challenged them, and they fled, dropping the television set in a flowerbed on their way out. Several television sets were stolen from the mess while I lived there. Strange! One would expect tight security in a military installation.
At the last PPC dinner, before I departed for the Border, and Brian and Robin finished their national service, we teased Brian about his habit of always watching the car park, and he told us of the disadvantages of his compulsion; he is distressed when he is cuddled up warmly in bed, with a cold night outside, and he hears a noise in the car park, and he has no choice but to raise himself and look out of the window to see who has come or gone.
I recall walking over to 'C' block one evening, and looking up at Brian's window (which was dark) and seeing Robin looking out of one window and Brian looking out of the other, keeping up their endless vigil of the parking lot.
One of the very senior officers with whom Brian worked offered to sell him a sheep which would be raised on the officer's farm, and Brian could take delivery of it when it was slaughtered. This caused great delight amongst the PPC, who declared him to be a 'Capitalist' and a member of the 'Landed Gentry'. I don't think anyone thought of calling him a 'Gentleman Farmer', but I wish I had thought of it at the time.' Soon after this, the tone of the conversation dropped to 'When men were men and sheep were nervous'- type jokes, and Fred suggested some unconsidered uses for Wellington boots with regard to sheep's back legs.
"With Friends like this ... who needs enemies?"
Fred S. celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday in 1987, although he looked about ten years older. The Post Prandial Club got together, or rather Brian R. and myself, and decided to try to get Fred the only thing that he wants, that he is unable to go out and buy for himself. In conversations throughout last year, he expressed the desire to find a 'twenty-three year old blond graduate who wants to live with a vet.'
No problem for the Fowler-R. team, and we placed an advertisement for exactly that in a large circulation Transvaal newspaper, asking the respondents to reply to 'Advertiser' and then giving Fred's Post Office Box number. We didn't expect to get any serious takers, but we liked the idea, and we thought the crank replies would be fun.
On the Saturday which was his birthday, we all dashed out to go and buy copies of the newspaper, as we intended each giving him copies of the same newspaper and leaving him to try and puzzle it out. But - DISASTER - our six line advertisement for which we had paid R 30 was no-where to be found. We told Fred about it at his birthday supper, and he was most chuffed, although he put on a blustering front of 'With friends like these, who needs enemies.' But he was chuffed!
The next week we unleashed Brian on the newspaper to give an explanation and our money back! At first they thought that the blame was theirs, and were about to hand our money back, when they found it under the heading 'Accommodation Wanted' - no-body would look there! We had stated that we wanted it in the 'personal' columns. So it was 'in' after all, but there have still been no crank replies - either that or Fred is keeping them all to himself. Who knows?
I think that Fred was very chuffed at what we had done, though sadly it didn't work as we had hoped it would. He relished telling the story, as though he had been wronged by his 'so-called friends'. I think he loved it!
ROBIN R.(A slightly confused spy)
Robin was the other Intelligence Officer in the Post Prandial Club. I had actually met him in 1981 when we lived in the same residence at Durban University, but we had not had much to do with each other. It was through Robin that I first met Fred, Brian, John and Mike - the other key PPC members. It would have been interesting to know whether the PPC would have developed the way it did if Robin and I hadn't remembered each other.
Robin was small and thin - dare I say 'waif-like'? Why not? He'd probably call me 'fat'. He was also called a 'runt', but I think that was a bit harsh! He had a significantly poor dress sense. Fred didn't even start to try to rehabilitate him. His dress sense made me look sophisticated.
At first, Robin kept trying to tell us what work he did, but we kept interrupting him and telling him that we understand that due to the secret nature of his work, he was unable to tell us what he really did, and so we would not pay any attention whatsoever to his cover story.
A waiter came up to him at an early PPC meal and told him that someone was waiting outside to see him. "You'll be sure to recognise him," I chipped in. "He's the one dressed up as an Oak tree." (Thinking of one of the 'Asterix' books.) This assured me a position of one of the witty thinkers in the group. The image of disguises has stuck to Robin, and he ranges between being 'a bunch of petunias' and 'a piece of driftwood.' He did get annoyed about this, which was plainly visible, but didn't result in our easing off on him.
When I wrote 'Grensvegter?' I believed that the word 'Tiffie' was a South African or Afrikaans phrase. I have since been corrected, and know that it originated with the Royal Navy, and was slang for 'Engine Room Artificer' (ERA), later applied to any technical man. (Thanks, Ralph!) I was used to slang terms such as 'admin-tiffies', which in other societies might be referred to as pen-pushers. Someone once described Robin as a 'snuffel-tiffie'. Fred would often call him 'Super-spy'.
Robin worked at a front organisation that is not supposed to have anything to do with the army whatsoever. ("Then why is it guarded by soldiers in uniform," Fred asks, each time we drive past it.) Robin had nightmares about us arriving there, and asking at the reception desk if we could speak to Lieutenant R., as the army only occupied a couple of floors in the building.
Robin worked in civilian clothes, and only wore his uniform about twice since he finished his officers' course, but he slipped up occasionally. Brian, our gossip, told of him inconspicuously walking out of the building, but with his carry bag open, and his army raincoat hanging out, with the stars on his epaulettes clearly visible.
Robin was involved in various 'projects', which sometimes cause him to visit various army bases around the country. (I hazard a guess that he was involved in assessing morale or attitudes towards national service, or some such during such visits. I think he admitted having something to do with surveys once!) He phoned one place, and, under the impression that he was speaking to the Officer Commanding, he explained everything about the 'project'. When he had finished, he listened to what the person at the other end of the phone had to say.
The person at the other end had this to say; "I think you have the wrong number, young man. This is the sales department of the Randburg Pick&Pay Supermarket."
Brian used to have a 'field day' winding Robin up. He maintained that Robin was one of the army's best interrogators, with a passion for pulling out fingernails. On the theme of fingers (as well as Brian's stories), Brian told of Robin having been bitten by his pet hamster when he pushed his finger into its cage, and that he had fainted as a result. Which are we meant to believe? Maybe it was just the sight of his own blood that he could not stand to see. Robin also had the reputation of having had his toe bitten by a bullfrog, when he was out wind surfing.
Robin was hypercritical of most things; places other than his beloved Durban, and holiday communities on the Durban south coast, would all be described as 'dumps'. Similarly, he would be hypercritical of the women that others would lust over - "She's too fat", he would say, when, as Brian R. pointed out, 'He isn't exactly God's gift to women himself."
In spite of this, he did actually team up with a girl. He didn't have a car - in Pretoria - so he would have to go around begging to borrow a car to take her on dates. The relationship seemed to end when he took her home one evening - her father was an army NCO or Officer - they arrived home late and Robin was given a blasting (figuratively) by her irate father.
Robin earned about the same as the rest of us, but he would plead poverty all the time. We were sympathetic for a while, until we found that he was busy investing all his money. He needed to borrow cars, and we would give him the advice that he should buy himself a car, at which case he would rise to the bait, and patronisingly explain that he had a car, which was living with his brother in 'Durbs-by-the- sea''.
Robin asked me to type out (and edit!) his Curriculum Vitae on my computer, which I did. He said that he was going to the post office the next day to buy stamps to post it, so I gave him a letter for overseas that I had just written, and money for them stamps, and asked him to post it for me.
Next day he posted the letter, and later found the money I had given him, and realised that he had posted the letter without any stamps whatsoever. He panicked, and phoned all his friends to ask what to do. (He's not the most decisive person I know!)
He phoned the post office to ask them what they would do with such a letter, and they told him that the letter would be forwarded, but that the people I had sent it to would have to pay for it at the other end. Robin debated whether and how to tell me, and friends advised him not to. (What do they think I am?)
Anyway, a few days letter I received a letter from the post office saying that I had put insufficient postage on the letter, and asking me to send them the correct postage. After a few minutes I worked out what must have happened - which I didn't believe possible - and I confronted Robin, who confessed all!
I was more amused at his absent-mindedness than I was angry, but Robin is quite convinced that I was angry with him. As a psychologist, I understand that he was 'projecting his guilt feelings on to me.'
In the first half of 1987, Robin and a friend Paul D., decided to organise a holiday for an unspecified number of people to an unspecified place in the Transkei - almost inaccessible except by very poor roads. Neither of them had their own transport so they looked to Brian and I to provide transport. They spent several hours on different days trying to tell us that we needed a holiday, and that we needed to spend it with them. (And - VERY IMPORTANT! - we needed to take our cars for a holiday as well!) Neither Brian nor I had any intention of going, and eventually they gave up. They went on the holiday - Robin actually drove his car into a ditch!One day, apparently, the whole group went boating on a raft, and the raft floundered or sank. I don't think I missed much.
Robin, on one of his much talked about holidays or weekends down to 'Durbs-by-the-sea', attended a rally, and actually signed an 'End Conscription Campaign' petition. At the time he was a National Service Intelligence Lieutenant. Those of us whom he told about this thought that he had been most imprudent.
Robin went home to Durban over the 1986 Christmas weekend, and it was only the night before he was due to leave that he realised that he hadn't arranged for anyone to fetch him from the airport.
He drifted around to my room late that night, ostensibly to wish me a Happy Christmas, and he hung around until I asked him how he was getting back from the airport. Then he hinted to me that he would actually appreciate it if I came through and fetched him. (Its a forty five minute drive each way, plus hassles of finding parking etc.) Besides, I was collecting Fred at the airport at 7.15 p.m., and Robin wanted to be fetched at 9 p.m.
Fred had arranged with me well before the time, and I didn't want to force him to hang around the airport, so I intended driving him back and returning for Robin, but Fred hadn't had dinner so we had some while we waited for Robin.
At about nine, we started to look around for information about where Robin's flight would be arriving, and after several enquiries we found that there were only two flights from Durban, one of which had arrived at seven, and the other was due in at eleven. There was no flight from Durban, or anywhere around Durban within an hour and a half of the time Robin had asked to be collected. We concluded that Robin must have given me the wrong details, even though he had seem me write them down. We were about to leave, when I spotted Robin through the crowd.
"Where have you been," I demanded. Robin looked puzzled, and said that he hadn't expected us to be there (I'll kill him). He said that his flight had touched down about twenty minutes earlier. This really raised our interest, and we postulated all the way home about where he had really come from, because he certainly hadn't arrived from Durban, although he kept on insisting that he had.
Fred suggested that he might have stepped off the 'Safair' aircraft that he just returned from a top secret mission from Angola, and I demanded an oath from him that there was nothing in his luggage that had the potential of going 'bang!' We got quite a lot of milage out of that story, and Robin became irritated, while insisting that he wasn't getting irritated.
It seems a little too self indulgent, even for me, to give myself a section here when the whole of this project documents my experiences. But, here goes ...
I had the reputation of being an unpublished author - with all likelihood of remaining so - and the group from time to time offered me paragraphs and beginnings which they felt I could use to jazz up my novels - mostly Fred's influence.
Another part of my reputation was that I drank too much when we went out to PPC dinners and misbehaved myself, but I can't remember why. I invited the waitress back to the Mess with us for coffee at one meal, and Fred kicked me hard under the table.
At another meal, I waited until I thought no one was looking before I ate the lettuce or something not normally eaten, but I had paid for it and I was going to eat it. Brian was watching me. "Fred, look at Barry," he said. Snitch! Fred's gruff voice rebuked me. "Don't eat the decorations, Fowler."
During my first weeks at the SAMS Club, I went down to visit friends in Sasolburg, where I had gone to school, about an hour and a half's drive south of Pretoria. Not finding many of the people I wanted to visit 'in', I decided to have a haircut to kill some time. It was rather a severe hair cut. On returning to the mess, my new appearance was commented upon, and Brian suggested that I had gone to Sasolburg 'just to get a hair cut'.
Robin's Revenge:After having read the draft version of the material about him, Robin wrote a counter attack, which I loved! As far as I was concerned (an incidentally I still believe this) my dress sense was certainly not poor. In fact, my colour coding livened up the drab surroundings. Most of my friends dressed like middle aged bureaucrats with one foot already in the grave. My splashes of colour merely reflected the style of an urbane zooty young man about town, totally out of place (admittedly) in 'bureaucrat city'. In any case, you should hardly criticise my dress sense when most of your clothes looked like the ones your father might have worn during the great depression.
Some empirical evidence of your shocking dress sense was when I first spotted yuou at the mess. I think it must have been one evening at dinner. Brian and myself were seated and already eating and you walked in through the double doors. I commented to Brian that I recognised you from my student Res days. We both had a good chuckle at what you were wearing. It was a ghastly bottle green colour suit which was too short at the leg.
MICHELLE EATWELL(I'm risking her real name, as she was married years ago.)
"We have one woman in our clique, a Social Worker at the Catering School, and who goes by the name of Michelle Eatwell - do these things really happen in real life? She likes to be honourally involved in the clique, and says things like "You guys are too much!" when one or two of the six of us gathered in the lounge drinking coffee has said something funny. She keeps threatening us with her boyfriend who is a major in a training unit and we are all scared of him, expecting to be beaten up every time she tells him about us."
Great mystery surrounded Michelle and my first encounter in early 1986, something which I believe I reveal for the first time now. Both of us were having difficulty sleeping in the early hours of one morning, so we wandered down to the lounge to have a drink of coffee or milk, and we arrived at the same time. Each expected to be alone. I was only wearing a towel around my waste, and she was wearing a loose T-shirt and little else. Both half asleep, we vowed each other to secrecy.
Michelle had a best female friend, another social worker, but Afrikaans, called Ilsa J.. The two of them would get into bed together and squeak and squeal, while talking 'girl talk' - which I believe focuses on men.
Michelle developed a special fondness for Fred - or possibly his pipe-smoking English Country Gentleman image. Or his emotional stability. She tried to domesticate him; she insisted on calling him `Fred Basset', and insisted on describing him as "sweet".
Michelle was a Permanent Force member, and so should have been paid fairly well, but she never seemed to have money. She attended PPC meals, but Fred or I or the others would usually subsidise her by paying for her meal. The most outrageous thing which she did was to order herself a Calypso Coffee - a Fred-approved drink. She looked at it for a while, and then stirred the cream into the coffee. "I prefer it that way," she said, oblivious of her blasphemy.
Michelle decided to give all the PPC members Christmas Presents for 1986. It took a great deal of thought, and we all received a small potplant of identical species. I told Michelle that she shouldn't have, and I meant it, but I told her diplomatically. I ignored mine and it thrived. Fred doted on his, and it tried its best to die. "Yours thrives on abuse," he accused me. What did he think I did to it?
Michelle had a stormy relationship with her boyfriend, a major called R., who was the 2IC of a training unit in Voortrekkerhoogte. She wanted a deep meaningful emotional relationship with him, and he wanted to spend time with his friends at the parachute club. Michelle was never one to keep problems to herself, and would come and pour out her troubles to Fred, or if he was not there, she would come to me.
Once, she was climbing the steps to come and visit me as I was on my way down. She carried all the worries of the world on her shoulders. "How are you?" she asked me.
"I've decided to come out of the closet!" I told her spontaneously.
She burst out laughing, and didn't stop for several minutes. Then she went away saying that she felt better.
Late in 1986, Michelle Eatwell was transferred to 4 SAI (Middelburg) for three months, and she roped most of the gang in to give her a hand with the move. We took two cars out there on a Saturday to take some of her stuff through. Brian and I drove together, and she rode with Fred. She is very thin with dyed blond hair which curls in to her neck. It was amusing, the shapes of the people in the car in front of us - Fred sitting low down in the seat, with Michelle sitting up high, and looking (from the back) like an Afgan hound. She was talking - arguing - non-stop with Fred, and Brian and I were glad that we had elected to go together.
Michelle has a special relationship with Fred, she bullies him around, and manipulates him, and he indulges her, going as far as polishing her shoes for her, because he 'finds it offensive' when she wears her shoes dirty. (He won't do mine!)
Michelle had a small car, a white Dihatsu Cherade, which was nicknamed the 'Cheratle'. (A 'Ratel' being a beautiful armoured personnel carrier.)
PARROT STORY PART I
Michelle had a friend who had decided to give her a parrot. ('Oh, dear!' sigh the Post Prandial Club. 'Somehow, this means work for us.') She told Fred to read up all about parrots. She would recruit friends' and neighbours' sick animals and bring them along to Fred, night and day, as though she believed that he actually liked after hours work - he seemed to!
She came to tell me about the parrot (which had not yet arrived), while I was varnishing a pine bookcase I had just bought. I was wearing overalls, and surgical gloves (I work in a hospital), which meant that I was wearing more than she is accustomed to seeing me wear (She has the habit of arriving to visit me when I'm just pottering around my room in underpants or a towel). She told me about the parrot, and I was not enthusiastic. "What will you do with it when you are away?" (As she frequently is) I asked.
"I'll give it to one of the PPC," she told me.
"Like who?" I ask. I couldn't see any PPC member wanting a parrot to look after. Its a great responsibility.
"Fredrica (her name for Fred) or you," she told me.
"Give it to Fred, and he'll euthanase it," I told her. "Give it to me, and I'll give it to Fred and he'll euthanase it." She decided that maybe she should look elsewhere for a home for the parrot which hadn't yet been given to her, and I suffered permanent brain damage from the fumes of the varnish.
PARROT STORY PART II.
Scene: A continental-style tea room.
Time: Early evening of New Years eve.
Enter PPC members.
Michelle decided that she hadn't thought of a good name for the parrot, and wanted us to come up with the right one, while she had decided deep within her feminine mind that she was not going to accept any of our suggestions. Fred gave her a superb effort, with suggestions like, 'Rover', 'Fang', 'Michelle Eatwell's Parrot', 'Long John Silver' and 'Polly'. My suggestion was 'Parrot-dox', which Fred liked, but Michelle had decided not to accept any of our offerings, and so the 'unarrived' parrot remained anonymous.
JOHN M.(A big tall polar-bear-like tooth fairy)
John was over 6 foot tall, heavily built, and looked vaguely polar bear like. He was also a dentist. He was of vague middle European origin, and claimed to be related to the people from the place at which 'The Prisoner of Zenda' was based. John lived in Krugersdorp, and went home fairly often so that he was not always around to participate in PPC thrashes.
John once made the mistake of admitting that a patient died on him - something that one hopes does not occur too often in the dental profession. The story is that he stopped to help at the scene of a motor vehicle accident, and that one of the people he tried to help died while he was there. He remains with the reputation of the dentist who lost a patient.
John was most noted for his sense of humour:
"The three taboo subject in the Defence Force are Sex, Politics and Religion, and we discuss them in that order. During a political discussion about ideal societies, someone raised the question; "But what's going to happen to the Bourgeoisie?"
"I'll have it," says John M., the dentist who lost a patient. "I like good wines!" The boy is sharp!
John is fast. In the army the word 'paraat' is used to describe 'all American, spit and polish, taking the army seriously'- soldiers. John once felt moved to describe someone as a 'Pontious Paratus'."
John seemed to lie in wait for the most obscure opportunity to come up with one of his one liners; "I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy."
John M., spontaneously on walking out of the mess after dinner says; "Suck, woman, suck! 'Blow' is merely a figure of speech!"
John did a good impression of Yassir Arafat making a Victory sign, and saying "We are Victorious", the second time he was forced to leave Beirut.
John always seemed to be doing Duty Officer duties. As true friends, (and patriots) we sometimes hired a video player and a couple of videos to cheer up his weekend, and went around to watch them with him.
Fred had a sister - very different from him - who worked in a video store. We went to her shop to hire the videos. Feedback from Fred, who was not with us at the time, suggested that three young-ish men entered the shop, stood huddled together for a while before one shuffled over and asked her is she was 'Fred's sister ...' Could this be Fred's sister? I don't know what we expected - a crusty, moustached pipe-smoking, tweed-jacketed women?
We hired John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (1981) amongst others. One line repeatedly said to the hero, 'Snake' Plissken (played by Kurt Russell), was "I heard you were dead!" This was enough for John, and "I heard you were dead" became part of his standard greeting for the next few weeks.
While we were watching, we heard a loud crunch into the wall of our building. As we were associated with guarding the place, we strolled out to investigate. We found a military type pick-up and military type people - black ones - and not in South African uniform had been driven into a ditch and into the wall. Assuming that they were part of the Defence Force of one of the independent homelands - possibly Venda, but we didn't know - we helped them to push their truck out of the ditch. Regardless of where they had come from - as South African tax payers - we had helped to pay for their pickup, their uniforms and their salaries. Isn't international co- operation wonderful? Then we went back to finish watching a Woody Allen film.
Dr. John M. told stories of dental work with children. I imagine that he is very good with them, and he tells stories about how he gets the children to fantasise that they are 'Buck Rogers' or some other TV spaceman, and then puts the anaesthetic gas mask on telling them that it is part of their space helmet, and then he tilts them around in the dental chair, while he makes science fiction type sound effects until they are anaesthetised.
John M. would quite happily accept scheduled medication from me when he needed it, and promise to replace it, but when he did, he would make such comments as someone my age should not need it, or other 'I'm really doing you a big favour' type Comment.
When we travelled into the Pretoria town centre in his car, he parked a car in a ticket issuing parking lot, he would make a show of putting the ticket in his pocket. `If someone's going to steal my car, then they can at least pay the 50 c to get the car out of the garage!' he explained.
MIKE L.(A Doctor forever in transit to/from the Border.)
I find it embarrassing to realise how little I can remember about Mike L.. He was from the Cape, and he intended to specialise in Paediatrics after his National Service, and he put much of his spare time into studies towards his 'primaries'. He did two tours of Border Duty - to Rundu.
Mike was with us on the first PPC thrash, so his membership was assured. Mike had a rather aggressive sense of humour. When he realised that someone else was buying a round of drinks, he would push it - and draw attention to this - and order the most expensive drink he could think of - Glenfiddich Scotch Whiskey.
Mike had interests in hifi, and seemed to be constantly buying new sound equipment; Compact Disc players and tape recorders. Mike, like me, puts on weight easily. He put on weight eating in the mess, and once, he complained; "They inject calories into this food." This was not far from the truth; the cooking was done in the Afrikaans tradition - I saw butter being soaked into roast beef as it was being cooked. There was sugar in the carrots - high calories. Young South Africans apparently have a high incidence of heart attacks and heart disease.
THE LAST POST PRANDIAL CLUB THRASH
We had a farewell dinner on the evening that suited us all best; Brian, Robin, John and Mike before they finished their National Service, and for me before I departed for the Border. Notes made on a serviette at the time:
Robin R. orders muscles. "You need ... " I began, and then slapped my own face rather than complete the sentence.
Fred accused John 'The Tooth Fairy' of advertising when he flashes his teeth in a smile.
Robin pushed me to answer whether there was any possibility of me ever attempting to write a novel about the army or national service. (Do they believe that the only reason I have volunteered to go to the Border is so that I will be able to answer my six-year-old son 's question, "What did you do in the war, Daddy?")
I asked what names the assembled members would like to have in the novel. 'Cicero', Robin suggested for himself, to be teased about this for the next ten minutes.
Brian is happy to be 'Justin "Mr. X" Dubisson'.
John 'That's what my first wife used to say' M. wants to be 'Stum Matequica' alias 'Matt the knife'.
Mike L. wanted to be 'Heywood Allen' after Woody Allen, and I think Fred must have left in disgust by this time.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: By the way, chaps, here is that book!
I tried to take a group photo by the time we arrived back at the mess, but, what with having had too much to drink - I hadn't driven! - there was no film in my camera. The same film wasn't in my camera for the Cub Camp that I attended the weekend before I went to the Border. A pity about that!
DR. FRANS K.(Next Door Neighbour)
Frans K. was the second person I met in Voortrekkerhoogte, on New Year's Day 1986. It must be said that Frans is about seven foot tall. I thought he was Afrikaans at first, and although he comes from an Afrikaans family, he seems to use English as his first language. I found that he was to be my next door neighbour for 1986, and we shared a shower.
Frans qualified as a Clinical Psychologist, then did his two years national service (during which he met Dolf O. - Head of Clinical Psychology) and then he went back to study medicine from second year. He too was a civilian for 1986, and he was doing his housemanship year at 1 Military Hospital. He was 31, and I was 24 when we met.
He has photos of himself dressed up and about to go to a Rocky Horror Picture Show party. He bought himself an exercise machine that took up most of the space in his room, and while I sat tapping away at my computer, I would listen to the squeaking and grunting coming from next year. Several times I felt a strong urge to burst into his room and save him. But I controlled myself. Let him suffer!
Frans was an accepted member of the PPC when he was available. He used to tease Michelle about her boyfriend, R., whom Michelle called 'Butch' - a nickname that he had apparently had since he was a child. Frans deliberately got it wrong, and called him 'Queenie'.
The fact that Frans and I shared a shower, led to a fair amount of teasing, mostly initiated by the two of us, into the idea that we were romantically involved through our shared shower. Frans came up with a lovely story - at my expense - but I think that it is well worth repeating. Frans's description of me made out that I am some little cave-man type creature, totally baffled by twentieth century technology. He told everyone that I haven't got the hang of drying myself off with a towel, and that the way that I dried myself was to bound from the shower and then burrow down into my bed, and then to spin myself around and around until I became dry. The highlight of the story is where he told of me one day becoming confused (with soap in my eyes), and leaping soaking wet into his bed in which he was already lying.
One night Frans was showering while I was showing some important colleagues (Pieter G. and Andries K., if I remember right!) how to use my computer. Suddenly the shower door opened, and Frans, dripping wet, leered into my room. "Barry, what have you done with my ducks?" he demanded.
One morning I had breakfast with Frans in the dining room. He was working in Paediatrics at that time, and he said that he must leave 'to go and see all the new little children that were born during the night.' Interesting phrasing!
Frans was very conscientious, and seemed to wear himself out by constantly accepting invitations to give various lectures. I think that most people would remember Frans as being great fun to be with, when he had the time to be anywhere. I had the privilege of seeing the more serious side of him, like when very late some evenings he returned from late casualty duties, and seeing my light on, came in for coffee. I remember one evening specifically when there had been an 'incident' on the Border, and Frans had spent many hours pulling shrapnel out of mutilated teenagers who had been casevaced down. Frans said that he had been talking to one wounded lad who had been a student at the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg), my 'alma mater'. Frans asked him if he knew me, and he said he did. Frans told me his name, but I couldn't place him.
Frans K. appears in `Who's Who of Southern Africa'.
'SISTER' JONATHAN BOSCH
Shame! Poor old Jonathan! Amongst the distinctly odd and eccentric people I mixed with, Jonathan was the odd man out. The rest of us tended to have at least four years of successful university behind us. Jonathan had started at University but failed. He had started national service, and then decided to join the Permanent Force, and to start training to be a nurse, which is not as prestigious a career in South Africa as it is in Britain.
I think Jonathan latched on to our clique because we were English speaking, and we were the biggest or most obvious clique in the mess - apart from the Mildents (Medical and Dental Students trained by the Defence Force) - and they didn't count. They weren't really human.
Jonathan tried very hard to fit in. He tried too hard. Much too hard. John M. vaguely claimed ancestry to the Ruritanian monarchy - though I thought they were fictional. John didn't push it. 'Bosch' is usually seen as an Afrikaans name, but he was insisted that he was one of a Norwegian 'Bosch' family. (Along with Monty Python's Norwegian Blue Parrots?). This tended to irritate, and to irritate Brian particularly.
"Pretentious, mois?" Jonathan tried very hard to use the phrase 'Caesar's Ghost' as an exclamation of surprise/amazement etc. It didn't catch on. We thought it was very put on.
Jonathan also had to be the expert on everything. Name it, and he knew all about it. We would make comments like; "Buffels (Armoured Personnel Carriers) are so unstable that they kill more of our troops than the enemy."
"Jonathan Bosch is in his final year of study towards becoming a male nurse, and because he is very dogmatic and knows more about medicine than the doctors, more about psychology than the psychologists, and more about the army than Magnus Malan, he picks up quite a lot of flak aimed at trying to 'keep him in his place'. Obviously the thing to hit at is his profession, and he gets called "Twisted Sister" Bosch, and later Matron Bosch, and in the group we played around with this Mind Game - it was suggested that I could write a series of novels of the exploits of Matron Bosch; "Matron Bosch gaan Border Toe", "Matron Bosch op Manouvers," (*) "Matron Bosch does Dallas." In the heat of the moment these comments are hilarious."
(*) These are adapted from the two South African made films about a National Serviceman, "Boetie", Afrikaans diminutive for brother, usually used as a nickname. The first is "Boetie goes to the Border", and the second "Boetie on Manouvers".
Jonathan didn't take being teased very well at all. He didn't know where to draw the line, and moved directly from verbal teasing to physical aggression; he tried to stab Brian with his fork at one meal when Brian made some comment that he didn't like, and wondered why we didn't think that this action was just as funny.
"We had a couple of porn magazines floating around the mess, which we all studied and passed discretely on to the next person. At the time we had a male nurse who was thick skinned enough to think that he was a part of our clique, and we were too wishy-washy to exclude him. Jonathan is notorious for strolling around with the magazines in an 'Official/Amptelik' manilla envelope, almost telling everyone what was inside."
Jonathan's room was very untidy. Once there was a room inspection, and Jonathan found himself on orders, and he had to have his room tidied to be re-inspected at some specific date.
Jonathan had an older brother, Phillip, who was a doctor who had joined the Permanent Force. Jonathan told stories of his brother having to work too hard, and sustaining himself by taking 'uppers' and 'downers'. Jonathan once raided his brother's room and destroyed his tablet collection, which he explained was for his brother's good. If anyone had done that to me, I would have 'broken their legs' - a 'Fred' phrase.
Jonathan started to wear Lieutenant's Stars before he was allowed to, and was humiliated by being told to take them off or face disciplinary action. So we all saw him go back to wearing his white 'Candidate Officer' bands.
I got on quite well with Jonathan, in small doses, and when there wasn't an audience that he had to impress. He could be kind and helpful.
"MAJOR"/"TANNIE" PAT C.
"We have in our social group another Psychology Intern who reached this stage late in life, so that she has children who are in matric. They stay in Durban, so she stays in the mess with us, and tries to go and visit them every weekend. She is part of our clique because she is English speaking and works with some of us, and she gets included in our wild social life, like going out to movies, and then on to waffles and coffee, or to a night club for drinks."
"I am fascinated by what her experience must be of being with a whole lot of healthy young males some fifteen years younger than she is, and being treated as one of the group, so she will be in the car with us while we all turn to watch a particularly attractive girl walk past."
Being in the male dominated environment of the army makes one much more aware of women when they are around, and I very soon realised how much I was taking them for granted while working on Campus of the University of Natal. Pat used to travel down to Durban in a bus organised by
'Elwierda Tours', which was nicknamed 'The Troopie bus', departing each week from Voortrekkerhoogte to Durban. I travelled on it once or twice in the early days of 1986, and I found it reminiscent of a Banana Republic Airline; In 1986 they used a school bus, and on the down trip they would stop at Heidelburg, at which two large cartons containing hamburgers and chips in grease-proof packets would be brought on board, and each passenger was entitled to take one of these snacks as we filed back onto the bus. The best way to travel was to crawl down beneath the seats, and to lie on the floor. (This was before I had easy access to sleeping pills.)
There is a big fat grey ex-tom cat that is the semi-official self-styled mascot of the Sams Officers Club. His name is 'Slet' (Afrikaans for 'Slut'), because he accepts attention from everyone and he will lavish attention on anyone whom he thinks will feed him or give him milk in the T.V. lounge. He often wanders in to the lounge where we have coffee in the evenings after dinner.
Slet introduced himself one evening when he wondered over to Fred. Brian wanted to know if he was pregnant. (The cat, not Fred!) "That's a fat cat," Fred diagnosed, and I teased him about this, (At least he has something to show for five years veterinary training!) so he decided to call it 'Cattus Grossus' instead. This means 'fat cat' in Latin, but it sounds better. Fred tried to turn Slet over to see if he was a boy- cat or a girl-cat, and Slet nearly took his hands off for that.
Slet sleeps on the sofa in the lounge in the block that I stay in, and feels that he owns the place - probably does! He manages to drink all the milk that is left out for insomniacs who wander down for an early-hours-of-the-morning cup of coffee.
Robin walked into the T.V. lounge to find Slet lying on one of the chairs. Slet glared resentfully at him for a while, and Robin moved after him to pacify him, but Slet misinterpreted him and took flight, running slap-bang into a door as he did so. So Brian has been telling everyone about how cruel Robin is being by hunting Slet down and making him run into walls.
Brian had his own embarrassing moment with Slet. Slet was washing himself at the entrance to the building, and just behind him were two Permanent Force women officers. Brian saw the cat, and called to him 'Hello, Slet', and both women turned around and glared at him. How were they to know that Brian was talking to the cat?
AUBREY S.- "A Well-Socialized Psychopath"
"Aubrey S. is a fairly recent addition to the Post Prandial Club. I knew him from Maritzburg and invited him to join in with our socials, and he's done just that. He's one of those people who always seems to land on his feet, and he spends most of his national service working on getting discounts to servicemen - at least that's what the army thinks! Actually he seems to have a civilian job as well."
"He's quite a military type, although not terribly keen on the S.A.D.F. at the moment, and he mentioned that he was thinking of trying to get involved in the international arms business at some stage, and he may not be joking either. He has a 9 mm pistol which he keeps with him all the time, and he keeps it with the safety catch off. He says that if he ever needs to use it, he doesn't want to have to waste time fiddling with such things."
"Someone made the comment once that Aubrey is so 'paraat' (Spit and polish) that the army has given him his own 'buffel' (armoured personnel carrier). From then on his little yellow golf has been referred to as the 'buffel'."
Fred arranged for Aubrey to give his Scouts a talk about various weapons, and Aubrey apparently produced a large number to show the Scouts. Fred told the PPC afterwards, that his Scouts were most impressed with Aubrey's phrase "Then you fill him full of holes."
Although Aubrey lived in the SAMS Officers Club, he was not a medic. He had completed a Personnel Services School Officers Course. Inclined to be outspoken, Aubrey once felt moved to write in the comments book that one meal had been 'sif', and he signed it. I don't know exactly what it means, but it sounds sinisterly similar to 'syphilis' - and probably closer to the Afrikaans name for the disease. Aubrey, being Army, was called in to explain himself to the Chairman of the Club, who was at least a Colonel. Aubrey was made to apologise, with the threat of being expelled from the mess if he did anything similar again.
Brian reported that one night, while he and others were watching TV in C Block, near Fred and Aubrey's rooms, two cats started having a screaming match outside. Aubrey S. stuck his head out of the window and shouted, "Fred, leave that cat alone."
I visited Aubrey once in his room, very aware that his philosophy on weapons is 'Don't keep the safety catch on because the micro second that it takes to take off the safety catch might be the moment in which one might die.' After having knocked, standing well clear of the door when I did so, I spread-eagled myself against a wall a little down from his room. Aubrey was most amused when he opened his door and found me there. "I wouldn't have shot you," he told me, but I noticed that he had his pistol in his hand as I went into his room.
I remember Aubrey or Pete savouring the phrase '... punish a herd of nurse', which I remember was interpreted as 'dating nurses'.
Aubrey is one of the principal speakers in the transcript of the PPC Reunion Thrashs (1994-97)
Lt. Pete B. is a pharmacist by profession, but he is doing his national service as the Personal Assistant of a Brigadier. Not just any Brigadier, but Brigadier Dippenaar, the OC of Northern Transvaal Medical Command. Brigadier Dippenaar became Fred's boss, when Fred joined the Permanent Force, and it was he who organised for me to speak at his Symposium on Homosexuality. That Brigadier Dippenaar!
Pete is tall and lean and good looking like the people in the Peter Styvesant advertisements. He mentioned once that he was embarrassed about having 'skinny legs' - I wish I could swop! Pete struck me as the sort of person who would want to move with the 'beautiful people' of the jet set, but not so! He was quite happy mixing with the PPC and he attended several thrashes with us. He would womanise, usually together with Aubrey, and attend drunken parties over weekends, but he also seemed to value the company of the PPC.
Pete was a superb story teller, and his jokes were peppered with 'flowery' language. He told a superb shaggy-dog story about a blind date he had with a woman in a wheel chair, which had us sitting on the edges of our chairs until the punchline led us to believe that we had been fooled all along.
Pete was also keen to invite members of the PPC to outings with him and Aubrey - Robin and I went along to watch motor-racing at Kyalami, which progressed to night clubbing in Hillbrow, the red light district of Johannesburg. It was a brilliant day! And we came back and watched a 'Dire Straights' concert on TV in the mess (and Marc Knoffler said that he did not allow his music to be played in South Africa?)
Pete and Aubrey became firm friends, having met through the PPC. I remember the two of them having a most amusing conversation during a Saturday lunch barbecue at the mess, about the women they were courting in fishing terms, talking of the bait they would use, trawling, and playing the fish, throwing back the grunts. You have to hear it to appreciate it fully, but it was incredibly amusing.(And a bit sexist .)
Pete and Aubrey and two others went down to Durban for a wild weekend, and speeding on the way home late at night, they found themselves confronted with two pantechnicons (articulated lorries) overtaking each other. There was no way they would survive if they stayed on the road, and Pete realised this in a split second. He turned the car up an embankment - which the car shot up, and was soon sliding down an embankment. It twisted and spun around before finally coming to a stop.
Amazingly, no one was hurt, but they all thought that their last moments had come. "Hell, I'm impressed with this car!" was Aubrey's first comment and he climbed out.
Pete loved cars, and yet he seemed to have very bad luck with them. He came out of the Johannesburg Holiday Inn to find that his car had been stolen. This was a problem, as he needed a car to get around in, and the insurance didn't pay out the replacement value of the car. We were all been sympathetic, helping out where we could. But the novelty eventually wore off, and Fred greeted Pete the one day, and commented on how 'footsore' he looked. The comment went down well, but I certainly wouldn't have said anything like that myself. Pete did an interesting impersonation of a person feeling for his car; he can't see it, but he knows its there somewhere.
Over a weekend, several members of the Post Prandial Club gathered in the lounge to play Trivial Pursuits and drink a few bottles of red wine. Pete B. was in his element; He was asking a question of one of the other players and he decided that the question was far too easy, so he substituted it for one of his own. "Who is the Patron Saint of Bullfrogs?" he asked, and he wouldn't admit it wasn't the real question until the person he was asking demanded to see the question on the card. Later in the same game, Pete was asked the question; "With what sport is the term 'double axle' associated?" Pete didn't know, so he improvised." Motor racing with caravans?" He suggested.(I believe the answer is 'Ice Scating'!) One of the players, Conrad, is Afrikaans, and he didn't know a question about Peter Rabbit. "See what you're missing out on by not being English?" Pete asked him.
As the Personal Assistant to Brigadier Dippenaar, Pete was used to mixing and working with fairly high ranking army officers. (A 'Brigadier' is one rank below 'General')
One day he had to make some enquiries from Major Human, the security officer at 1 Military Hospital. Human - as may be remembered - had been a Sergeant Major with Artillery, before getting his matric, completing a conversion course and joining the Medics.
Major Human was one of those Permanent Force members who saw it as a privilege of his rank to give national servicemen a hard time. "Maar wie is jy, Lieutenant?" ("But who are you, Lieutenant?") Major Human asked in a long-suffering voice.
"I'm the Personal Assistant of Brigadier Dippenaar," Pete explained, having done so when he first spoke to the Major, but which the major, with his artillery linked deafness, had not heard. With this information, Human did an about turn, and he started to grovel to Pete, telling him to be sure to tell the Brigadier that 'Major Human had sent his best wishes'.
Pete occasionally talked about joining P.F. and becoming someone important, so that he could weed out all the dead wood. He reckoned that eighty percent of the Permanent Force members would be retrenched. Then he paused for a while, and added: "You wouldn't be able to park your car anywhere without it getting washed!" Superb!
Pete is the principal speaker in the transcript of the PPC Reunion Thrashs (1994-97)
DR. GAVIN[IDENTITY WITHHELD]
Gavin was someone that Fred would hate the idea of me including him in a listing of the PPC. He sat with us sometimes, when he was in town, but he seemed to spend much of his time on the Border. There was a vicious rumour that he kept applying to go to the Border because of the easier access to restricted drugs which he could have there. He presented a very lighthearted 'Grensvegter' image, but admitted that he had artificially bleached his weathered looking browns.
I enjoyed his company and his sense of humour. He and Fred had been in the same platoon for basic training, and I think they had antagonised each other then.
Gavin was the source of the following anecdote:
Fred, as the Officers Commanding the Onderstepoort Military Veterinary Clinic, was on duty at a horse show - and he hates horses. As part of the display, they had a parachute demonstration, and one of the jumpers, a Commandant, landed on a pole and broke his leg so severely that they were thinking of amputating it. Fred was the resident medic, and he was called to take the man through to the Casualty Department at 1 Military Hospital. Gavin was one of the doctors on duty at casualty. Gavin tells how Fred arrived looking very worried, and saying that he had a patient in the car. Gavin immediately envisaged a horse lying on its back in the back of Fred's Purgeot, with its legs flailing feebly about in the air. Imagine it!
Gavin went on to say that they eventually had to ask Fred to leave, because he kept telling people that "we euthanase cases like this", and the patient, not realising that Fred was a vet, was getting nervous.
A similar Gavin story which I like concerned a colonel who was riding his horse when he was hit by an army truck. He and the horse were lying damaged at the side of the road, and the driver got out. The driver was Special Forces (see 'animal', 'savage' and 'barbarian'). He knew what was expected of him, and he took out his rifle, and shot the horse. He had the barrel of the rifle pointing into the colonel's forehead when his brain seized - too much concentration - and the colonel's life was saved.
Jon was a Personnel Services Officer, which made him a comrade of Aubrey's. He crashed his car when he was alleged to have been watching a pretty girl instead of the car in front of him.
Jonathan is one of the principal speakers in the transcript of the PPC Reunion Thrashs (1994-97)
Andrew was a male nurse student, much more mature than Jonathan Bosch, whom he did not like. I tended to mix more with him when I returned from the Border, when the PPC has dispersed.
I acted as a depressed patient for Andrew when he had to do a demonstration of his counselling skills. I flung myself into the role, and became tearful on talking about the emptiness I felt at being separated from my wife, and how I missed my children. Andrew reported afterwards that he had been taken in by this, and realising that he didn't know very much about my background, and he wondered whether this might all be true. Andrew earned 100% for his performance, and I have to admit he was good.
Charles was a Health Inspector or 'Flyspy' who spent some time with us in early 1986. He would manage to obtain caterer's containers full of banana flavoured ice cream, and would invite me over for a binge.
He would tease me about making pot holes in the road when I went jogging in the evenings. Somehow this joke was made when Frans K. was present, and Frans kept it going for a while.
Charles confused Brian once, when he was down for a weekend after having been transferred elsewhere. He told Brian in a matter of fact voice that he was on his way to attending his sister's funeral. I don't think Brian ever decided whether Charles was very much in control of his emotions, or whether he was just saying that to get a reaction.
Renier was a physiotherapist - quite Afrikaans - who was a peripheral member of the clique, and he tended to mix with Brian and Robin. I remember him well, but can't remember him doing or saying much of note.
DR. CONRAD(I can't remember his surname)
Conrad was Afrikaans, but gravitated towards to PPC. He adhered to a rather obscure oriental religion, which was very unusual for an Afrikaans doctor. Apparently his adherence to a non-Christian religion had led to long delays in him obtaining the security clearance he needed to move from being a Candidate Officer to being a Second Lieutenant. Conrad took up canoeing as a hobby, and he related stories of being the scourge of the Verwoerdburgstad lake.
Gavin M., an animal scientist of some description, studied at the same university as I had. I didn't have much time for him because he was very cocky and self-opinionated, and liked making nasty personal comments about everyone. He's small and wiry. He worked in conjunction with Fred, and seemed to be fairly close to Robin, who would be similarly critical of other people, but no as intensely as Gavin.
Once Gavin had to go to some stables to attend to some horse with difficulties. "I'm here for the horse," he announced with his blemishless self-confidence. From the crowd, rumour has it, came the murmured comment; "We need a vet ... not a jockey!" (I love it! I love it!)
One of the Special Forces that I have met a couple of times is one of the most charismatic people I have met, and an expert story teller who can keep an audience enthralled for hours. This was Quintin C., and English speaker with - if I remember correctly - a biology degree from Rhodes University.
He has been involved in the survival course provided for pilots as preparation for the eventuality that they get shot down behind enemy lines. He is completely at home in the bush, and has incredibly interesting stories to tell about wild life; about giraffes being so interested in the humans who are walking past that they forget to look where they are walking and put their feet into potholes and things like that. Another was of an elephant reversing backwards into a donga, and getting up and seeing to look around to see if anyone - or anything - had seen his blunder. Very amusing! I met up with him again on the Border.
Quintin had a sidekick, also special forces, a small fox-faced youth. The two of them had been sent to give a lecture or run a course at Klipdrift, and the transport they had been given was a full-size bus. Some neighbours had complained about something, and antagonised Quintin's sidekick. As they were driving away after whatever it was that they had had to present, they passed the house of the offending people, and the sidekick threw a bottle at their roof, but miscalculated and it smashed through the massive picture window in the lounge.
In 1986, Chris R., who had been a Scoutmaster with me for the previous two years, complete a nine-month Junior Leadership course - 'JL's - the 'Blood Sweat and Tears' version of the officers course. I lived exactly two kilometres away - closer than we had lived in Pietermaritzburg - and he would be up before dawn, and have whole afternoons of PT, whereas I lived in luxury so close.
I went to visit him most Saturday afternoons, when he and the other 'prisoners' were allowed to have visitors. I would take along a six-pack of beers - Chris would drink the two that regulations would permit, and I would drink the others and drive home. Fred came along for one visit, interested to meet a fellow Scouter.
Chris worked for several years for the Department of Internal Revenue and had offered to help me with my income tax return, as he had done the previous year in very different circumstances. I was tickled by the scenario of arriving to visit a national serviceman with my briefcase in one hand and a six-pack in the other. We sat there on a tree truck in the open air and Chris did my tax return before we hit the beers. It really appealed to my sense of humour. Was it exploitation?
The most ominous part of the course was the 'Vasbyt' hike in which the troops had to cover about 120 km in four days wearing full kit, with added delights such as having to carry 'injured' buddies every now and again just to make life more interesting.
Each JL participant had a chance to 'lead' the platoon for about twenty minutes, and they had people the army calls 'psychologists' walking along with them (minus kit of course) to evaluate their 'leadership potential'.
The amusing thing to me was I knew one of these 'psychologists', Johan, who had been at school with me, and I ate dinner once with him when I arrived late, and he told me that he was going along on one of the 'vasbyt' hikes. With a little inquiry I found out that he was monitoring the same hike that Chris was on. I know three people in a triangle; I live in luxury, Chris lives in hardship, and Johan had some of Chris's hardship during the day and shared my luxury at night.
MAJOR WILLIE J.(Definitely not a member of the PPC)
Major J. was probably the most unpleasant person I came across in the Defence Force. He was nicknamed 'The Poison Dwarf', because he was small and bitter. He had apparently been a psychologist based in Sector 10, the Border, where he had become involved in 'secret activities' rather than helping people. Apparently he was an Industrial Psychologist - Clinical Psychology breathes a sign of relief!
I remember him once telling a Permanent Force member that he should not have tolerated the familiarity shown by one of the mess staff, a national serviceman. I heard him say the Afrikaans equivalent of, "If a national serviceman spoke to me like that, I would hit him!"
THE MESS STAFF
The first member of staff that I met at the mess was Jim, a tall Scot who was heading into a career in mercantile banking when the extension of conscription made him liable. Most of the other immigrants so netted seemed to end up in the medics. He was fun to chat to, but being in the military meant that officers had to keep a social distance from non-officers, or at least be seen to.
Fred had a chat with Jim once, which was easy to do when you were paying your mess fees, or collecting meal tickets or any other task. Jim was talking about a difficulty in finding some difficulty in arranging accommodation for a group of young female officers who were attending the course. The fact that each floor of each mess block had communal toilets and bathrooms meant that it was policy to keep each floor restricted to one gender. Jim had run out of floors, apart from the one that I was on - for some reason, I had the wing to myself. "There's only Barry there," Jim mused to Fred. (None of this 'Captain Fowler'-stuff!) "But he's harmless!" Fred recounted this story to me with the closest he would allow himself to expressing relish.
I had a good relationship with the cooks at the Officers Club. One of them, Damian, was my age, and he was a bearing salesman before the draft was extended to include British subjects. He was called up, and told that he was going to be a chef. "What do I know about food?" he wailed plaintively.
He was completely relaxed with officers, and kept up a continual barrage of good humoured insults; he would tell me "If you have any ice cream, you will get fatter and the rest of your hair will fall out."
Brian R. and I stayed at the mess over the 1987 Easter weekend, and seemed to have the place to ourselves. Damian came to join us in the lounge where we were chatting over coffee. He told us that we were going to be given Easter Eggs on Sunday.
"Are you going to hide them in the garden for us," I asked, visualising the amazed guards watching as a whole lot of officers dive into the flowerbeds first thing in the morning.
"I think I'll dress up as the Easter Bunny," he vowed, joining into the fantasy. The idea of him dressed up in a bunny suite with long flapping ears and a cotton wool tail, bounding over our lawn, sewing out Easter eggs was too much!
Much of the menial work at the mess was done by black employees of the Defence Force; the cleaners, laundry staff, and the waiters that served breakfast and lunch. During one set of black civil unrest, the black bus service was disrupted, and the army took the staff back to Mamalodi in an army Bedford truck. Very subtle!
Damian drove, or went with such an expedition, and he talked with some concern of the group a black military employees standing huddled where they were dropped off, with just long road leading into the township, with no-one visible, but where they, and the truck that had brought them, would be clearly visible to anyone who cared to look - and of course, with the state of emergency in full force, the security forces were the major target of most aggression.
"Nothing would make me change places with them," Damian decided, as he thought of them having to walk home from there.
The officer in charge of the club was Lieutenant Willie L., a Permanent Force member with a background in hotel services. He seemed to be one of the most hated people around, though Fred and I agreed that he had always been perfectly civil to us. He must have had quite an unpleasant job, with many national servicemen to deal with, most of whom were his rank.
There was a barman - Harry - who stood as far back from the counter, staring into space, and when you attracted his attention, he would suddenly launch forward to provide you with your drink. You could never make conversation with him, and he would never accept if you offered to buy him a drink. He was a source of curiosity to the national service mess staff; they thought he was Jewish, and thought that his odd behaviour might be due to trauma of what happened to the Jews during the Second World War, but I think he was too young to have been involved in that. Staff reported that he had a poster of a sports car in his room, and that was the only decoration. I imagine that he had some psychiatric problems, but then, I would, wouldn't I?
THE CLUB BUILDINGS AND ROUTINE LIFE
During my two years in Voortrekkerhoogte, I lived in the Officers' Mess which was like being in a University Residence again, except that the people were a little more mature, and one didn't get into the habit of looking upwards as one walks into a building to see if anyone is going to throw a waterbomb at you.
I had a fairly large pleasant room, which I soon decorated with a variety of posters, ranging from alpine scenes, to a photo on an atomic explosion, with a variety of others in between.
I had a shower leading off my room which I shared which I share with the person in the room next to me, Frans K., and the toilets were at the end of the corridor. The cost was - wait for it - R 33.00 per month (Less than £ 9), which also included three full meals a day, and coffee and rusks in the TV lounge at night. I dared not eat all three meals for fear of putting on a great amount of weight. The food was generally good - better than in university residences. It really was quite a pleasant arrangement, and what I paid in income tax didn't even cover the subsidy on my board and lodging, so I was doing well.
In 1987, Frans moved on - to Johannesburg, and I arranged to take over his room to use it as my study, so I had the two rooms with the shower to myself. That cost me less than R18 per month. This also included having all one's laundry washed and ironed. I also had under cover parking for my car. Life of Riley!
Everything in the army had security codes. Every document used in the army has at least a 'restricted' code. And I mean every document. Like our laundry lists. Why would these be restricted, we asked ourselves, and then let our fantasies run wild ...
Something that I don't think is restricted, but that should be are some of the things available to us at breakfast. How would the world press react if it were to find of that officers of the South African Medical Services - (Military) have a breakfast of cocopops? We would be laughed at. And we laugh at the yanks having had ice-cream flown out to them by helicopter in Vietnam?
Sunday lunches were the caterers' highlight of the week, and they put on a terrific buffet at which the residents eat, and various high ranking officers arrive (out of uniform, of course) to have dinner there. We had cabinet minister Louis Nel there once - "Haven't I seen you before somewhere?"
These guests would often bring their kids along, usually straight after a very long, formal Dutch Reformed Church service. Ever seen a five year old wearing a suite? Disgusting!
These kids would catch sight of the desert table, and their eyes would grow wider and wider, and they would realise that they had no possible chance whatsoever of eating everything. Shame!
The caterers fell over backwards for the guests, but it didn't quite carry through to the rest of the mess. I could sit down to the starter which was fruit salad in a wine glass decorated elegantly with coloured sugar, and one is suitably impressed until you realise that all you've got to eat it with is a vulgar orange plastic spoon. So it goes!
Permanent Force members get ripped off continually by the National Servicemen - most of it is deserved. The fantastic buffet lunch at the mess on Sundays, which cost adults R4, (#1) but only R2.50 (65p) for children - for as much (usually pudding!) as they could eat. There was a comment in the book once suggesting that R2.50 was a little expensive for children, "because, after all, they don't eat much!" Unbelievable!
Some vile person introduced music into the dining hall and for three months of hell we ate supper while 'Radio 5' blared in the background, so loud that one had to raise one's voice to keep a conversation going. I was amused, one meal to look around the dining hall at all the officers in uniform, (men dedicated to keeping civilisation in Africa/the blacks in their place/the Nats in power/other) and to realise that we were listening to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song". Ironic!
I remember a Colonel, or was it a Brigadier, who bought all those in the bar a round of drinks. There were probably only ten of us there, maximum, but it was a nice thought.
THE MULTI-RACIAL DEFENCE FORCE
I attended a meeting called by a Brigadier who had just become the new Chairman of the SAMS Officers Club, and as a new broom, he was intending doing the proverbial ...
He spoke to us about developing the mess, and his plans included setting up about 6 rugby fields, and possibly a swimming pool. Then he looked around the mess, and seeing that a coloured officer who was attending a course was not present, started a guarded talk about him 'not knowing how we younger people would feel about it', but if we had a swimming pool, then everyone might want to swim in it.
He didn't spell it out, but he left us into no doubt about what he meant. The Defence Force was actually multi- racial, with officers of all races being afforded the same officers' privileges. (I wondered, if non-white officers agreed to be sealed into body bags, whether it would then be acceptable for them to swim in our pool?)
Probably the idea that officers of all races might want to use it prevented that plan, so possibly the SAMS Club now has seven rugby fields, but players of any race are allowed to play on them, but times are changing ...
THE GUARDS OF VOORTREKKERHOOGTE
Returning from a party with Fred's brother and sister-in-law, it was getting dark, and I was only just on the safe side of the legal limit, when I was stopped at the permanent army roadblock on the outskirts of Voortrekkerhoogte ('You are now entering a restricted military area').
The guard insisted on looking in my boot, and seeing my ID, which identifies me as being a 'Psychologist Officer'. The guard was surprised at this.
"So they have psychologists for officers", he said, and went off to call the Lieutenant.
You have to picture the scene, the alcohol, the darkness, the spotlights, the armed, uniformed men, the sandbagged gun-emplacements.
In the middle of this, a Lieutenant arrived and asked my advice as to whether he should study Clinical or Industrial Psychology when he completed his national service. I'm Clinical. "Industrial," I advised him without hesitation.
I started to take myself running at nights and over weekends, or when I felt the need. I went late at night, when I have the world to myself, and I don't have passing cars pumping out exhaust fumes for me to inhale.
One weekend I was jogging along in Voortrekkerhoogte, which is a huge complex consisting of several army, Air Force and medics units, and houses and mess blocks.
Suddenly I heard a loud explosion in front of me. I carried on jogging. Then there was another explosion and then another.
I assumed that someone was playing around with thunderflashes (big firecrackers used in military training), but the thought occurred to me; 'What if some terrorists were actually mortaring us? (It was possible. Its happened before.)
'But,' I thought, 'I would know if I was under attack.'
'How would I know that?' I asked myself.
These sort of things should be announced; "The next twenty explosions are soviet mortar bombs exploding. This is not an exercise."
But I carried on jogging, and I never did hear an explanation for the explosions. But the thought occurred to me, that it would be an ironic way to die; wearing my jogging clothes and casually jogging into an area that was being mortared. We're supposedly in a state of emergency, but explosions are commented on rather than investigated.
I was in the SAMS Club the night the mid-May 1987 election results were announced. It was at this election that the official opposition, the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) was replaced by the Conservative Party.
After that dinner, I was in the Dining Hall lounge - with the PPC. The lounge was more crowded than usual, and all the conversations seemed to be in English - medics officers discussing the merits of going to Britain, Australia or the United States.
It was at around this time that I wrote 'My Last Dawn' that I have included as Chapter 17.
Published: 1 July 2000.