Monday, August 30, 2010

This and that

In the early 1980s, when I was either doing enforced national service, or camps, or working for the PFP, or experiencing my first real romantic involvement, I did drawings in a number of places, some of which I found together in a plastic sleeve. Let's see where they take us.

I've always liked the look on the young girl's face, seated next to her grandfather, possibly, in this drawing I did in a restaurant in East London - possibly Dave's Kitchen, a superb pizza place upstairs in the old Vincent Park shopping centre.

I spent quite a lot of time with my younger brother, Donald, pictured here giving me the inverted finger, alongside his then girlfriend, Gillian.

Old age. Who ever thinks about it when they are in their twenties or thirties? I can't say where I did this quickie of an elderly woman with a walking stick.

Domestic bliss. This cat must have been around someone's house, possibly our own, at the time.

The Bonza Bay River - Qhinerha in Xhosa - is usually a lagoon, but it does open to the sea after heavy rains. You'll usually spot a couple of people pumping for mud prawns in the shallows.

This was my mother's dog, a little cross-bred fellow who would sleep in the most unusual positions.

This drawing of a cat, captured in a few feline lines, could have been done anywhere, as I have no recollection at all of doing it.

There was a family, a couple of guys and I think a sister, with the surname Coates. Glen, I recall was the eldest, and this is the younger brother, whose name escapes me. They were at school with us, and their dad was a scout master, whom we nicknamed "Camp gadget" after one scout camp - our first and last - at, if I recall correctly - Horseshoe Valley.

Both this drawing and the one above would have been done at the Hobnob "ladies' bar" at the Bonza Bay Hotel. I like the suggested cigarette in those days when smoking was legal everywhere.

This is a drawing of my eldest brother, Ian, with whom I worked in the PFP in the early 1980s.

And this looks like youngest brother Don, again, this time with beard.

My second eldest brother, Alistair, or AB, died of a heart attack while playing indoor cricket in 1996. A delightful character with a lovely sense of humour, he is much missed, but something of his personality has happily found itself in his son, Stuart, who was an infant when his dad died.

Another sketch of AB. I can place this at our Bonza Bay family home by the little ornament on the mantelpiece behind him. It is a wooden lidded bowl-type-thing I turned in woodwork class at school.

She looks like a Native American squaw, but this was a girlfriend of Alistair's at the time, whose first name was Desiree, but she was known as Desire.

Donald's girlfriend at the time, Gillian. The lined paper was probably army-issue card.

A soft pencil sketch of a group of people seated for dinner, probably at the Family Tree restaurant, which was downstairs from the Hobnob.

I can almost recall this barman's name, just from seeing this rear view of him at work behind the bar in the Hobnob. I like the suggested face in the background.

I think this is the same barman in profile.

My mom's dog crops up again. The family home in Lotus Avenue, Beacon Bay, was characterised by the wall of glass along the front, with a wonderful view of the sea, through one of the panes of which the dog is looking, desperate to come inside. Sadly, over the years that view was lost behind a curtain of towering trees and shrubs.

One of numerous sketches I have done of the Bonza Bay beach. Note how stylised the fat woman and dog have become.

At some point I climbed the massive sand dune dividing Bonza Bay from the sea and did this sketch of some of the early houses in the village. It has lost a lot of its character in the past 20 years, as lavish homes have been built, but especially with the demolition of the historic hotel and the construction of a bland high-density cluster housing development in its place.

This watercolour of a thatched house I did on the Hogsback.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


While married to a Graaff-Reinet-educated (Union High) woman from 1983 to 1986, I made regular pilgrimages to the Jewell of the Karoo, where I was able to sketch some of the historic town's attractions. This is one beautiful place. Established in 1786, Wikipedia tells us Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. It was named after the then governor of the Cape Colony, Cornelis Jacob van de Graeff, and his wife, whose maiden name was Reynet.

This is Reinet House Museum, just one of more than 200 national monuments in the town.

I believe this characterful area, near the Drostdy, a historic hotel, used to be the slave quarters.

A quick sketch of a girl in, I suspect, the slave quarters, which now form part of the hotel.

Surrounded by mountains, it is Spandou Kop which is the most dominant and distinctive. This is a view from the toposcope above the town and in the Camdeboo National Park.

From the same spot, if you look in the opposite direction to the town, you see this side-on view of the famous Valley of Desolation. These weathered dolerite pillars tower possibly hundreds of metres into the air, and are populated by, among others, black eagles, pale-winged starlings, dassies and chacma baboons. Viewed from the ledge on the right, they provide an awe-inducing foreground spectacle, with the Camdeboo plains behind stretching out hundreds of kilometres into the distance.

This is another view of Spandau Kop from the town, with the sun starting to set behind it.

Afrikaans business tycoon Anton Rupert's roots were in Graaff-Reinet, and when I visited he had just established a job-creating mohair-spinning cottage industry for the locals. We paid a visit and I did a couple of sketches, which I later worked on with watercolours.

Seated on the pavement outside was this guy, playing an accordion - though it might easily have been in Paris!

One of the wheels used for making the mohair thread.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Streets of (East) London

Back in circulation after my second date with enforced military destiny - a one-month "camp" at Komga in mid-1982 - I lapped up just being part of society again, no matter how badly twisted by apartheid. I took a cheap little notebook and possibly knocked out all these sketches in one outing to the Vincent Park shopping centre in East London, which looked very different to what it does today.

Over the years, one of my favourite subjects has been people playing musical instruments, especially the brass variety. I can't recall at all where exactly these people were playing, but it might well have been in the mall.

This sketch of a woman playing a double bass has yellowed with age, but still, I think, has a bit of charm to it.

This could be one of the older folk who turned out to listen to the band. Some sketches I know immediately where they were made, while others become lost in time.

The next series of drawings I am almost certain were done while wandering around Vincent Park. One of the paradoxes of apartheid was that black people were allowed into virtually all shops (sort of on sufferance) because, of course, shopkeepers valued their custom. This was a couple of people just hanging out in the mall.

There's not much to this, but somehow a few lines capture a mood.

A porter? It's funny how a hat can define you. But what would he have been doing in a shopping mall?

Two more guys hanging around at the mall. Indeed, I can almost recall this. The old Vincent Park had big, square openings on the upper level, ringed with railings. It was an open, airy complex, and people would often lean on the railings and gaze off into the distance, either at the activity below, or across from them. These guys would have been across one of those open spaces from me.

It's that porter guy again. Judging by the hat.

The flat cap is not only a Yorkshire thing. Black South African men, especially the young majitas, have long loved it as an accessory.

A woman leans on the aforementioned railing at Vincent Park.

Another oke does some leaning and contemplating, possibly about where his apartheid-blighted country was heading. Note he is smoking, which was allowed everywhere in those days.

Elderly black men like this guy have a certain dignity about them which I think I managed to capture here.

An old white man, no doubt also at Vincent Park, one of the country's first shopping malls, going up if I recall correctly, in the mid- to late-1970s.

A couple of white faces at the mall.

It was this drawing which brought back the location of this outing to me. I clearly remember this guy volunteering to stand and pose briefly for me while I jotted down his features.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Less than a year after I completed two years' military conscription in June, 1981, I was called up again - this time to do a month camp with the East London-based Kaffrarian Rifles near Komga. Komga is a small town not far from the Kei River, which now formed the border between South Africa and the supposedly independent Republic of Transkei. It seems the SA authorities were terrified that ANC or PAC guerillas would be crossing the "border" from the Transkei into SA, so this had to be patrolled. Fortunately I had sustained a perforated eardrum after a tiff and, after seeing a Komga doctor, was given the task of manning the phone tent.

Back to basics. Having lived in tents for three months in Ladysmith during basic training in 1979, I was back doing the same thing three years later.

I suspect this is the tent I was based in, which was close to a public phone booth no doubt set up especially for the troops on duty. I had a field telephone with me and whenever a call came through, I had to ring the okes deeper in the camp a few hundred metres away and they'd call whoever was being sought. At least that's how I remember it. Mostly I just remember lying around all day, reading. It was here that I digested The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

This seems to be a view from inside a tent towards a group of okes doing, well, nothing. Hanging around waiting. That looks like a water truck on the right.

Unlike Kimberley, my last military "home", there was lots of vegetation in this area. Had I been a bird-watcher then, I might have spotted some good ones, but I was not. This could well be a view of the toilet tent, a delightful set-up comprising rows of long-drop loos. So you'd literally share the tent, or was it two joined?, with others while doing your business. I can't recall whether there was any soap and water to wash your hands afterwards. It seems unlikely.

Another view of the dense vegetation of the area. I recall it being incredibly cold - around July - and having to shave with icy water in a fire bucket and a tiny steel hand-held mirror. There were no basins, so brushing your teeth was equally difficult. Evening showers were in a sort of mobile set-up through which you walked starkers, did your hurried ablutions, and then moved on. A bit like going into the gas chambers, I suspect, only less lethal.

This single line on poles may have been for the field phone, or just for the phone booth next to which I spent my time.

In those pre-cellphone days, the public phone was the troops' only contact with family for a month. Here telephone lines form a bold part of the composition.

Ah, the phone booth, as seen from inside my tent, which I might have shared with someone else, though I can't recall.

A happy customer. One of the many okes I would hear pouring out their hearts on that phone. Remember many of these okes were older than me, with young families. It was a miserable disruption of one's life. My girlfriend at the time, Anne, through contacts at her work, bravely slept over in a "coloured" settlement nearby one weekend, and was able to pick me up for a brief break from the tedium, as we travelled down to Morgan's Bay for a few hours.

This is yours truly reflected in the glass door of that phone booth. Note the words "Push-Stoot".

With so little around to provide any visual stimulus, I was forced to delve into the intricacies of nature, such as in this detailed drawing of a tree trunk.

Or, on this occasion I drew some oke's hand on the edge of a mattress.

Or this pet rock became a subject worth drawing. It was a huge thing.

And why not sketch the notorious fire bucket, alongside an apple? I can't, however, work out where they are standing.

Another direction looked, another tree drawn.

Finally, a little bit of life. This cat seems to have paid a brief visit.

This lazy sketch of a soldier with a Naafi beret and equally un-paraat rolled up sleeves seems to sum up my attitude to the military. The first in a long haul of "camps" which tormented me during the 1980s, was finally over.