Violetta and other animals.
A story for my grandchildren. – My early life marked by the animals that were part of it.
Chapter One. Lucy
We lived on a large plot of land at the bottom of Abrey Road in Kloof. Four years after the 2nd world war ended my parents built their dream house, helped with money my mother had inherited from her father.
Surreydene – was the name of our home. It still stands today but now it is surrounded by office buildings that take up what is left of the property.
When we moved to Kloof from Montclair, I was three years old my sister Pat (Paddy) was eight and my brother Gerald (Gus) eleven.
From the time I can remember, once a month we would travel for Sunday lunch to my Uncle Meth Goble’s dairy farm called “Groot Vallei” near Howick. Uncle Meth was my father’s eldest brother. We would pile into the brown Chevy motor car and take the old main road, which is now the route of the Comrades Marathon. Inevitably Paddy and I would be car sick from the twists and turns.
I would be bursting with excitement as we arrived at the farm –a quick greeting to the older cousins, my uncle and aunt, and then I would rush down to my Granny’s house. Waiting outside her house would be my friends and playmates —a gang of umfaans – and with them would be Lucy.
Lucy was a big brown donkey, with a heart of gold. She was the head donkey of a team that pulled the donkey cart, which in those days performed the vital task of taking food and water to the labourers out in the fields.
Sunday was her day of rest but she never begrudged me the chance to ride her. At first, an umfaan would lead me, but it was not long before I could ride her on my own. She was such honey that I could walk up to her in the field, jump on her back, and ride around without a bridle.
So it came to pass that I started pestering my parents for a donkey of my own. The property was big enough to house a donkey—what could go wrong?
Andrew, our gardener, was sent on a scouting trip and he reported that someone in the valley behind the Kloof Golf club had a donkey for sale and the price was five rand.
On my fifth birthday, my present was a donkey — we named her Violetta. She was a sad little thing full of ticks, ribs sticking out, and a stringy grey coat of long matted hair.
To begin with, she was too thin and weak to ride so we gave her the run of a small camp near the gate and fed her up on scraps from the kitchen and leftover dog food. Roger- our Airedale, was not impressed!
She recovered quickly and soon I was ready to try out my new steed. My mother’s dad had owned racehorses in Durban and back in her family home, we found a jockey’s saddle and a proper bridle.
Betty Dorothy Goble (nee Langton)
Mom’s dad William Langton was a highly qualified quantity surveyor and architect he came to South Africa to work on the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built in 1910,– Google Union buildings you will see what a prestigious job that was.
After living in Pretoria (where my mother and Uncle Bill were born) her family moved to Montclair (the home was called Surrey House) He continued to practice in Durban. He was wealthy and successful he drove one of the first motor cars in South Africa and apart from owning racehorses (which my mom also rode) he became Mayor of Durban. His wife (granny Alice) was a kind simple person who I imagine did not enjoy the glitzy lifestyle. When I was studying at Cedara my surfing friends and I would stay at her flat and she would spoil us with fantastic meals—she never drove a car and was terrified of my grandfathers driving (he had many accidents)—my mom told the funniest stories of how her mother would puncture the old man’s tyre’s whenever he wanted to take the family for a drive. Her one vice was a love of horse racing (the only thing she ever asked of me when I stayed with her was to be dropped off at the Greyville Racecourse on Saturday afternoon’s).
Betty had fancied Pops from the age of ten (he was five years older) and said she would always marry him even if he was an engine driver!
They were married in 1934 at Surrey House. For the honeymoon they drove to Cape Town by car, there were no tar roads—it never stopped raining and Betty had to open many gates. The car was fantastic—the only puncture was when they got home.
Granny Betty was a dignified lady who lived a serene life. She took her role as a homemaker seriously. Like her mother she was generous (her brother Bill was often in financial trouble and she always supported him). You can see by the life I led she allowed us, children, incredible freedom. We could come and go at all hours as long as we were on time for meals. Once at the age of thirteen, I was stopped by a policeman driving her to the Constantia shop.
My Parents with Paw Paw (Carolyn’s dad) in the background
To begin with, things went fairly well –Andrew was always around to help catch her and lead her whilst we began the process of getting her used to me riding her– but it wasn’t long before I realised I had a very different animal compared to the lovable gentle Lucy.
Violetta just didn’t see the point of having someone on her back. Once caught and saddled she would start planning how to get rid of me! She soon learned that galloping under the branch of a certain thorn tree would topple me off every time.
I would end up crying on the ground. Andrew and Roger would be chasing after her and the whole ride would last no more than five minutes.
The following year I started at Kloof Government School. By now Violetta had become an escape artist. I would come home from school to be told –“your donkey is out again” —“she is on the golf course”.
At the time my Dad was the chairman of the Kloof Golf Club and the greenkeeper was Mr. McGregor.
For some reason Violetta took an intense dislike to the green close to the back gate of our house, and as soon as she escaped she would head straight for the green and stomple on it.
Andrew and I would arrive to find Mr. McGregor in a fury chasing Violetta with a nine iron club.
It wasn’t long before my dad was told at a committee meeting that the donkey must go or Mr. McGregor would leave –and he was the finest greenkeeper in Natal!
At the time, we owned a twenty-acre plot of land at Hillcrest. The land was cheap in those days and the folks had bought it as an investment in the hope it would increase in value (they sold it for three thousand rand when we moved to Cape Town).
Andrew and I were tasked with the Job of taking Violetta to Hillcrest. We decided to go via Kloof Gorge. Once she was away from her home environment she settled down and we made steady progress, but crossing the bridge over the stream in the gorge was too much for her.
She just refused to cross the bridge, we pushed and pulled but she would not budge! In the end, she sat down like a big dog and we pushed her across. By now both she and I were exhausted and my legs were rubbed raw. It was a very sad little trio that eventually arrived at what we then called ”The Farm.”
Two weeks later she escaped and was never seen again!
Chapter Two. George
Uncle Meth’s farm remained the centre of my universe. As I grew older I was allowed to spend holidays at the farm and by the age of seven, I had learned to drive the little grey Ferguson T E D tractor.
At that time my oldest cousin Copper had started playing polo. One of his horses was a super little bay gelding called Basses. Basses had the same temperament as Lucy and it was not long before I was going for rides all over the farm on my own. Poor Lucy was now forgotten and the only animal in my life was Basses!
Then this wonderful world came to an abrupt end!
My father— your Great Grand Father, Basil Goble, was appointed as the operations director of BP South Africa and this meant a move to the Cape Town Head Office.
Basil Lindsay Goble, was born in 1907 he was the third oldest of five brothers and two sisters. The family lived on a small banana farm in Montclair on the southside of Durban. His family was very poor. His Aunt Maud who lived with the family and never married looked after a few jersey cows—the milk was sold off the back of a donkey cart by the jug.
He attended Durban High School and he was fortunate to finish through to grade twelve. (His two older brothers left school early to help support the family).
After school, he began work at “The Atlantic Petrol Company.“ Hard work and determination saw him rise through the ranks, without special training he became the company accountant and later the sales manager. (Atlantic was sold to BP after the war.) When war broke out he joined the South African Forces and fought in Egypt and Libya. Towards the end of the war he was put in charge of an oil pipeline in Palestine (Israel) He achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel.
Pops, as he was known by his grandchildren, was respected admired and adored, he made friends easily –his greatest legacy was absolute honesty, which we as a family have embraced.
His father Francis Lindsay Goble had led an exciting life—before the railway was built he was a transporter — using ox wagons. With people like Sir Percy Fitz Patrick, he pioneered the route from Lourenco Marques (Maputo) to the Transvaal goldfields.
He married late in life to the beautiful Margret Thompson whose pioneering family was well known in South Africa
Surreydene was sold, Paddy and Gus went into boarding school and my Mom and I went to live at a boarding house near what became Thomas Moore School. At that time my dad was sent to Portugal on a three-month training course. What happened to poor Roger, I cannot remember, hopefully, he and Andrew were taken over by the new owners of Surreydene. The next six months was a very miserable time for me. The only good thing that came out of it was that I learned to read books on my own – Readers Digest condensed books became my staple fare.
When Dad got back from Portugal, we drove to Cape Town in his Humber Super Snipe—that was a super car. Before we could find our next home, we spent another three months in an even worse boarding house.
We bought a house in Rondebosch and I was enrolled in Golden Grove Primary School – Paddy managed to get into Herschel and Gus stayed behind at Durban High School.
My generation of school kids was called the baby boomers—-we were all born nine months after the 2nd World war ended. Five years later so many kids needed schooling that the school system could not cope with.
Golden Grove was built in a hurry out of prefabricated material —everything and everyone was new. That was a happy time. I soon made friends at school and amongst the neighbours, but my mother was not happy — she wanted to get into the country and have a big garden.
The only pet I can remember was a budgie called George. George was a real character, he went everywhere with me and soon learned to talk. He could say –“Georgie porgie pudding and pie kissed the girls and made them cry”— and —“not bloody likely!” He spent every mealtime on the dining room table—(in those days we sat down at the table for every meal) and he would share our food. He loved green peas but his best trick was to take a spoon or fork in his beak and drop it over the edge of the table. He would then look up with a look of extreme satisfaction!
Sadly George died choking on a rice crispy, my mother tried to revive him with a drop of brandy. I don’t think brandy is a very good thing to give to a budgie.
Whilst in grade six a friend and I bought a Dabchick (yacht) for twenty rand. The first Dabchicks ever built were made by the grade twelve woodworking class at Rondebosch Boys High. Our yacht was No Five. Today there are thousands of Dabchicks all over the world. My partner’s parents were keen yachting people and sailed at Zeekoe Vlei – an inland lake near Muizenberg. What I can remember about that time was being very wet and very cold and not understanding how to sail!
At the time of my last year at Golden Grove, the school had run out of classrooms and the Grade seven class had to be taught in the Methodist Church hall. Mr. Duminy rode to work on a small motorbike, he was a gentle soul and allowed the boys to ride around the churchyard on his bike.
Motorbikes soon replaced tractors as my main interest in life. Before I had finished at Golden Grove and started at Rondebosch Boys High School, my parents bought two acres of a vineyard which was part of a large wine farm that had been subdivided into residential plots. Our plot was situated halfway up Southern Cross Drive in Constantia.
Chapter Three. Bernadine
Hans Madlener, the Architect responsible for the design of our new house. He was a big friendly man who spoke with a Dutch accent. He visited our house in Rondebosch often and seemed very patient when my mother asked for alterations to the plans.
It took most of my first year at Rondebosch to finish our new home. That year was a difficult time for me, none of my friends came with me from Golden Grove. At junior school, I was the biggest boy in the class and captain of the cricket team. At Rondebosch Boys High, I was one of a hundred and sixty boys in the standard and could not even make it into the under thirteen E cricket side. I gave up cricket forever.
None of the boys at Rondebosch lived in Constantia. The headmaster always suspected that my parents had avoided zoning restrictions by moving after I been accepted at the school.
Also, it was difficult to make friends at school, most of the boys had come from Rondebosch Prep and formed their circle of friends from a young age. Richard Hill a boy from the class above and I became friends, I think we were both frustrated farm boys with no farm to go to.
Things got better when I started to make friends in Constantia but boys of my age were very scarce. I was however very taken by a pretty little blond girl with an upturned nose who happened to be Hans Madlener’s daughter. So at the age of thirteen, I met your Granny Carolyn.
At the time she was living in a cottage next to the big house of the farmer who had sold us the land we now lived on. She had an arrangement with the farmer to be allowed to keep her horse called Bernadine in his stables. To be honest I had now lost interest in horses and the only time I saw Bernadine was when I came along to help muck out the stable.
One acre of my parent’s vineyard had been cleared as space for the house and garden, the other acre was kept as a vineyard. Fortunately, the variety of grape was a good eating type called Alphonse Laval. In a small way, my farming career started with that acre of grapes but my father did most of the work and my job was to sell grapes at ten cents a kilo to the passing weekend traffic. Our main customers were the Jewish ladies who would come for a Sunday drive from Sea Point.
My poor dad –after golf and Sunday lunch he liked to take a nap but that was always the time I ran out of Grapes—-I would bang on the window and call “Dad, Dad I have three cars waiting and the grapes have run out!”
My other job was mowing the large lawn of a family friend who lived up the road—his children called me “Peter mower”.
My mother originally called her new home Surreydene and when our new lovable German shepherd puppy arrived he was called– you guessed it— Roger. Poor Roger strayed into the road and was injured very badly by a car. Somehow the vet saved him but after that, he would stay inside the fence and chase every car that came past. He wore a deep furrow in the field—the poor dog was quite mad.
Gus had finished school and lived with us for a short time—I had never had a chance to get to know Gus, he was always away from home. He was very unhappy at his first job in Cape Town; all he wanted was to join the Northern Rhodesian Police Force (Zambia).
Eventually, my dad gave in and allowed him to join. That must have been the happiest time of his life. Gus had so many talents that I could never aspire to. He loved people—and people were drawn to his jokes and his beautiful singing voice. When Gus came back on leave I would listen to his stories in absolute awe and treasured the gifts he gave me.
Paddy had grown into a beautiful young girl, at school, she was good at sport but it was as an artist she excelled. After school, she studied commercial art. A string of boyfriends started arriving at our door, most of which did not meet my father’s approval. One was a Scientologist– he didn’t last long. The next was Afrikaans! In those days, the English speakers and Afrikaners were very divided. Then she met Graham. The main thing I liked about Graham was his MG sports car (he also seemed a nice guy).
Unfortunately one day I reversed my mother’s car out the garage without looking back– straight into the front of his car —an awkward moment!
Gus would get long leave around Christmas every year and as a family, we would go to Plettenberg Bay to stay in a rented cottage. Gus got a holiday job as the barman at the Lookout Hotel. He also bought a surfboard (made of balsa wood) but with no time to use it I took it over and so was introduced to the second great love of my life.
In those days with no TV, we went to movies often. We always dressed properly. Boys wore a tie and Jacket and girls wore their best dresses —no jeans and t-shirt. We were at a movie with Carolyn’s parents on the 22nd of November 1963 when the film was stopped and it was announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated. It is said that no one of our age forgot where they were that day.
1963 was also our final year at school. Gus had fallen in love with his commanding officer’s daughter. Kathy and Gus got married late that year at the Victoria Falls Hotel—sadly I could not attend as I was writing my final exams.
Chapter Four. Matilda
In those times after leaving school all white boys were compelled to do nine months of military service. My call up to the infantry camp at Oudtshoorn was scheduled to begin on the first of April.
That allowed me to visit Gus and his new bride. My dad arranged a series of lifts that got me to Salisbury (Harare), after that I was on my own. Three years later the country was at war but then it was quite safe for a seventeen year old to hitchhike.
After crossing the bridge at Churundu I went straight to the police station and told the officer—I am Gus Goble’s brother please feed me! Gus’s popularity made the rest of the trip easy. The radio crackled as Landrover patrols were arranged between all the little towns. He was stationed at Kalomo a distance of three hundred and fifty kilometres.
Gus and Kathy were part of a small colonial community that remained after independence had been granted to Zambia. The country was in an uproar, the losing party in the recent election would not accept Kenneth Kuanda as president .White policemen were needed to maintain order, so Gus’s job was secure for another year. I was with him at one of the riots —a lot of head bashing took place but nothing on the scale that happened later in South Africa.
Whilst in Zambia I was privileged to spend two weeks with a game ranger in the Kafue National Park and be present when the first white rhinos from Umfolozi were released.
Zambia’s minimum driving age was seventeen so I took the opportunity to get my licence. This simple process consisted of meeting the examiner at the pub. Can you drive he asked? Yes. Well buy me a beer, leave your passport on the counter and drive my Landrover around the block, when you get back you can have your licence.
I then spent a few weeks on a tobacco farm it was picking time and I had no sooner arrived than the farmer said he was leaving me in charge whilst he attended the auctions in Salisbury.
I have never been so tired in my life. Picking started at sunrise until late afternoon. Then the wood-fired drying barns had to be loaded with the wet leaves which were tied to thin sticks. That part of the job normally finished at seven pm. The hard part for me then started, every hour on the hour throughout the night the temperature of the barns had to be checked. When the farmer came back I left as fast as I could!
Time passed quickly and it was not long before Carolyn was bidding me a tearful goodbye as I boarded the train for Oudtshoorn. I had no sooner found a seat than a loud booming voice shouted out –Peter! I did not recognise the speaker—It was Richard Hill he had grown inches taller and filled out from a year of working on farms in England.
Richard and I both decided that we wanted to become Paratroopers. To qualify for final selection we had to undergo a series of physical and practical tests. From a group of over a hundred who showed interest twenty of us were selected to go to Bloemfontein for the final selection (I was number nineteen and Richard number ten).
After three months at Oudtshoorn, we boarded the train and arrived at midnight in a freezing snowstorm. I had a bad case of bronchitis but had been told not to report sick or an instant R T U. (return to unit) would be issued.
Parabat training was tough but very enjoyable we both made the selection and Richard was promoted to corporal –he always looked after me.
The unofficial camp mascot was a scruffy black and white terrier called Matilda—- she seemed to favour me and I was very fond of her.
With army life coming to an end it was time to start thinking of the future. In those days no agricultural management degree existed and I made the fatal mistake of enrolling for a BSc Agriculture degree at Stellenbosch University.
Chapter Five. Hlopi
After six months at Stellenbosch, I told my father that I was wasting his money, with lectures in Afrikaans and long Latin names to remember I was floundering.
Dad contacted Uncle Methold. He went to see the head of Cedara Agricultural College and I was enrolled to start at Cedara in September of the same year. I also applied for and was awarded a scholarship from the sugar association which paid all my tuition fees.
As part of the scholarship, I was obliged to work on a sugar farm before studies began. I was fortunate to be allocated to the farm of Mr. Barry Kramer near Ginginghlovu. He and his family made me very welcome.
Apart from growing sugar cane, Barry was a stud breeder of Sussex cattle also on the farm were a couple of horses. Hlopi means white in Zulu and as the white horse did not have a name that was what we called him. He was very shy, someone had hit his face with a cane knife. With gentle treatment, he began to trust me. Hlopi was part of my life for the next ten years and became a legend later during his time in Greytown.
Carolyn had spent the previous year at a secretarial college. In those days before computers, personal assistants who could use a typewriter were vital for businessmen to function. She had found work and was saving for an overseas trip.
Time fly’s when you are having fun and Cedara was fun! Much of the academic work I had already covered at Stellenbosch and the practical work was enjoyable and I was good at it. The students were a great bunch of guys mostly Natal dairy farmer’s sons.
That course was only one year and then it was back to the sugar association for a three-month short course at Mount Edgecombe.
By then I had bought a car for two hundred rand and a surfboard for twenty. Surfing had become an obsession. I was not a good student! If the surf was good I skipped lectures. The lecturer knew when I had been surfing— I had hair in those days and when it was full of salt it stuck out all over the place.
I passed the course near the bottom of the class.