'How'zit, Sir!' simply had to be written. It contains a collection of anecdotes that should be enjoyed by anyone who has had anything to do with childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood and geriatrics - it therefore follows that there should be something for everybody in this book. Ninety-nine percent of what is written here is true; all the characters really do bear a resemblance to persons you might know or have known or who might be similar to someone you know. The experiences in this book will also be enjoyed by all teachers, parents even headmasters.. who have an interest in "growing up" and coping with the pros and cons of becoming an adult.
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Spike van Schalkwijk
... a collection of true stories
reflecting life in a country boarding school
56 Chaucer Road
Copyright © D.J.H. (`Spike') van Schalkwijk 1999
The right of D.J.H. van Schalkwijk to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published 1999 by
56 Chaucer Road
Republic of South Africa
Telephone and fax: 011 882 3940
06 05 04 03 02 01 00 99
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Typeset by Wordsmiths Publishing in Bookman Old Style 11 point.
Cover and illustration: Spike van Schalkwijk 1999
Printed by: Grafton Printing
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted, for any purpose, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the author's prior consent, in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
I dedicate this book
to my wife Tineke
and to our grandchildren Jessica and Matthew
who, like the stars,
always turn dark into light.
to the memory of dear Carol,
whose short-lived career as a teacher
ended so tragically.
John William Acres, headmaster, educationist and parent, considered education a way of life. He believed that teaching is merely a component of the process of learning; that boys and girls are all unique in their individuality; that discipline is a characteristic of orderliness, not a form of punishment. He emphasised that children want to know their home rules, and that children appreciate honesty, particularly from the people in authority with whom they must associate. Bill Acres allowed in his school a freedom of choice, an opportunity for each person to become whatever he or she was meant to be. At the centre of his viewpoint, however, was the need to acknowledge the significance of mutual respect - the pivot of harmony in human development. Many teachers, parents, boys and girls remain his disciples. And so it was as a result of his philosophy in particular that many of the events in this book took place. I owe Bill more than I can express. Thank you.
The support of the following people is gratefully acknowledged:
♦Leonard Smith- past pupil.
♦Lolly and Ala Sussens of Tshukudu Game Lodge, Hoedspruit.
♦Aziz Saloojee and family, of Warmbaths Outfitters.
♦Ian (past pupil) and Sylvia Sussens of Tshukudu Bush Camp, Hoedspruit.
♦Clarrie and Jenny (now Headmistress) Escreet, of Settlers Agricultural High School.
♦Chris and Sonja (past pupil) Sussens, of Chris Sussens Safaris, Hoedspruit.
♦Gloria Chaing and family.
♦Richard van Schalkwijk - more than a past scholar.
♦Demetrios Kyriazis - past pupil.
♦First National Bank, Menlyn Square, Pretoria.
♦To every pupil, past and present, colleague, close friend, and everyone else in whatever category, who 'supported the realization' of over a hundred anecdotes in book form, I express my sincere thanks, for their support and for their conviction that 'How'zit Sir' has a place in the teaching and parenting professions.
♦To each and every pupil who attended school at Settlers, thank you so much for everything you taught me!
♦Also uppermost in my thoughts of appreciation is the evening billed `Dinner with a storyteller'. The occasion was arranged by Alan and Colleen (past pupil) Kuckard. I was overwhelmed by the distinguished guests who vigorously, between courses, debated the nuances of education. What a wonderful evening of friendship and unstinting generosity!
♦Deciphering my handwriting when typing the script was a daunting task. My thanks for this, and for the many comments and suggestions, go to Sonja, Amanda, Renette, and especially to my wife Tineke. Most of all, `baie dankie aan Marina Oelofse, vir jou geduld.'
♦Julius Diamond, past pupil and academic par excellence, planned, plotted, and 'pushed it through'. An astute thinker, patient and kind, he provided all the necessary moral support, and guided the project towards its conclusion. Thank you, Julius!
Owen Hendry, my colleague and friend as well as my publisher, carefully steeres every word written through the sinuous corridors of the English language. He gave more than advice: he actualized a script into a book
Many, many years ago I recall insisting that Robert Snodgrass, a pupil in Monty Boy's Hostel, cut his own hair. Reluctantly he did. As a token of comradeship, I allowed him to trim mine. Enthusiastically, he did! Thank you Bobby, and daughter Joanne, of Grafton Paper for printing How'zit Sir!
And thank you, Dr Ken Paine, formally Executive director of Education (TED), for reading the manuscript and giving it a personal stamp of approval.
And so, an educational anecdote was born...
Non nobis sed posteris
D.J.H. van Schalkwijk (`Spike) has been involved in education for most of his life, first as a scholar, then a student at university, later as a teacher at primary and secondary schools, and finally as a headmaster. He is now retired but remains a teacher, although he no longer stands in front of the blackboard.
During his teaching career he was a resident master at boarding schools with hostels accommodating from 200 to 400 boarders, both boys and girls, of all ages. He taught cultural and social subjects: English, History, Guidance, Art and Drama; and at the same time recognised the importance of physical and mental health in the growth and development of young people.
His interest in young people resulted in the development of a rapport with children of all ages, from nursery school to matric and further. In many cases he has kept contact with his past scholars, and has been able to share with them their problems and successes.
Spike was able to influence children not only in their school work but also in their attitudes towards good human relationships with friends and associates. He and his wife brought up their own two children at the boarding school, a son and a daughter - it's not always easy when one's children are scholars at the school where one teaches. As a housemaster, a senior member of staff and a principal, he had a close association with the parents of the scholars in his care.
The anecdotes and stories in this book are the result of his own experiences, and are written to pass on to others the thoughts and behaviour of children in the most important years of their development. Some are amusing, some are sad, but they all reveal the patterns followed by children in their young lives.
Reading between the lines brings one to the realisation that all children are individuals, each with a unique character and personality. Having children is a privilege parents should enjoy, and this book will add to that enjoyment.
J. W. Acres 1999: Headmaster: Settlers Agricultural High School (1969-1984), and previously Headmaster of Lord Milner School; colleague and longstanding friend.
There was no doubt in my mind that teaching was to be my career. After teaching at Pretoria Boys' High School, where I'd also been a pupil, circumstances led me to seek a position in a platteland school. The road north had always appealed to my yearning for the bushveld. Names like Nylstroom, Potgietersrus, the Waterberg, Pietersburg, all meant the veld to me, and I wanted to be part of that veld, its acacias and brown boulders. I longed to climb every baobab tree, to touch and feel its elongated fruit. These giants grew beyond the Waterberg.
The posting given me was on the Springbok Flats in the vicinity of Nylstroom. The Lord Milner School was adjacent to the village of Settlers. I was happy. The intention was to give myself about six months at the school, becoming involved in teaching and in every other activity possible; and most of all, to meet the challenge of learning to be a housemaster in the boarding section of the school. To become successful and qualified as supervisor of a hostel requires in-service training and a fundamental 'want' to work with children. I know of no special training courses aimed at equipping teachers to become skilled at handling pupils in a 'home situation.' I had never heard the term 'in loco parentis'. I was to discover that it describes a very significant concept in the boarding school context. The six months became ten years at Lord Milner.
A few hundred meters away from this wonderful colonial school, a new school was being built - Settlers Agricultural High School. Soon L.M.S. changed from the status of a junior high school to a primary school, and the staff who qualified for high school work transferred. Once again I planned to stay about six months to judge my compatibility with a large agricultural school. I remained at Settlers Agricultural High School for twenty-four years. My family and I eventually left Settlers after almost thirty-five years of happiness.
`How'zit, Sir!'simply had to be written. It contains a collection of anecdotes that should be enjoyed by anyone who has had anything to do with childhood, puberty, adolescence, adulthood and geriatrics - it therefore follows that there should be something for everybody in this book. Ninety-nine percent of what is written here is true; all the characters really do bear a resemblance to persons you might know or have known. However, names of persons and places have occasionally been changed - always for a good reason.
Each account contains a message about growing up. Hopefully readers will be stimulated (perhaps sometimes irritated) by what they read. Either way, be critically open-minded, and try to formulate or recognise some kind of educational principles that underlie the anecdotes. Teaching and parenting are more than similar in their demands and requirements. Parents, teachers and housemasters/mistresses have exactly the same challenge - namely, young people in the process of becoming individuals of worth to society as a whole.
A school, in particular a boarding school, is a microcosm of society. This is the core thought for educators to keep in mind: 'I, too, used to be a child; I had to grow up; I had to become a member of the society.' The educative process aims at guiding the child to fulfil his or her potential. Self-discipline leads to freedom of choice, not to the choice to be free.
Spike van Schalkwijk
Headmaster: Settlers Agricultural High School (1985-1993)
The key to being a successful educator will be discovered somewhere among the opinions of Murphy:
♦Murphy's First Law: Nothing is as easy as it looks.
♦Murphy's Second Law: Everything takes longer than you expect it to.
♦Murphy's Third Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
♦Murphy's Fourth Law: If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
♦Murphy's Fifth Law: If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
♦Murphy's Sixth Law: If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
♦Murphy's Seventh Law: Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse. A corollary: After things have gone from bad to worse, the cycle will repeat itself.
♦Murphy's Eighth Law: If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
♦Murphy's Ninth Law: Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
♦Murphy's Tenth Law: Mother Nature is unpredictable
♦Murphy's Eleventh Law: It is impossible to make anything foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.
I drove for what seemed like hours. I drove slowly. Travelling north of Pretoria, away from the city, was something I always enjoyed. The typical bushveld vegetation became noticeable. Around the late nineteen-fifties serious technology had not yet reached the platteland, so the roads were narrow, unmarked, potholed, and poorly tarred or untarred altogether. A lone kudu furtively crossing the road would occasionally startle motorists. At night, jackal and small antelope might dash across the road. Some would be killed. It was not uncommon to mistake a tortoise in the road for a rock. The atmosphere and the bush-feel gave me pleasure.
'Flat' indeed was the world I had entered - aptly named the Springbok Flats, although no longer home to the herds of springbok that once roamed the plains. It was mid-afternoon, and in the distance, looming in a purple haze, was a gentle range of mountains, neatly lined along the horizon. Above them, the dark, grey-purple clouds were growing to boiling point. Between me and the horizon was a stretch of dark-green flat-topped acacia bush. The air was scented with a sweet dampness. The threatening storm, which could bring hail, made me a little anxious. The Springbok Flats are known for extreme weather patterns. Drought brought howling hot winds, taking with them the precious topsoil. The boiling clouds might carry enough hail to bury everything in sight.
Farming on the Flats has always been tough. One wonders what it is that keeps the farmers there, sometimes facing more adversity than success. I think I know. The attraction is spiritual. The Springbok Flats slowly absorb one's soul. The labour the 'Flats people' put into the rich red-and-black soil seems to anchor them there forever. Visitors who travel the Flats hardly notice the look-alike neighbouring villages, which became so well known to me in the thirty-five years of my life in Settlers. I came to know and respect their people. Although sparse in numbers, they have always been rich in hospitality. Gradually, I too become a 'Flats Person'. I soon knew when to run and shut windows, and expect the forces of nature to take over.
The triangular or circular stones, hand-sized or smaller, found in the area of the schools, are a reminder of the San people who once also enjoyed a home there. Far in the distance one can see the Waterberg Mountains, where the great man of science and philosophy, Eugene Marais, lived, wandered and researched. The two schools at Settlers - Lord Milner Primary and Settlers Agricultural High School - are landmarks of education and care in the area. I taught at both. I married, and we have two wonderful children. We had hundreds more children, but they belonged to other parents ...
The sign read 'Snooker Championships'. I took the lift upstairs to the snooker room. With about an hour to spare I could afford to watch a game I enjoyed. A smoke-filled room with eagle-eyed snooker players hunched over the green tables. There weren't many spectators at the morning session.
Towards the end of the room I spotted an open table. A note against it read Visitors'. So, I thought, while my car was being serviced, I may as well enjoy the open table.
A voice said, 'Like a game?' The speaker was tall and young, and seemed pleasant, with a twinkle in his eye and the shadow of a maturing beard on his chin. Probably an apprentice tradesman on holiday, was my first thought. `Okay, thanks,' I replied.
`Loser pays the drinks,' he said.
`Coke?' I asked.
`Beers,' he replied.
`Beers it is,' I agreed.
Game one. I paid for the frothy refreshments.
Game two. I paid again.
Game three. I lost once more, but Harry offered to pay.
`Call me Spike,' I said.
The next day was my first at my new school. The staff were seated together in the dining-hall. Gradually vacant places at tables were being filled by new pupils. Among the last of the newcomers, my eye caught what appeared to be a familiar face, though I couldn't be sure.
The new boy walked past our table. Ever so slightly, he turned his head and nodded at me. The twinkle in his eye and the shadow on his chin said it all.
The wind blasted across the only road through the village of Settlers. Imagine having to switch on the car's lights in the middle of the afternoon! A red haze swept across the windscreen, and red particles of earth chipped against the vehicle. For the farmers this wind storm would mean the loss of valuable topsoil.
I had no idea where the school was, so I had to ask directions. I glimpsed a general dealer shop as I slowly edged the car forward. As I stopped the car the headlights outlined a human form in front. Although he was almost completely obscured by the dust, I could make out that he was going through the motions of sweeping, with a broom. Struggling against the wind, I left my car and approached the `sweeper'. He peered at me from behind the brim of his crumpled hat, pulled tightly over his head.
Dag, Meester,' he said, giving a loud sniff, and coughed. He blinked the dust away.
`Middag, Meneer,' I replied. Do you perhaps know the way to the school?' He ignored me, looking down at the road. It was then that I focussed on the broom - a branch from a camel-thorn tree.
He held it carefully as he swept at the road without touching it. Several yellow chicks rushed off the road and dived under the wings of the mother hen. She squatted in the grass next to the road. Daar's hy,' remarked the sweeper. He held out his hand to greet me, and with the other he courteously touched his hat.
`Poen,' he said, Engelbreg. Can I help you?'
'The school,' I said, 'do you know where it is?'
'Daardie kant,' he said, and pointed through the curtain of dust.
'Thanks,' I said, and introduced myself.
Ja-nee,' said Poen, 'I can see you are a teacher.'
Really? How?' I asked.
`Man, it's in the eyes,' he replied. They sort of look around. It's like they're learning things.' He frowned, and then faced me eye to eye. 'Se vir my, Meester.' A pause followed. I felt that he was trying to read my thoughts. `Meester,' he said, in a deeper tone of voice, 'are you a member of the Commando?
' The Commando?' I repeated. Where are they?'
'Meester, hulle is ons manne!' I thought about this remark and its implications.
It wasn't too long before I graciously accepted the rank of rifleman and stood to attention for, among others, Korporaal Poen. I had found more than just the school.
This story is written with deep respect in memory of the late Poen Engelbreg.
Mr Milner insisted on 'short back and sides'. On his neck, just below the hairline, was a dark mole. Sometimes the barber would nick the mole. It bled slightly, and became more visible. In Afrikaans a mole is a `moesie'. The English-speaking pupils transcribed `moesie' into moose. So Henry Milner remained Moose until the day he turned seventy. At this time he was still head of the Maths Department, and concentrated on the matriculation pupils.
It was just after his 70th birthday that he passed away. This brief reference to him has much more significance than just a nickname. Moose and I were colleagues for my entire stay at Settlers, until his death. He was a mentor to all the staff. Teachers, like any professionals, need role models ... reminders.
The school was an array of buildings and strange faces. A swimming gala was on the go. I blended with the many visitors, and noticed that despite the inclement weather a good spirit of competition prevailed. Having spoken to the headmaster only on the 'phone, I could not put a face to him, so for a while I wandered around the grounds making myself at home.
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