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Monday, 01 March 2010

Kiff fan club assembles at Addo

The gang (Feb 2010)

Karen (nee Brennan)

Lesley (nee Brennan)

Cheryl van der Schyff (now Momberg)

You all know Liz!

Mrs Palthe and Kiff

Janny Thompson (Kiff's partner)

A little older, no less energetic

This is Kiff, 2010 model. Same, but better. He rekindled enjoyment through his presence at a picnic lunch reunion in Addo Elephant Reserve, Eastern Cape, February 2010.

He says he’s now 68, but there’s still a boyish quality to him. The stories that pour forth show it. Like recounting his underhand tactic as a 13-year-old in a Happy Acres dormitory – effectively forcing his counsellors to let him join their after-hours escapades. “I told them that if I was left behind, someone would have to report to Ma Holland that the counsellors weren’t there”.

It always was a puzzle how Kiff managed to be part of the gang, and yet not be seen as a spy for his mom. Not that there was much to spy on anyway – the escapades entailed sneaking off the property late at night to perform a sequenced-step march (with girl counsellors!) along the main road. When the lights of Magaliesburg were visible, Kiff says, they turned around and went back to camp. Daring stuff!

Someone at the Addo lunch recalled that Pa Holland once hid under a ping-pong table to try and catch counsellors playing vagrant. Presumably Kiff was never one of those “arrested”.

Somewhat greater dangers lurked at the happiest of acres, according to the reminisces that flowed:

* Like counsellors like Frances Sutton falling down crevices at Tonquani; Lesley Brennan (now Randles) getting bounced off a fence when it was hit by lightening (the zigzag later captured by Kiff in the t-shirt logo for that week’s camp).

* There was the camper called Pinkerton or Pernickety (or similar name) who complained unconvincingly on a hike that he had broken his arm, having fallen off the Lone Tree – after being forbidden from climbing it. After lugging his kit back to camp, it turned out he had indeed broken the bone. Kid had to spend a week in the Krugersdorp hospital till the swelling went down.

* Then there was Jurie from Romania, who did indeed, break his arm. It was pretty evident from the way it was dangling – although he wasn’t entirely convinced himself.

* Digby Prior took no chances: he was dubbed “sauna” because he wore an anorak non-stop, except for swimming. To manage campers in the pool was pretty challenging for counsellors, even with the buddy system enforced. But all survived.

* Dangers abounded like scalding wax and red-hot ancient irons for batik-making. Even crossing the road with campers and a three-legged dog. Once, a homesick seven-year-old camper absconded and ended up in Krugersdorp - safely.

* Ma Holland showed how it was done, by getting stung by a scorpion she was showing campers – she had let it run around her bare hand.

Son and mum

Maybe because Kiff wasn’t strict like Ma, the counsellors who experienced the two consecutive “regimes” at Happy Acres in the 60s and 70s, were predisposed to favour the son over the mum.

But Kiff indirectly reminded the Addo lunch that it was Ma who laid down the foundations. She had been the one, he recalled, who introduced the “sputnik” blast off to campers.

Liz Palthe, stalwart and counsellor supreme, described to the people at the Addo lunch how Ma’s clogs would beat out the rhythm on the dining room floor, stepping up the pace to reach a frenzy that in turn would be punctuated by the hissing of the firing engines.

I think Ma would have approved of the Addo gathering, despite the peals of laughter that disturbed the environs. Little wonder that our host Cheryl van der Schyff (now Momberg), put us at the far corner (she works at Addo – one of the few of us who managed to keep a connection to nature).

But from time to time, through the rich spekboom bos, and some people brazenly boasting about the Latin names of plants that they remember, the occasion was frequented by birds. Brave olive bulbuls and boubou shrikes ... intrigued by the shrieks of mirth as the memories poured out (faster than campers used to have to run through the showers).

The lunch event with Kiff, all the way from wintery Vancouver, stimulated seriously funny, but also sentimental, memories about the amazing experience it was for 15-year-olds to be harnessed to Kiff’s dynamo in his days as a 30-year old enthusiast for life and living.

No counsellor at that time regarded Kiff as their “boss”, although of course he was indeed in charge, and decisive, and his word was final. Lucky are those of us who later in life had bosses who were even half as lively, inspiring and energetic as Kiff. Even luckier are those, I guess, who were able to emulate the man’s character and style when and where we moved into managing people other than campers.

Don’t be a spectator in life, be a player, Kiff once told us. It sums up his philosophy.

Cheryl illustrated this by telling the lunch that she still has a counsellor’s handbook which reminds her of the message Kiff once gave her: “When you draw a picture of a crab, don’t colour it brown, use purples, yellows, greens, etc.”

Lesley “spaghetti legs” Brennan was at the Addo lunch, and she recalled the atmosphere of peace, awe and emotion at the final counsellors’ meeting at the end of every camp. Kiff, she recalled, would dish out envelopes with your honorarium, and give you feedback about the quality of your counselling. Lesley always had a buzz about her person; she still gives Kiff a run for his money, even approaching 40 years since she first gave him stick.

A broken nose

It was one of the evening counsellor meetings way back, Liz related one of her stories. She had, she told the lunch, dodged making tea by claiming that she wanted to check her restless dorm. Upon arriving there, she heard a “helluva” (hear her voice?) commotion, including someone saying “We’ll call Liz”. Swinging open the door, she loudly announced her arrival, her tone signalling her unchallengeable intention to sort things out.

Someone, it seemed, had snuck into the girls’ thatched-roof dorm, and been terrifying them by throwing lit matches around. Sensing that the intruder was behind her, Liz swung her arm around and bashed hurled the culprit– an older boy who lived in the neighbourhood. The blow hurled him out the door and against the wall. She whistled for help, and was heard by her brother Bert at the counsellors’ meeting. The police were called, but the teen had run away.

Some time later, Liz overheard someone asking the lad responsible if he had ever been to Happy Acres. “Nooit,” he replied. “Daar’s ‘n vroumens daar wat my neus gebreek het!” She felt quite proud of that.

But Liz' soft side appeared when she sent an MMS to Joy Garnett (now Mullin) who so wanted to be at the lunch, but couldn’t make it. And she had come along with her mom, Mrs Palthe, a familiar friend to many counsellors.

Cheryl had been one of the campers in the girls’ dorm that night when Liz bashed the trouble-maker. She remembered another story, less dramatic, but also dangerous. She and her fellow campers would push broomsticks through the thatch, and send someone outside to monitor just how successful they were. Imagine if Ma H had have caught them doing that!

I reminded people how Ma had particularly disliked the destructive side of kids – especially when they broke plants out of pure wantonness. Lucky she never knew about the teen witches with their broomsticks.

On another occasion, Cheryl and Lesley were counsellors in charge of a group of boys. When they wanted to abdicate responsibility and take it easy, they would simply call on their male counterparts under the pretext that they weren’t allowed in the boy’s dormitories. The guys never knew they were being manipulated.

All that took place down in the dorm block (Australia, New Zealand, Canada) with the upstairs Sing Sing and Treetops. Lesley remembered that that Adam Glaser had once dramatically appeared in a high up window at Sing Sing, when the campers were choosing costumes for plays. He called out authoritatively, “everyone hold it right there!” It was effective: everyone froze. And the image stuck in her mind.

It was Lesley’s sister, Karen, who at the lunch told of a camp time when there were just two 13 year-olds, not enough for a group. They were enlisted as reporters, recording the doings of all the other campers. One thing they may have missed, though was how the girl counsellors couldn’t get enough of Ian Mitchell. “We’d watch him swimming, and think – hey, stay in one spot,” said one of the luncheon gang.

This is the way of life

But time takes its toll and no one could fully meet Kiff’s request for the range of rainy day sports… beyond Beetle and the tossing of tennequoits around a small pole.

Kiff narrated a story of how a onetime counsellor buddy had agreed to source him a good watch to take along when he decided to emigrate to Canada. There was much protestation on Kiff’s part because the “Rolex” that he was brought looked highly unconvincing: it had no writing on the back about the number of jewels, waterproofing depth, etc.

Years later in Canada, and long after he had replaced the timepiece for a battery-operated (as opposed to wind-up) job, the erstwhile Magaliesberg boy went to a jeweller to have the device serviced. He was offered $2000 for it.

True value, it seems, appreciates over time. It’s now, so many years later, that we can look back longer and appreciate how much Kiff’s influence shaped us for the better.

Today Kiff has a new partner, Janny, who has an 11-year-old daughter called Ali. They were also at the lunch. The pair join a long line of people enriched by a wonderful person, an artist of people (and paint) whose contribution to the planet is cause for increasing pleasure as the years tick on.

- Guy Berger

Saturday, 07 June 2008

Meeting Kiff in Vancouver

He's whiter around the head, but still exuding energy as always. Looks increasingly like Pa Holland, but none of his dad's laid-backness here. Instead, there's the old mischievous laughter and gleam in the eye!

That's the picture of Kiff who treated me to sushi today. Ok, the grub is not quite in the league of Happy Acres chicken-a-la-king followed by trifle (nothing can be), but it was still 'blerry lekker', believe me. We met in North Vancouver - close to where he now rents a mega-sized art studio in which he intends to paint giant sized paintings.

This how he spends his time: He runs occasional four day master classes up at Whistler mountain, and enjoys his annual get together with other artists at Painter's Hotel. Recently, he got the second highest votes in the Canadian Society of Watercolour Artists to be part of a panel of judges for an art contest in the US. Appropriate recognition.

Here's what he paints in: (not Crocs, some other brand).

Kiff's also still teaching twice a week at Capilano college (now University), where he's initiated a students' graphic art and painting calender project that earns Canadian dollars 160 000 a year, and funds a student visit to New York annually and a couple of scholarships. No surprises about the man's entrepreneurial prowess!

There have been a couple of moves in the past few years, including out of a flat which he bought after a visit and enjoyed the music being played at the time. Only to find out later that the estate agent had deliberately been drowning out terrible traffic noise. There's also a new partner in his life, a psychologist named Janis, and he plans to bring her and her daughter to see the country that shaped his youth - maybe in the first couple of months next year.

As to Janet's sons, Jeff (Robin) is teaching high school learners, and David advising government lawyers appearing in high-level court cases.

Still bubbling with that youth, he remembers names and details of campers and counsellors far better than me ...and probably many others of us in the HA network.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Megan Jackson

Megan Jackson (nee Heller) was a camper and counsellor in the 1970s. Like most people, she'd lost touch with the gang - but synchronicity was at work: she bumped into Kiff on the Blue Train when he visited SA back in 2002. And that brought her to the reunion event at Liz Palthe's BushTrails the same year.

Megan fell victim to Guillain-Barre Syndrome in May 2008, and passed away. She left her husband Eddie and daughter Kirsty. According to Kirsty, Megan "really enjoyed chatting about her times spent at Happy Acres. Her absolute favourite was to burst into song and sing 'my high silk hat' at the top of her lungs."

I remember Megan as an unforgettably vibrant person, with a real zest for life. A person who was very kind and considerate, and who exhibited the Happy Acres spirit of making a meaningful life for yourself. Go well, Megan.

Guy Berger

Megan and Kirsty at the reunion, 2002

Wednesday, 02 May 2007

Speech by Kiff, Magaliesberg, 2002 reunion

Kiff Holland: Magaliesburg, April 21, 2002.

Happy Acres is about my mother’s private fantasies that became shared property. For some of you, it was a scheme that Janet and I had. But it was a scheme that was passed down from the foresight of my parents.

I wish I was cleverer and a wordsmith to put down all the things that came into the mix of influences that came to bear on the people that you all are. Influences that, after 30 years, you can get together and have these wonderful relationships, based on a common grounding in your lives. It is much more than an esprit de corps.

You’ve expanded on everything Happy Acres taught you. All of you had the potential to be more than you could be. My parents started the camp that could help you do this. Some of it rubbed off onto me. And it gave you the chance as well.

Happy Acres was not about Ma and Pa Holland, or Kiff and Janet. It was an honest bringing together of a group of young people who, through all our combined efforts, were willing to go for a goal, and to make the place work. If it had not have been for you, Happy Acres would not have existed. So this occasion today is not for me, but for you. Thank you.

People, partners at reunion Jnb April 07

John Ferreira, Liz Palthe Jnb April 07

Adam Glasser, Bert Palthe, John Ferreira Jnb April 07

Peter Musto, Bert Palthe Jnb April 07

John Ferreira, Liz Palthe Jnb April 07

Liz Palthe, Peter Musto, Guy Berger Jnb April 07

Bert Palthe, John Ferreira, Liz Palthe Jnb April 07

Adam Glasser Pat Klep Jnb April 07

Francis Moodie, Liz Palthe, Adam Glasser: Jnb April 07

Tuesday, 01 May 2007

For reminisces & some pix incl 2002 reunion

Click here

1. Does anyone remember how "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree -ee" was changed to "Mr Holland sits in the old settee -ee"?

Kicking it off:

Here we go ... in tribute to Ma and Pa Holland, Kiff and Janet. Let's get those memories rolling. And don't forget to add your bit to the inventory of songs, plants and dances! See the links in the top left menu.