Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “memories”

Embrace (book review): recollections of childhood

EmbraceEmbrace by Mark Behr

A book about a 13-year-old boy in Standard 6 (Grade 8) in the Drakensberg Boys Choir School.

It’s a long book (over 700 pages) and written partly in “stream of consciousness” style. It follows Karl De Man though his school year, but it also jumps back to his memories of earlier events in his life, from his earliest childhood.

The novel is semi-autobiographical, as the protagonist, like Behr himself, was born in Tanganyika (before it united with Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania). When he was 2 years old the family moved to South Africa where his father became a game ranger for the Natal Parks Board, and he then attended the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School from the age of 11. The main period covered by the book is his third year at the school, when he develops a crush on one of the teachers and also on a fellow pupil, as well as a girlfriend whom he sees in the holidays, who is two years older than him.

Another teacher recognises his ability in art and writing, but his macho father wants him to ignore his talents and prepare for a more lucrative career, even if it is in fields that don’t really interest him. So a lot of the book deals with teenage angst, and probably quite authentically, since it is based on the author’s personal experience.

The chronology is at times confusing, as the “present” moves through his year at school, but there are conversations in which he refers to previous events in his life, which he later recalls in stream of consciousness fashion. He also tries to sort out what are genuine memories, and what he has been told by others, and he becomes quite lyrical in his descriptions of the Mfolozi, Hluhluwe and Mkuzi game reserves where he lived until the age of about 7.

I found that in some parts the book, like Frankie and Stankie, was evocative of my own childhood and life. Both books mentioned not only childhood experiences that were similar to mine, but also people whom I had met in real life, though not as a child — Alan Paton in Embrace, and Ken and Jean Hill, and John and Andy Argyle in Frankie and Stankie.

At one point he writes of shooting mousebirds with an air rifle, and I remember doing that, standing in our paddock, and shooting at mousebirds in the almond trees. I was with someone else, I forget who, and my mother stormed out, very angry, and said she would confiscate my air rifle if she ever caught me shooting birds again. Eventually the air rifle was given to a younger cousin, but I sometimes wish, in my more xenophobic moments, that I still had it to take pot shots at Indian mynahs, exotic birds that tend to drive indigenous birds away.

Another similar childhood experience was when he was riding a horse behind another, which kicked him, and he had to have stitches in his knee. I recalled being kicked by pony Tom, on the sole of my foot, in similar circumstances. I could recall the cold and the wet and my bare feet in the stirrups, my wet jeans, my wet shirt clinging to me, and down below the Jukskei River, flowing through Lyndhurst. I thought he had kicked me on the knee too, but perhaps that was another occasion, and I remember my knee being bruised and swollen, though not so that I needed stitches.

But memory is funny. What I wrote in my original diary I don’t know. I still have the blue 1953 one from McDonald Adams that my father gave me, but the 1954 one, with a maroon cover, is lost. But what I wrote in it at the time was simply an aide memoire, to remind me when it had happened. My pony Tom had run away, and I chased him on our other horse Brassie. Five years later I wrote it down more fully, and ten years later I rewrote it, adding to it from what I remembered of the day — how Tom had run away from home, and I jumped on to our other horse Brassie, not even stopping to put shoes on, and caught up with him at Lyndhurst. At the time I was 12 yeas old, a little younger than the protagonist of Embrace. I could not get Tom to come home, and eventually put him in someone’s garage for the night, and returned for him the next day when I had dry clothes and shoes on.

With my pony Tom, March 1953

But now all I have as a memory is a snapshot, a single image of me sitting on Brassie, the feel of cold and wetness, and the cold slipperiness of the wet metal stirrup, and Tom flicking his hooves up and kicking the sole of my foot, and the anger I felt at him. The rest of what I wrote is like a story told by someone else. I know I chased him down to Lyndhurst, but I cannot recall the route I took, or even the garage where I wrote that he stayed overnight, or how I got him back home. There is just the single image of the cold, the rain, the wind and the kick. And Behr writes about memories like that. He recalls his father teaching him to shoot with a revolver at the age of five, but his father does not recall, or denies that he does. Memories of events seem to become compressed into snapshots, single images and one cannot recall what led up to them or what followed. So it is a book about memory and recall, and the narratives that shape our lives.

There were also considerable differences, however. Mark Behr describes the racist and white supremacist views of many of the pupils and teachers at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in the 1970s. It was a private fee-paying school, and therefore under no obligations to give the National Party indoctrination that went on in government schools, but apparently it did. When I was the protagonist’s age I attended St Stithians College in the 1950s, and I don’t recall such racist attitudes among the teachers at all, and relatively rarely among the pupils.

The headmaster at St Stithians, Wally Mears, used to provide magazines for the common room, and when I went to fetch them one day he explained the selection — The Motor and Autocar for those interested in cars, Flight for boys interested in aircraft, Amateur Photography for those interested in photography, and Contact “because it’s best on the position of the natives,” as Mears put it.  Contact was the journal of the Liberal Party, which was then the only legal non-racial political party in South Africa, and was forced to disband about 10 years later when multiracial political parties were banned by the National Party regime.

Another thing that struck me, which has nothing to do with the content, was that the publishers (Abacus) had obviously paid no heed to the adage “Putt knot yore trussed in spell chequers.” The book really could have made use of a human editor, but was apparently produced by an el-cheapo publisher who tried to save money by dispensing with their services and relying on a semi-literate typist using a spelling checker. Among the numerous errors were “in cohort with” where “in cahoots with” was obviously intended, and “pallet” instead of “palate”.

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Old friends met or remembered

In the last few weeks we have made contact with a lot of old friends, or their families. All of them were friends from student days in the 1960s, and all of them had attended conferences of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF) at Modderpoort in the Free State in 1963-1965. So these meetings brought back memories of student years. Perhaps others who were there will see this and also make contact.

Nomtha and Antony Gray

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

First was Nomtha and Antony Gray. Nomtha is the daughter of my friend Stephen Gawe, and she contacted me through a blog post she read, in which I described our experiences of culture shock when we went to the UK to study.

Nomtha’s father Stephen Gawe was a student at Fort Hare, and was elected vice-president of the Anglican Students Federation in 1963. He was also on the committee of the national Students Christian Association (SCA) which, in 1964, was on the verge of being torn apart by apartheid. The ASF was a unified federation for all Anglican students at universities, teacher training colleges and theological seminaries. The SCA had four sections — Afrikaans, English, Black and Coloured, and the Afrikaans section wanted these four sections to become completely separate from each other, and Stephen Gawe had to attend executive meetings where this was discussed. He also attended the annual congress of Nusas (the National Union of South African Students) so for him the July vacation was rush of going from one congress to another.

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

In August 1964 Stephen Gawe was detained by the Security Police under the 90-day detention law, along with 3 other students and was held for several months. Eventually he was charged with being a member of the then-banned ANC, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. His father was the Anglican parish priest at Zwelitsha, near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.

On his release from prison he was banned. He applied for, and was given, an exit permit, which allowed him to go to study in the UK The exit permit was given on condition that he never returned to South Africa, so it was, in effect, permission for permanent exile.

He studied at Oxford University, and while he was there he married Tozie Mzamo, on 19 August 1967 (click here to see wedding pic etc).

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

On completing his studies he became a social worker in Southampton, and he and Tozie had two daughters, Nomtha and Vuyo. After the first democratic elections in 1994 he was able to return to South Africa and he joined the diplomatic service. We had a reunion in July 2001, just before he went to take up a new post as Ambassador to Denmark.

Ten years later his daughter Nomtha got in touch after reading the blog post that mentioned his wedding, and when she and her husband Antony visited South Africa in December 2015 we met them off the Gautrain and had a drink together in Centurion. It was really good to meet them.

Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba

Then last week there was another comment on a blog post by Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, who said I had mentioned her father, Sechaba Noel Lebenya, in the post on Tales from Dystopia II: Enemies of the State. I was writing about an official list of enemies of the apartheid state, and listed those I knew, or thought I knew.

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

So I wrote to her, and said I had met a Noel Lebenya at the Anglican Students Federation Conference at Modderpoort in July 1964, and I thought he was possibly the person on the list. I fished out an old photo of him taken at the conference, and she confirmed that it was her father, and said that he had died in 2005.

In July 1964 he was a 1st-year social work student at the University College of the North at Turfloop, and he lived at KwaThema, near Springs. Another friend, Cyprian Moloi, who had been a student at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice the previous year, and had been at that year’s ASF conference, was serving as a deacon in KwaThema, and those of us who were not (like Stephen Gawe) attending other student conferences, spent quite a bit of the rest of the vacation running around seeing each other, and talking incessantly about anything and everything.

I also found a group photo of several of us at Modderpoort, all wearing blankets, because Modderpoort was one of the coldest places in South Africa, and the winter of 1964 was one of the coldest winters ever. I had borrowed my mother’s car to drive to Pietermaritzburg and take some fellow students to Modderpoort, and as we drove up Van Reenen’s Pass with a full load the engine temperature dropped to “cold” and the heater stopped working — the water was simply not hot enough to warm the cold air. From Bethlehem to Modderpoort we passed patches of snow — but the snow had fallen a fortnight earlier.

Henry Bird, David Shory, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

Henry Bird, David Short, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

I lost touch with Noel Lebenya after 1965. I went to study overseas in 1966, and on my return in 1968 I was in Durban and then Namibia. His daughter Palesa filled me in on some of the details, but her parents separated when she was quite young, so she is still hoping to learn more details of his life.  He seems to have spent some time on Robben Island, and perhaps with his social work background he was starting a centre for the disabled in Daveyton in the early 1990s and continued to work on it for about 10-12 years.

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Palesa Vuyelawa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

It was good to have news of him from his daughter Palesa, and the picture of him, looking older (don’t we all?). Palesa completed her LlB degree at the University of Johannesburg last year, and is now articled as an attorney, but the picture is of her half-sister’s graduation.

Of the other people in the blanket photo, I last saw Henry Bird in the early 1980s. He was living in Eshowe, and working as an estate and general agent, when we were living in Melmoth. David Short visited us in 1987, and is living in Bedfordshire, England, where he is a shepherd; he has a web site here. I saw Jerry Mosimane in Johannesburg a few times in 1968, after my return from studying in England, but lost touch with him after moving to Durban.

Martin and Wendy Goulding

Yesterday we visited Martin and Wendy Goulding in Melville, Johannesburg. Martin also attended ASF conferences in the early 1960s, and we have seen them more often, since they were living in Durban when I went there in 1969.

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin has retired as a chemist in a glue factory, and they usually live in a cottager in the Drakensberg foothills, but they were in Johannesburg to help their daughter Elizabeth with their latest grandchild, Rebecca, aged just four weeks when we visited.

When we were students Martin had an old Morris Minor and we did some of our frenetic running around and seeing people in that, except that it often broke down, and so the journeys either took longer than expected, or had to be completed with another vehicle.

In July 1965 he drove to Johannesburg from Durban to give me a lift back to Pietermaritzburg for the next university term. The car died in Villiers, and he had to hitchhike the rest of the way. We hitchhiked back to Villiers, and discovered that the car dynamo was dead. We spend an uncomfortable night sleeping in the car, and fortunately discovered someone in Villiers who could sell us another dynamo on a Sunday morning.

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Back in Durban Martin said that one of the stories that had always impressed him was the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic, and while the ship was sinking the orchestra sat on the deck playing “Nearer my God to thee”. We then went for a drive in the Morris Minor, with Martin sitting on the roof playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his ‘cello. A traffic cop stopped us and stopped our fun by insisting that all passengers must be inside the vehicle.

Barbara van der Want

Perhaps the most astounding of all these old friends meetings was when we had knocked on the Gouldings’ gate, and Martin had just opened it to let us in, I heard someone calling me from across the street, and it turned out to be Barbara van der Want (formerly Hutton), who happened to be passing at that moment and saw me.

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison) and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

I knew she lived just down the road at Westdene, but I hadn’t seen her since about 1973. She too had been at most of these student gatherings in the 1960s. We did not have much time to talk, as she was off to a meeting, but she did have time to tell me that another friend, Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) had died last year.

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick).at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick). at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

One of the memories we chatted about with the Goulding was of a journey we had taken in a short September vacation in 1965. We were meant to go in Martin Goulding’s Morris Minor, but it broke down, and we went in a borrowed car from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg — Martin, Pam Taylor, Isobel Dick (now Beukes) and me.

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

After seeing friends in Johannesburg, we went east to Holy Rood Mission, on the Swaziland border near Piet Retief, and spent the night there. It was just the four of us, sitting round a table lit by candles and paraffin lamps, and we were telling each other the sad stories of our love life, tales of unrequited love.

When it was late, and we were about to go to bed Pam disappeared, and came back and gave us each a card, on which was printed. “Thank you for telling me your story. It is the saddest story I have ever heard. Please accept this card as a token of my deepest sympathy.” She said her father had had them printed to give to people who came to him with sob stories. And now it was sad to hear that Pam had died.

It has definitely been old friends month.

And perhaps there is just space for a couple more pictures and stories.

Cyprian Moloi

Cyprian Moloi

Martin Goulding playing "Nearer my God to thee" on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

Martin Goulding playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

After one of those student conferences at Modderpoort a group of us went to a Sunday service at Meadowlands, which was Cyprian Moloi’s home parish (that was when he was still a student, before he was ordained). There was quite a big group of us, with John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits, and his family. Mark Davies, aged 4, was deaf, and John Davies said that the only way a deaf child could see what the church was about was if people in the church showed him love, and did not scold him for being too noisy, as he had no idea how much noise he was making.

After the service we were gathered found the door, and Barbara van der Want (Hutton), leaned forward to look around some people to see Mark Davies coming out of the church, and Cyprian pulled out a packet of cigarettes and offered her one saying, “All right, I know what you want.” All the smokers roared with laughter. As a non-smoker, I didn’t get it at first, but it appeared that at the conference Barbara had been bumming cigarettes off everyone so that she no longer had to ask.

That same night I borrowed a friend’s motorbike to take Barbara home to Kensington , where she lived. It was a puny 75cc bike, and could not make it over Sylvia Pass with both of us aboard, so we went the long way round via Gilooly’s farm. We planned to go to Evensong at Barbara’s home parish of St Andrew’s. Because of the detour, we were late, and because of the cold, we were both wearing blankets, as we did at Modderpoort. That set the cat among the pigeons. Churches were a good deal more fussy about how one dressed in those days, and the following Sunday the Rector, Tom Comber, preached a special sermon on it, in which he said that the only garment one needs to wear to church is the garment of charity.

And to close off, here’s an extract from my diary for 3 July 1964, at the ASF conference, which mentions both Stephen Gawe and Noel Lebenya.

I woke up feeling sick, so did not go to Mass, but got up for breakfast at 8 am. Then Miss D. Aitken, principal of the Rhenish High School at Stellenbosch, spoke on Evolution, Science and Christianity, which was largely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

In the afternoon the Bishop of Bloemfontein gave a review of The Primal Vision which was interesting, but not of much use to people who had not read the book, and most hadn’t. Reports from discussion groups showed that most people had dismissed it as being of no value whatever.

In the evening we sang songs, and then later on a few of us – John de Beer, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Gawe and I, sat around talking long after midnight. Noel told us about his many girlfriends, and his steady in Bloemfontein. The rest of us argued with him about this – saying that if he expected to be able to trust his steady, she should be able to trust him. He is a nice guy, went to school in Thaba Nchu, and then worked for a while, and is now in his first year at Turfloop, doing social work. He had taken to wearing a blanket around the place, and it seems to suit him. His grandfather was a Mosotho.

Everyone else drifted off to bed, and only Stephen Gawe and I were left. We played a couple of games of chess – he beat me easily both times. Then we talked about people at the conference, and who would be suitable to elect to the executive at the AGM tomorrow. Mike Stevenson was the obvious choice for President, if he would stand again. Stephen thought Clive Whitford for Vice-President, and I thought Jeremiah Mosimane would be better. He is doing 2nd year BA at Turfloop. We both thought Mavourneen Moffett would be good as Secretary. Then, as it was about 4 am, we said Mattins together, and prayed, and went to bed, lying next to the fire in the common room.

One of the nice things about blogging is that it one suddenly gets discovered by old friends, or their children, so the last few weeks have been very interesting.

The missing ghosts in my life

Ghost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South AfricaGhost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck

I haven’t finished the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but rather some thoughts inspired by some of the bits I’ve read so far, that mention places that are familiar to me, or at least that I have been to.

Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and there is an overlap between urban legends and ghost stories, especially in the legend of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Hitchhikers have now vanished in more than one sense, and I’ve written something about that here and here.

In one of his earlier books Goldstuck mentioned the Uniondale ghost as a story belonging to this genre and he has dealt with it more fully in this book. I found it quite interesting as I recently travelled the road in question, though when he mentioned the Barendas turn-off the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I looked it up on a map I did find that the road we had travelled along passed a railway halt called Barandas. Perhaps the ghost entered the typesetting machine to add a little more mystery to the story.

The story is of a motorcyclist who have a hitchhiker a lift, and lent her his spare crash helmet, and a little further on he felt the bike swerve a bit, and looked round and the hitchhiker had gone, and the helmet was in its usual place.

We travelled that road four years ago, and again in September this year. On Friday 29 April 2011 we drove down the N9 from Graaff Reinet, noting the empty dam on the Groot Rivier (a trickle), and about 40 km south of Willowmore we turned west on to the R341, leading to De Rust. I think this is what Arthur Goldstuck refers to as “the Barendas turn-off”.

We had only gone a few kilometres when an ambulance came the other way, lights flashing, and the driver signalled to us, and stopped, so we stopped, and he asked if we had seen an accident involving a motorbike. We said we hadn’t so he turned around and passed us going the same way we were, and past the turnoff to Uniondale we came to the scene of the accident. The ambulance had obviously come up from Uniondale and hadn’t known which way to turn.

We didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, but passed by sending up a silent prayer for the rider, since the ambulance was there. Now, having read the stories in the book, I wonder if we had stopped, would we have found that the accident was caused by a ghostly hitchhiker?

The other thing that struck me in the book was the mention of the Sandringham Dip. I lived for 6 years at Sunningdale, on the ridge above the dip in question, from the age of 7-13, and four years down the hill in Sandringham itself. The dip actually leads from Silvamonte to Senderwood, and as you go that way the grounds of the Rietfontein Hospital were on the left, and on the right was the Huddle Park Golf Course. At the bottom of the dip is a stream, a tributary of the Jukskei, which runs between Sandringham and the golf courses. As a child I used to play in the stream, and I went through the dip many times, by car, bicycle and on horseback. I rode on horseback with friends to see another friend who lived in Bedfordview, and a little way up the hill past the dip was a gate that opened to the Huddle Park golf course. When the gate wasn’t locked we would take a short cut through the gofd course, galloping down the fairways. There was a danger of being hit by a sliced ball perhaps, but we were more afraid of municipal officials who might accuse us of trespassing and make us go back. Nothing could be further from our minds than the fear of ghosts.

Goldstuck mentions a grave at the bottom of the dip. I never saw that, but I did know of a graveyard at the top of the hill beyond the dip, and took photos of it because I thought it was picturesque, with mouldy wooden monuments and crosses rotting under the trees.It may have been the graves of people who died in the hospital, but I doubted it. It was too far from the main hospital, and looked more like old farm graves.

As children we also used to ride on horseback through the grounds of Rietfontein Hospital, because there were plenty of wide-open spaces, which were (and are) getting harder to find in an increasingly urbanised landscape. We gave the hospital buildings (a few old Victorian houses) a wide berth, partly because of the fear of Authority, which might chase us away, and also because it was an isolation hospital for infectious diseases, and we were afraid of catching something.

More recently I have been in correspondence with people who are concerned about proposals to develop the site, because apparently a lot of people who died at the hospital have been buried there over the years, and local history groups believe that these sites should be respected.

So I seem to have missed the ghosts. Though I was in the right places, obviously it was at the wrong time.

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In Memoriam: the public telephone

The growing popularity of cell phones has made public telephones quite rare these days, and perhaps the day is coming when very few people will remember them at all, so perhaps a few reminiscences will be in order.

Old pre-decimal tickey

Old pre-decimal tickey

When I was young, phone calls from a public phone booth cost a tickey. A tickey was the smallest coin, worth 3d before 1961, and 2 1/2c thereafter. In 1961 we switched to decimal currency, and a shilling, previously divided into 12 pence, was divided into 10 cents.

As a rouch guide, you could say that money was then worth 100 times what it is worth today. One Rand today is worth about what one cent was worth in 1961. So, in todays terms, a phone call from a public phone booth cost about R2.50 in today’s money.

Long-distance calls were more expensive, in both relative and absolute terms, than they are now, and you couldn’t make them by dialling from public phones — you’d have to ask the operator to connect you and deposit the requisite number of coins. Overseas calls were unthinkable. A call to Britain cost three pounds for three minutes. There were 80 tickeys in a pound, which meant that you would have to deposit 240 tickeys to make a 3-minute phone call.

Back then public phone booths were cylindrical affairs that looked as if they were made from a concrete pipe, with a door and a conical roof, so it was difficult for people outside to see what was going on inside.

 

Old-style phone booth

Old-style phone booth

Now that is the kind of picture where, if you see it on Facebook, people say “Click ‘like’ if you remember this”. You can click “like” if you like (see below), but it would be more fun if you actually shared some of your memories of these in the comments section. And a hat-tip to Paul Galowey of Cape Town Daily Photo for the picture. Those old phone booths are a rare sight nowadays, and I can’t remember when I last saw one.

When I was young one of the advantages of the design was that it was hard for people outside to see what you were doing inside, and so it was easy to resort to various tricks to get free phone calls. In those days all the public phones used pulse dialling, and you could fool the phone by jiggling the handset rest at roughly the same speed that the numbers were dialled. So, if the number began with 32 you would go tap-tap-tap pause tap-tap, and so on.

Another method of getting free calls was to use a “long tickey”. The “long tickey” was a piece of wire which you inserted in a hole in the handset, and earthed the other end, usually on the metal grille that covered the light, at the point at which you would have inserted the coin (when the other party answered).

The tickey coin was abolished in 1965.

In that year a new series of smaller coins were introduced, with the silver coins being replaced by nickel ones. The new 5c piece was a little bigger than the old tickey, and the public phone booths were converted to take those. I remember the first time we encountered one. I was travelling back to Pietermaritzburg from Grahamstown with some friends, and we needed to phone home for some reason, and we stopped in Ixopo to do so, at the post office, where there was a public telephone booth. But it only took the new coins, and we didn’t have any, and had never seen any. It was late, and the post office was closed, so we had to rush around the town looking for an open shop to find if they could give usb some in change. We dicovered that if you dropped the new coins they didn’t clink like real money, but clattered like plastic buttons.  We were not impressed.

 

St Stithians College after 60 years

My old school, St Stithians College, is celebrating its jubilee this year, 60 years after its founding. Yesterday they arranged a reunion of sorts, of those who had been at the school from 1953-1957. Our recent holiday in Namibia took me back 40 years into the past, this took me back 60 years. Only one of my classmates was there, Chris Aitken, who had been in the same class from 1953-1956. But there was no one there from my matric class of 1958. What a bunch of old fogeys we were! I didn’t recognise anyone, and I don’t think anyone recognised me, without looking at the name tags.

St Stithians jubilee reunion, 7 June 2013

St Stithians jubilee reunion, 7 June 2013

It started with a service in the chapel, and with the usual Gauteng traffic jams I arrived 10 minutes late — it still takes more than an hour and a half coming from Pretoria. The chapel was packed — they obviously can’t fit the whole school, with more than 2000 pupils, in there now, so it was just the senior boys, grade 8 and over. The next day there was to be a celebration involving the whole school, which was to be held on the playing fields, because there was no indoor space big enough to hold them all.

Jubilee service in St Stithians College chapel, 7 June 2013

Jubilee service in St Stithians College chapel, 7 June 2013

The school chaplain, the Revd Dan Nkomo, spoke, and Alastair Stewart showed something of how the school had developed in the last 60 years. A choir called “The Dukes” sang a couple of things, and once again I was impressed by their musical prowess, which was way ahead of anything that we had had back then.

Then we went on a walkabout, touring the school under the guidance of the head of the boys’ college, Dave Knowles. When St Stithians started in 1953 the school was one, but now it is divided into four — a boys’ college, a girls’ college, a boys’ prep and a girls’ prep, each with its own head, and a Rector in charge of the whole lot. So the biggest change was the sheer size of the place, and the facilities, like WiFi everywhere, that were beyond our wildest dreams in 1953.

One of the things that sold me on St Stithians when I first went there was that it seemed to be on the technological cutting edge compared with other schools that I had been to. The boarding houses were wired, not for the Internet, in 1953, but for radio. Each bedside was equipped with earphone sockets and a volume control, and the idea was that the housemaster would switch on the radio at lightsout at 9:30, and we could listen to it before going to sleep. It never worked properly, however, at least not in the first couple of  years. And then demand for boarding accommodation exceeded the space available, so they put four beds in a dorm room designed for three, so the fourth bed did not have an earphone jack. But by my final year it was working after a fashion, and every Monday night we listened avidly to Strangers from space. It started rather scarily with a news item about global warming, and the polar ice caps melting, and the sea levels rising, and scientists trying to discover the cause. It sounded quite real. That got us hooked. After a few episodes it became apparent that the author was running out of ideas, and after about a year it fizzled out, but it was quite exciting when it started.

When I first went to St Stithians in 1953 I was in one of those three-bed rooms, with Chris Aitken and Edward Reeves. Then Edward Reeves broke his arm and moved to a single room, and we were joined by Peter Wallis, a new boy who arrived halfway through the year, and mysteriously disappeared at the end of it. In 1954 we were joined by Billy Glass, and he too was at the reunion.

Biully Glass, Steve Hayes and Chris Aitken -- 60 years later

Billy Glass, Steve Hayes and Chris Aitken — 60 years later

I think back then I was 12 years old, Chris Aitken was 13, and Billy Glass 14, and we looked a lot different from what we do today. There’s a picture here showing two of us back then — can you guess who we are without looking at the caption?

But going round the school was also a somewhat fractured experience. A housemaster told us how the boarding houses are divided into “family” units, each with a master in charge. He said that there was not much fagging, as there had been in boarding schools in the old days. And I felt as if I was in a time warp. Harking back to 1953 seemed to be taking a trip into the future, because there had never been fagging at St Stithians in our day. It may have existed in other privatre schools in South Africa, but it was known mainly as a throwback to English public schools of 60 years earlier. It was the kind of thing that in the 1950s we read about in books like Biggles goes to school, which was set in the pre-First World War period, which seemed to be in a remote past almost impossible to imagine. And yet we were stepping out of a past that must seem just as remote to the present pupils of St Stithians. Apartheid? What’s that? Something you learn about in history lessons, perhaps.

And yet the present St Stithians seemed in some ways to belong to that remote past. All my fellow old boys were wearing suits and ties, or at the very least, blazers and ties. And the pupils all addressed us as “Sir”. I thought that had disappeared from schools long ago. It felt, in some ways, like the “Stepford wives”.

We were taken to some of the old classrooms, the ones that had been built when we were at the school. And we were told that the first headmaster, Wally Mears, had incorporated his philosophy of educzation into bricks and mortar. He believed in small classes, and the classrooms were built small, with load-bearing walls between them, which made it rather difficult to knock two of them into three, which had been done. And Wally Mears had brought in Steyn Krige, whose progressive ideas about education and discipline had got him thrown out of the school in 1969. His name has returned to the school, as one of the new blocks is named after him, but evidently his ideas have not.

So in some ways St Stithians seems a bit further back in the past than it was in 1953. In the first couple of years there were no fags and no prefects, and on the first day, there were no rules. Wally Mears said, to the first pupils who had just arrived, and didn’t know each other at all, “You will make the rules by your own behaviour.” Even the talk of fags seemed odd. The word has changed its meaning since 1893.

But I suppose that back in the 1950s we didn’t look all that much different from the present-day pupils. Here’s a picture of some of my friends from my matric year, 1958.

Adrian Callard, John Bolton, David Curtis, Stephen Hayes: St Stithians, 1958

Adrian Callard, John Bolton, David Curtis, Stephen Hayes: St Stithians, 1958

And two of those who appear in the following picture were at the reunion event yesterday — Iain Thornton and Owen Walton.

Iain Thornton, John Bolton, Owen Walton: St Stithians, 1958

Iain Thornton, John Bolton, Owen Walton: St Stithians, 1958

Those are just a few of the memories and reflections evoked by the gathering, and it was a very pleasant and well-organised affair, and ended with an excellent lunch kindly provided by the St Stithians Alumni Association.

Mirbane: In Memoriam

Back in 1961, more than 50 years ago now, a friend of mine, Sam Turner, found an old car parked in the garage in the house where he was lodging. The landlord told him that it belonged to a former tenant, who had left it there when he had moved to Naboomspruit. We wrote to him and asked if we could take it for a drive, and possibly buy it from him. It was a 1936 Austin Ten, and to us it seemed enormously ancient. having been made before either of us was born.

Mirbane, with Steve Hayes and Sam Turner, Johannesburg, |February 1961

We took it out of the garage, and, mirabile dictu, it started. We drove it around, and the owner agreed to sell it for R50.00. He also agreed to renew the licence and 3rd party insurance. A car could not be registered in the name of a new owner until it had passed a roadworthy test, and we thought it might need some work before it could achieve that. It had been registered in Barkly West in the Northern Cape, where the previous owner had worked before, but it appeared that it would have to be reregistered in Naboomspruit. So its number changed from CAG 1595 to TNS 784.

We thought it needed a name, and Sam found the name Mirbane in a dictionary, which said that it was “of obscure origin”. Oil of mirbane was another name for nitrobenzine, a substance rumoured in those days to make cars go faster when added to the petrol. The picture shows it on the first day we took it for a drive after getting it out of the garage.

The only problem was that the clutch did not work, so every time it stopped someone had to get out and push to get it moving in order to get it into gear. Nevertheless, that evening I used it to drive across town and take another friend to a party, praying all the while that we would not encounter an uphill stop street.

Mirbane with the Prestons’ Volvo Sport

Sam decided to pull it apart and put it together again, and spent just about every weekend doing that, with occasional help from his friends. He took out the engine, and took the body off the chassis, and cleaned it. After about 6 months, it was ready for a test drive, so we took it for a spin, with no bonnet, no dynamo, no headlights, and no fan belt. We visited my friend Mike Preston, and parked it in their driveway next to his father’s Volvo Sport, which, despite its rather old-fashioned appearance (even for those days) was one of the best-performing saloon cars on the road.

On another occasion, doing a similar test drive, a traffic cop overtook us in Johannesburg Road in Lyndhurst. He ignored the lack of lights and obviously unroadworthy condition of the car, and homed in on the lack of third-party insurance disc, and wrote a ticket for that.

I was driving, so I was the one who had to go to court. I sat with sinking heart as half a dozen similar cases came up before mine, and the magistrate fined each one R30.00 (worth about R3000.00 in todays money). When my turn came I asked for the charge sheet to be amended — I was driving in Johannesburg Road, but the ticket said Pretoria Road. It was a pedantic point, but it seemed to impress the magistrate. He asked the traffic cop about it, and the traffic cop seemed confused. I said yes, I was driving without a third party disc, but my friend had sent money for the third party insurance to the registered owner, and he hadn’t sent the disc yet. Why was I driving, not my friend, asked the magistrate. Well, my friend doesn’t have a driving licence. “Cautioned and discharged,” said the magistrate. “Next case.”

After about a year it was more or less in running order again. When we found it had been painted black, but Sam was into numerology and palmistry and such pursuits, and determined that the most auspicious colours for travel were green or white, followed closely by yellow and purple. So we painted Mirbane green and white and yellow and purple, with a mermaid on the sun roof.

In July 1962 I had some leave, and wanted to go and see my cousins in Durban, so we decided to go in Mirbane. Unfortunately, a day or two before we were due to leave Mirbane jammed in first gear. We spent a day pulling the gearbox apart, and found that the first gear cog had pushed beyond some spring-loaded balls that prevented it from being moved back. We got a file and removed the spring-loaded balls, which also abolished the synchromesh on second gear.

We worked through the night, in the driveway of Sam’s lodgings, and the next-door neighbour kept sticking his head out of his window and saying things like “There’s a time and a place.” We tried to hurry, and forgot to put the gearbox into two gears at once to tighten the nut that held the drive shaft on the back. We tightened it against the engine compression, which wasn’t very good.

We left at 5:00 on a Monday morning, having worked through the night, and so were in some danger of falling asleep at the wheel. The main road was not a multilane one as it is today, and we went bouncing round the winding bits between Nottingham Road and Howick. Mirbane had cart springs and the shock-absorbers also left something to be desired.

Mirbane at the entrance to Durban harbour, July 1962

We arrived in Durban about 5:00 pm, when the evening rush hour was in full swing, and we were halfway across one of the busiest intersections in town when the prop shaft fell off. So we held up the traffic still further while we removed the gear lever, put it into two gears to lock the shaft, and tightened it properly. We were getting quite expert at that by now, so it only took us about 40 minutes.

A couple of days later we were taking my cousins, Jenny and Glenda Growdon, for a drive, when Mirbane suddlenly began firing on only two cylinders. It appeared that the cylinder head gasket had blown. Jenny and I went into town by bus to McCarthy-Rodway, the Austin agents. We were gobsmacked when they produced a new gasket, which they had in stock.

We arranged for an engineering shop to skim the cylinder head, and when it was all working we set off on our delayed drive, up to Camperdown on the road to Pietermaritzburg, where there are some quite nice views down into the valleys below.

Mirbane at Camperdown, with Glenda Growdon, 13 July 1962

We took some photos of Mirbane there, and then went to Inchanga, where another cousin, Brenda Growdon, was on holiday with her mother. We went on to Gillitts, where my friend and guru, Brother Roger of the Community of the Resurrection, was spending his holiday with the retired Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Edward Paget.

It was Brother Roger who had introduced me to the works of Jack Kerouac a couple of years earlier, and here we were, a bunch of scrufty beatniks like the ones in Kerouac’s On the road, arriving at the archbishop’s rather posh retirement home in a rather posh suburb in a beat-up old car.

The archbishop passed the Christian hospitality test with flying colours, and invited us in for a pre-prandial drink. Afterwards Brother Roger told us that the archbishop had been quite impressed with us because we didn’t smoke and talked about art.

Mirbane outside Archbishop Paget’s house in Kloof: Sam Turner, Jenny Growdon, Brother Roger CR, Glenda Growdon.

Brother Roger knew quite a lot about art, and had been something of an artist himself before he had become a monk. A few weeks after we got back to Johannesburg he opened an exhibition of the work of a Johannesburg artist, Harold Rubin. The police later seized a couple of the pictures and charged Harold Rubin with blasphemy, and Brother Roger was hauled off a train to give evidence at the trial (for more on that, see here).

Having seen quite a lot of my cousins  who were children of my mother’s brothers, we went to to see yet another cousin, Patricia Maxwell, whose mother Doreen was my father’s sister. They lived not far from Gillitts, in Kloof, but were about to move into Durban itself.

Patricia Maxwell, Sam Turner, Glenda Growdon, Jenny Growdon

So Mirbane got me to see five cousins on our journey — the one I haven’t mentioned was Jenny & Glenda’s baby brother Mark Growdon, who didn’t accompany us on our running around, as he was only two years old.

At the end of our holiday Mirbane got us back to Johannesburg in about 10 hours, which was not bad for such an old car. After that Sam used her mainly for running around Johannesburg, and after a couple more years she finally died, and ended up in a scrapyard, and I later saw the body, lying on its side in the veld near Alexandra township. So we had resurrected it to have a few more years of life, and one memorable journey, so she is a vehicle I remember with affection.

Steyn Krige, RIP

One of my old school teachers died this week.

I suppose I’ve reached an age where I should not be surprised at such things, but I’m nevertheless saddened by his passing.

He was Marthinus Theunis Steyn Krige, known as Steyn, and he was my geography and scripture teacher at St Stithians College, Randburg, from 1954-1958.

I learnt of his death from an e-mail sent out by the St Stithians Alumni Association

It is with deep regret and sadness that we must inform you that Mr Steyn Krige passed away peacefully on Tuesday night, 27 September 2011, after a long illness.

Steyn was the second Headmaster of the College from 1962 – 68 and the recently-opened class room block at the Boys’ College was named the Krige Block in his honour.

Steyn matriculated from Rondebosch Boys’ High with a first class Matric and taught at that school before moving to St Stithians. At Saints he became Second Master under Wally Mears as well as Mountstephens Housemaster. He succeeded Mr Mears as Headmaster. He was a conscientious and dedicated teacher and a deeply committed Christian. He was instrumental in founding and developing the Randburg Methodist Church.

Whilst Headmaster of St Stithians, he was also Chairman of the HMC, forerunner of the present day SAHISA (South African Heads of Independent Schools Association) and, as Chairman of the HMC, he played a major role in the opening of private schools to all races.

Steyn was a profound educational thinker and many of his innovations are still with us – the option of African languages, Integrated Studies, a three term year and the tutor system.

He was also a progressive educationalist and, after leaving St Stithians, went on to found Woodmead School which was a beacon of liberal education in the 1970s and ’80s. He also founded the New Era Schools Trust, an educational trust, in 1981 together with Dean Yates, a former headmaster of St John’s.

Our sincerest sympathies and condolences go to Steyn’s widow, Hazel, their children and grandchildren, including Ken, a former teacher at the Boys’ College and currently Headmaster of Felixton College in KZN. Please hold them in your thoughts and prayers at this sad time.

His funeral will take place on Friday 30 September 2011 at 14h30 at the Randburg Methodist Church.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Lowry
Rector

David Knowles
Headmaster: Boys’ College

Four years ago a fellow blogger challenged people to write about five people, living or dead, who had influenced our spiritual path in a positive way, and I took up the challenge, and this is what I wrote about Steyn Krige Notes from underground: Five influences

He taught me for most of my time in high school at St Stithians College from the age of 12 to the age of 17. For the first couple of years he taught Geography, Chemistry and Scripture. Chemistry wasn’t his field, and some of his experiments went horribly wrong, and I think he cookbooked his lessons. But he was a good teacher, and even when his experiments went wrong and the expected didn’t happen, we knew what was supposed to have happened.

The year before he came to the school I had begun to break away from my atheist/agnostic upbringing and become interested in reading the Bible, and Steyn Krige hosted voluntary Bible study groups in the housemaster’s flat where he lived with his family. He also arranged camps during the school holidays — in the Western Cape, in the mountains of Lesotho and in other places. And he it was who guided me and showed what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

I rather hope that someone will write a biography of Steyn Krige one day, because the announcement of his death sent out by the school was almost as notable for what it didn’t say as for what it did say.

It said that a classroom block at the school was named after him. I’m glad to hear that, because to my recollection the school treated him pretty shabbily, and it’s good to know that they perhaps tried to make amends in that way.

The obituary says that after leaving St Stithians he went on to found Woodmead School, but did not mention the fact that the reason for his leaving St Stithian’s was that he was sacked. The story of his sacking was all over the Sunday newspapers back in 1969, but the reasons for it were never revealed. Perhaps now is the time to tell it.

When I heard of Steyn’s death I did a Google search for him, and discovered that something similar had happened at Woodmead School, in a fragmentary anonymous article rescued from from Yahoo’s Geocities disaster. What happened to Woodmead Schoolo?:

In December 1998, Woodmead School, the first fully multi-racial school in South Africa, closed its doors after twenty-eight years. Employees who had served the school faithfully were evicted from their houses on the property. Some had been there from the beginning. Most had nowhere to go. To exacerbate matters the school’s Board breached numerous tenets of the National Labor Laws. It withheld information. It ‘fobbed off’ concerned parents. In the end, several members of the Board fraudulently ‘donated’ Woodmead’s Preparatory School to a spurious company. It was then secretly sold to Crawford College for a fraction of its value. The people who closed Woodmead School didn’t understand its unique place in South African history. What occurred was a tragedy. Why did it happen?

An anonymous article rescued from Yahoo’s dustbin is not much to go on, but it does make the questions What happened? Why did it happen? more insistent. It seems that in his teaching career Steyn Krige experienced a considerable amount of back-stabbing.

The Woodmead article goes on to say

When I arrived at Woodmead in 1981, Steyn Krige was still the Headmaster. He had pioneered much of what was unique about Woodmead – the Tutor System, the Tier System, its democratically elected Student Council and Integrated Studies. He particularly liked to discuss Integrated Studies, one of the school’s shining lights, and he would periodically announce that it was time for a conference to assess the current progress of the subject. In theory, Integrated Studies replaced English, Geography, History and Social Studies, but in practice it encompassed a great deal more. Emphasis was placed on themes rather than topics. Each theme was approached from different directions and students were encouraged to explore the theme along a range of pathways. Skills were emphasized and independent learning encouraged and fostered. The students were enormously enthusiastic and supportive. There were classes of fifty but the strength and breadth of the subject offset the disadvantage of large classes. What emerged from the Integrated Studies program were highly motivated students who approached their final years of secondary school with confidence and enthusiasm. In 1982, I conducted a series of interviews with Standard 8 (Grade 10) Integrated Studies students who, without exception, spoke in glowing terms about the value of the subject, its significance in the school curriculum and the positive way it had influenced their academic progress.

When I was at St Stithians Steyn Krige was only deputy headmaster and there was no talk of “Integrated Studies”, but I think I experienced some of the precursors. On one occasion we had a double period of Scripture and Geography, taught by Steyn, and the one flowed seamlessly into the other with no break, with wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of topics, including the end of the world and flying saucers. We rather smugly thought that we had put one over Steyn, and got away with turning a formal lesson into a bull session. But actually people paid far more attention in the bull session than they did in formal lessons. Perhaps that’s where Steyn got the idea, or perhaps he already had the idea, and took advantage of a double period to try it out.

Reading the paragraphs above about Woodmead, it is also clear that by South African standards of the 1970s, Steyn Krige was a loony leftist. By American standards of the present day, he would be regarded as belonging to the Religious Right.

Steyn Krige’s theology was Conservative Evangelical.

St Stithians was a Methodist Church school, and a Methodist minister would come and preach in the school chapel on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week the religious life of the school was guided and directed by Steyn Krige (a Methodist) and Derek Hudson-Reed (a Baptist) and they ran the informal evangelistic “hot gospel” sessions on Sunday evenings, which usually ended in an “altar call”, and the voluntary Bible study and prayer meetings where we learned far more than in formal “Scripture” classes. Steyn was a Pre-Trib Pre-Millenniallist, though he never used those terms and I only came to understand what they meant several decades later. He taught the “rapture”, though he never used such fancy theological terms, and it was only much later that I discovered the theological meaning of that as well.

So when I was at school, Steyn Krige was showing that it was possible to be politically liberal (and even radical) while being theologically conservative, and I’m sure that those aspects of his life were pretty well integrated too.

And I suspect that this may have been one reason why he was sacked. School boards, and even the boards of church schools, tend to be composed of hard-headed businessmen (who, it would be hoped, would be good at raising money for the school), but to such businessmen both religious fanaticism and political radicalism would be anathema. But I’m guessing now — that’s why it would be good to know the real story.

I try to think of what my life might have been like if Steyn Krige had not influenced me as he did, and somehow I just can’t imagine it.

The time of my life

Up at 5:25. I borrowed my son Jethro’s bakkie and went out to get a new battery for the Subaru, and had to pay R900.00 for it, though they said they would give me R114.00 back if I brought in the old one. When I were a lad you could buy a whole car for that. My first “real” car was an 8-year-old Peugeot 403 station wagon, which I bought in Durban in 1969 and paid R300 for it. I sold it 3 years later to a witchdoctor for R60, and in the mean time it had taken me to Namibia and back a few times.

Then I went to Brooklyn Mall, to the Exclusive Books sale, where they have reduced the prices still further. I had hoped to get a copy of and the hippos were boiled in their tanks by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughes, but they seemed to have been all sold out, which quite surprised me, as the last time we were there they had about 8-10 copies and I wondered who in Pretoria might buy them. But I found a book on the peace movement, to commemorate 50 years of the peace sign. So in the end the books I bought were:

  • Leland, John. 2007. Why Kerouac matters: the lessons of On the Road.
  • Matthiessen, Peter. 2003. End of the earth: voyages to Antarctica.
  • Miles, Barry. 2008. Peace: 50 years of protest 1958-2008.

And they cost R70.00, but if they had not been on sale they would probably have cost almost as much as the battery.

I got home and looked at the books. I blogged about the peace symbol on the anniversary, at Peace symbol – 50 years on | Khanya, and the book, though a bit coffee-tableish, was a good reminder of a history that coincided with my own life. In 1958, the year the peace symbol was first used to protest nuclear disarmament, I was still at school. The “peace symbol” was then primarily used in protests against nuclear weapons, and it was only some years later, with growing American involvement in Vietnam, that it became a general peace sign. In 1961 I joined the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, and I’m now associated with the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, so the book is in a way the story of my life and times.

One of the other books, the one on Kerouac’s On the road was also in a way a symbol of my life and times, though On the road was never my favourite book by Kerouac — I much preferred his The Dharma bums. Kerouac, however, was the same age as my father-in-law, so he was a different generation. But Leland’s book seems to be trying to turn On the road into a self-help book. I must be really out of touch with pop culture, because I have no interest in self-help books, nor books about misunderstood sexy teenage vegetarian vampires. I prefer my vampires evil and bloodthirsty and they are coming to kill you and steal your soul.

Then, while I was pondering these books, which provoked a lot of reminiscences, the TV started reporting on Jimmy Reid’s funeral. I’d never heard of Jimmy Reid, or if I had heard of him, I couldn’t remember him. He was a trade union leader in the shipbuilding industry in Scotland, and was apparently famous for leading a work-in when Edward Heath’s Conservative government wanted to close down the British shipbuilding industry. They recalled two speeches he made, one on the occasion of the work-in, and another when he was made Rector of Glasgow University and said, “A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.” It was hailed by the New York Times as the greatest speech since Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

I found it strangely moving, and also linked to my life and times in a way. I went to the UK in January 1966 to study at St Chad’s College, Durham. I left in a hurry, because a Detective Sergeant van den Heever phoned me at 4 pm and said he wanted come and see me. I was about to leave for work, and said I’d have to see him in the morning. But then I consulted friends and decided it would be wiser to leave for the UK right away, so left at 10:00 pm and drove through the night to Beit Bridge. My mother told me that her cousin Willie Hannan was a Scottish MP, and might be able to help me get advice on finding a job and getting residence permits and the like.

I drove to Bulawayo, and got a plane to Salisbury (now Harare) and from the airport phoned more cousins. It was just after UDI in Rhodesia, and the Rhodesian cousins did not have a good word for cousin Willie, and portrayed him as a wild-eyed socialist revolutionary, betraying his own kith and kin in Rhodesia and all the rest of the Rhodesian rhetoric.

When I got to London I made contact with cousin Willie, who was MP for Girvan, in Glasgow. He was terribly respectable, and anything less like a wild-eyed revolutionary I could not imagine. My mother had also told me that Willie’s father had been jailed as a conscientious objector during the First World War, not because he was a pacifist, but because he was a socialist and regarded it as an imperialist-capitalist war. I regarded any conscientious objector as something of a hero, and so I asked cousin Willie about it, but he was clearly embarrassed, and said that at the time the police came for his father he was just a child, and they didn’t understand it, and that things were different in those days. He was, in my view, what we then called a “square”, altogether respectable. But he was a very nice bloke, and kind hearted, and was all in favour of peace, though he believed peace could be achieved by international cooperation and friendship, primarily in things like the European Union. He had no opinion about Rhodesia at all, other than being mildly unhappy about all the unpleasantness over it, and wanted to know what I thought of it, though I had spent less than 24 hours there on my way to the UK.

But he probably knew Jimmy Reid, and probably thought of him as a wild-eyed socialist revolutionary.

Memories, or not, as the case may be

Thanks to Quaker Pagan Reflections: Memories and Not for this meme…

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now (even if we don’t speak often or have never met), please post a comment with a completely made up, fictional memory of you and me.

It can be anything you want – good or bad – but it has to be fake.

When you’re finished, post this little paragraph in your blog and see what your friends come up with…

Evocation of a Durban childhood

Yesterday I went to the Unisa library and found a novel by Barbara Trapido, called Frankie and Stankie. I saw it on the end of a shelf and was intrigued by a review quote on the cover that said, “There aren’t many novelists whose stories one doesn’t want to read, but Barbara Trapido is one of them.” It seemed a strange enough recommendation, so I took it out.

In the evening I read the Barbara Trapido book, and read bits aloud to Val, because it was a very good evocation of a Durban childhood, and actually some of the people were real too — it mentioned people I knew or knew of, like Ken and Jean Hill, who were members of the Liberal Party, and Eileen Krige, the anthropologist, whom I had heard of. I checked the cover blurb again, and found that it was not what I thought it was — it said “There are very few novelists whose books one doesn’t want to end”, not “doesn’t want to read”, so I’d taken it out under false pretences. But I was glad I had; it brought back a lot of childhood memories, like this

Dinah continues to be a non-eater throughout her childhood. When one of her dad’s colleagues visits with a packet of biscuits, he says they’re ‘for Lisa to eat and Dinah to play with. The biscuits are called Iced Zoological but the girls call them Animal Biscuits. Each biscuit is a scalloped rectangle with pastel icing on the top and an animal piped on to it in a contrasting colour. There are yellow giraffes on rose-pink icing and white tigers on sky-blue icing.

And this:

By eight Lisa is judged too big for the sleigh-ride through Santa’s grotto in Greenacre’s department store, and has to walk around to the exit to collect her present from Santa, just as Dinah comes helter-skeltering to conclusion in a cloud of fake snow and piped jingle bells.

Both Val and I remember the sleigh ride in Greenacres, though it belonged to Father Christmas rather than Santa; but that could be explained in the book by Lisa and Dinah’s father being Dutch. And then

The school wash basins are all furnished with shiny pink chunks of slimy carbolic soap that look like sections of human lung.

I haven’t seen Lifebuoy soap for years, but its appearance after being left in a wet soap dish can never be forgotten.

I think I spotted a few anachronisms, but they were minor ones: Cadbury’s Crunchies appeared later on the scene than the time described in the book, as was the girl Julia Painting being bitten by a shark.

The name of the author, Barbara Trapido, sounded vaguely familiar, so I Googled, and found she was born in the same year as me, 1941, so it’s no wonder her evocation of post-war Durban as seen through the eyes of a child was so familiar. I also checked my diary, and found I had actually met her once, on 19 August 1973:

In the afternoon there was an incredible party where there were 12 kids and 19 people altogether in the house, having separate little tea parties. Andy Argyle arrived with her children and Barbara Trapido, and Roger Aylard came round with two of his boys, and Gill Browne was there with her children. In spite of the numbers, it was amazingly peaceful, and it could hardly be noticed that so many people were
there.

And at the time I was banned, and not supposed to attend any social gatherings. Of course it was my landlady’s gathering, not mine, but still. And at that time my landlady’s children also attended the Berea Road Girls School, described in detail in the book.

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