Communicating, Clarens-style

Stephen Charles Reed was the laat lammetjie son of Vincent and Doreen Reed. Vin and Dor. Butch was the big black Labrador in residence.

Vincent was the Mayor of Clarens so although Stevie was by a long shot not their first son he WAS the First Son of Clarens.

In the holidays I would ring up Oom Lappies Labuschagne at the Harrismith sentrale. He would say ‘seker‘ and patch me through to the Clarens telephone exchange – their ‘sentrale‘. The operator lady would answer with a chirpy “Clarr-RINSE”!

Three Four Please. Seemed somehow wrong that their number was 34. I mean, Vincent was the Mayor. Surely it should have been One Please?

Anyway, Three Four Please.

“No, Stevie’s not there, he’s at the Goldblatts, I’ll put you through”.

Old Clarens, before the rush. Here’s the Reed’s store.

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seker – sure

sentrale – telephone exchange

 

 

 

Fire! Fire!

We had asbestos heaters on the walls in our Louisa Street residence in Doornfontein, Johannesburg. The res was in the shadow of the not-yet-completed Ponte tower – the 50-story residential cylinder up on the hill that became famous and notorious for varying reasons over the years.

Late one night we woke up to yelling and cursing. Thick smoke billowed into our room, so we rushed out to see wassup. Glen Barker and Louis Slabbert’s room was on fire! Glen’s clothes, his bedside table, the linoleum floor and the ceiling were ablaze. We soon put it out and, coughing and spluttering, opened up the windows and doors to let the acrid, foul smoke escape.

To the amazement of the non-smokers amongst us, Louis then sat down on his bed, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply!

Someone Burst His Eardrum

The Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education chose a rugby team to play in the inter-college festival down in Durban-by-the-Sea and they didn’t choose me.

So I had to choose myself and find my own way down so as to be able to add to the fun and laughter and educational and character-building value of such gatherings. And the imbibing contest, which was actually my forté but – for some reason – they didn’t have a drinking span. Strange.

So we had to compete informally, yet enthusiastically. I spose because there were no officials officiating our match we lost sight of the time and forgot to arrange accommodation n stuff, so when it became very late we looked around and found we were in someone else’s hotel – the salubrious Killarney – and we were trying to scrounge floor space to kip on.

What's that? Someone burst his eardrum . . hip hip hip hooray!

Schoeman and the delightful Fotherby were 100% legal and official and had a room and we made merry in it, perhaps too much because someone marched in and very rudely demanded that we shurrup and also that we leave. I stepped forward to help this rude gentleman right upon which he – a man of few words – explained the situation to me by unleashing a mighty klap on my left eardrum, shattering the peace. I immediately understood what he was on about and agreed to leave the premises forthwith.

All the way down the stairs this burly and persuasive gent’s lips were moving but I couldn’t hear a word he said. I was deaf as a post.

He was like:

Zulu Security Guard

I was like:

drunk

Don’t worry, compassionate people, I found a place to sleep (as in the photo on top). The next day my empathetic “friends” were singing to me – to the tune of “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” –

“Someone Burst His Eardrum! Hip Hip Hip Hooray!!”

Shits. Luckily I couldn’t hear them.

Ice and Fire

They wanted us to have a good time and they fed us with many many craft beers and ordinary beers. Come and enjoy the Rand Easter Show, they said in 1976. Well in those days it was that or this:

We glanced at the displays and the arena – cows were moo’ing and plopping, horses were made to jump over things – but most of the day was spent in the friendly beer halls where the only answer to “May I have another beer?” was “Of course you may!” We ended up sparkling with wit and bonhomie.

After dark it all shut down and we wandered towards the car park eating ice cream cones the TC girls from Maritzburg – up to visit the handsome Doornfontein crew – had bought us (hoping to sober us up?). We passed some horse trailers and the rear end of Gonda Betrix’s horse stared us straight in the eye. Like this:

Horses ass

It was too much to resist and our artistic instincts took over: Lift the tail, place ice cream dollop on the O-ring and then the horse made the mistake of clamping its tail down hard, cementing the deal. I spose a shiver ran down its spine, but it stayed pretty calm considering, just dancing a little – in pleasure maybe? Thoughts of animal cruelty DO cross my mind now but they didn’t reach my addled brain at the time.

We shuffled off. Who drove that night? Hopefully the ladies. Sheila, Noreen, who else? Anyway we safely arrived at Stephen Charles’s flat in Yeoville and had another beer as we were inexplicably thirsty.

Noreen said to me “I’ve run a bath, you go ahead”. Very thoughtful of her! I shucked my kit and jumped in and immediately went right through the ceiling! Which wasn’t ceiling board as Steve’s flat was not on the top floor. It was concrete. She’d run the hot only and my (future) wedding vegetables were parboiled. Took days before they were ready to be molested again. In fact, the damage may have been permanent: I ended up adopting kids twenty two years later after waiting twelve years before risking getting married.

I could have done with some of that ice cream.

International Darts Champs

One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein in the New Doornfontein Hotel pub we were playing darts.

Actually to be more exact, we were engaged in a very important international darts championship tournament, and we were in the final. We had made it through to the final by skill and courage. And imbibing. See, it was The Official Inebriated World Darts Championships of The World. Our opponents were the Sicilian Mafia who had materialised out of nowhere, tapped one of us on the shoulder and announced darkly in a sinister growl: “We play you next”. That’s how they got into the final. We didn’t dare to do anything but nod nervously.

It was like:

mafia darts

We were not fooled when during the important ceremony of ‘diddle for middle’ they missed the bull’s eye by about three metres and we hit bull to go off first. We knew they were simply lulling us into a false sense of security and had in fact wanted us to go first as part of a dastardly plot. This plan was executed faultlessly as we continued to whip they asses and beat them by a mile in all three rounds. Something was afoot. We got even more nervous when they appeared to accept their defeat in good spirit and retired to a corner of the bar conversing – sinisterly for Sicilians – in Portuguese.

Our lives were saved that night in that we ordered beers when the barman called ‘Last Round!’ and the Mafia didn’t. So at closing time the Mafiosi left and we stayed behind to finish our drinks, huddled in a corner as far away as we could get from the door in case it suddenly shattered and splintered under sustained machine gun fire.

The barman then escorted us out the back. Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. We scurried home to our lavish quarters in the plush Doories residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education a few blocks away, keeping to the shadows.

Once safely inside we opened the large door of the old off-white Westinghouse with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on it in cokie pen. Finally we, The Official Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax.

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The Louisa Street Massacre

I once got mugged in Louisa Street. By Louisa Street.

Lightly inebriated, I was walking back to res from a trip to Hillbrow to spend some of my Barclays Bank student loan.

The normally dark and deserted Louisa Street in Doornfontein was dark and crowded, with parked cars lining both sides of the road. The Arena Theatre across the road from res had a show on.

Quite unexpectedly, Louisa Street suddenly leapt up and smacked me right in the face, breaking my glasses.

For some unfathomable reason it was very important that I gather all the little shards of glass from my shattered lens, so – as luck or Murphy would have it – I was on my hands and knees when the theatre ended and happy patrons streamed out into the street, their minds filled with the moral of the story (or more likely, flashes of boobs and skin – the few shows we went to had actresses acting daring) to find their cars and drive home to more salubrious areas of Johannesburg. The Arena was surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned houses, so they were probably in a bit of a hurry because of the shady reputation of the neighbourhood – and here was proof!

I was not to be put off my search though, so people had to walk and drive around me, grovelling searching diligently in the middle of the tarmac. Next minute someone bent over me and said “What’s your name?”. The affrontery! It was Mnr “JJ” van Rensburg of the Doornfontein koshuis who  was trying to help by getting one of his charges out of harm’s way. “Shwanepoel” I slurred. I spelt it out in case he didn’t know: “S – W – A – N – E – P – O – E – L” . Explaining that I probably didn’t need to gather every tiny piece as the School of Optometry would likely replace my lenses for me, he coaxed me back to the safety of the res grounds. He was weird, but had a good heart, ole JJ. We gave him sleepless nights.

4 Hillside Road Parktown

“4 Hillside” was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers (or former teachers) in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillsdie still is a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old Plane or Jacaranda trees, a lovely spot. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days.

The inhabitants were:

Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire – Alpha Romeo, sort of red, I think. Yellow?

Mike Doyle and Shale – faded blue Land Rover before the word Defender was invented. Or needed.

Granger Grey – always searching  – grey VW beetle. Six-foot-plenty he was shaped like Obelix and towered over all of us. The only time he looked normal-sized was when his younger brother ‘Tiny’ visited and towered over him.

Donald  ‘Coolsie’ Collins – and various, including part-timer the slender ‘Vaalwater’ – VW beetle, I think.

Jos Den___ and the lovely Brenda – Alpha Romeo.

Hangers-on included Norbs – Norbert someone or someone Norbert? I forget. A bearded character who would mimic Charles Fortune the cricket commentator to a T and have the crowd on the grassy knoll at Castle corner in stitches as he chose the most exciting moment (and cricket has few of those) to talk about the birds, the trees and the shadows falling across the ground. I still sing Norbs’ John Denver song “You Philip My Dentures . . Like a Night in the Florist . . .”

The house was run by our Malawian butler, chef and character, the smiling Gerald or ‘Gerrard’, whose ambition was to be a tycoon. He called Coolsie ‘Boss Donut’. Never forgave us for thinking his duties included lawnmowing. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command.

You would think teachers would have brains, but no, they allowed an optometry student into their hitherto blissful existence: Clive Nel of Kokstad and the ever-suffering Sandy Norton. Clive was allowed in as he offered to take a run-down tin shed annex and convert it into habitable quarters. And he did just that! Soon the shed was carpeted in fine vintage carpets, Rembrandts and Monets on the corrugated walls and makeshift shelves stocked with fine wines. He was generous with his wine was Nel so soon the teachers were (very) happy to have him! Also Norton was an asset which (almost) balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda R8 CCW some numbers. I’m not kidding except for the Rembrandts and Monets.

The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa. Green Toyota Corona NX 106, inherited from Gran. They also had NX 101 and 102 and 103 and 104 and 105 – you get the picture: Old money in the Umzinto and Dumisa district. “Alexandra County”, Glen would remind us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had “distriks”.

Then they let me in – grey and grey Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now it was down to four teachers and three students – a delicate balance.

Leibs was ‘doing up’ an old Jeep Station Wagon in the backyard. Mainly that meant squeezing a V8 engine into it. – (internet pics). This bad habit brought another optom student in as a day visitor. Achim Scholtz who would have been more welcome if he’d brought the fine German dispensing optician Eva along. But she was too wise to get greasy under the Jeep. Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together.

jeep-wagon-jpg jeep-wagon_2

The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ‘solved’ by building a long shelf in the long passage where all socks were placed after washing. Help yourself.

The problem of feeding seven hungry men was solved by Gerrard cooking and placing the food in the oven. First man to crack and start eating had to divide the food onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagey watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first.

On steak nights the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. Then one more and then he finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome by remorse. Jumping into his grey VW beetle he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three roast chickens off their famous rotiserie to make good, and rushed back, flattening one whole chicken by himself en-route.  This caused him to reflect, so he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-ins. Getting back from a weigh-in one evening he sank down onto the couch in the TV room with a huge sigh and, reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, removed a thick wad of newspaper from each. He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight!

Dorianne Berry used to read the news and one night she came on in a strapless dress. The camera stayed above the dress line making her look maybe naked! The bachelors got all excited “Hey! Maybe we’re going to see Dorianne’s berries!”. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in.

We had a student braai next to the pool one night and Granger arrived home pickled and ravenous and came over for a beer. Staring hypnotically at the meat on the fire he started swaying. We formed a wall round the fire, keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs. His eyes glazed over and we watched in fascination as his swayed in gravity-defying fashion! He swayed forward till you just knew he was going to platz on his face, then slowed, stopped for long seconds. Then swayed back till he passed vertical and leaned backwards where you just knew he going to crack the back of his skull but no, the pendulum slowed, then stopped. A long pause and the cycle repeated. An amazing spectacle was Big Granger!

Others also got involved in unorthodox car-restoration at 4 Hillside, but of a very different, alcohol-fuelled nature!

The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now fill the space! Bah!

hannover re 17 Empire.jpg