John Newby was an LLB attorney and a CA accountant, wine connoisseur, boyfriend of the lovely Heather – and a crayfisherman. A very capable and interesting fella. That’s him in the pic above, ‘cept I gave him more hair on top. He would shove his scrawny frame into a wetsuit and disappear under the waves among the rocks at low tide, then emerge with crayfish. Which he would then very generously cook and share with his fellow inmates at 72 Hunt Road, our communal house on the Berea in Durban.
I always knew when a crayfish treat was coming cos he’d walk into my room, mumble an apology, roll back the carpet and shove his scrawny frame into a hole. He’d disappear under the floor of my baronial-style bedroom and emerge covered in cobwebs clutching a dusty wine bottle or two talking French and flowery oenologicalwords which I took with a pinch of salt. Some people are just like that and you tolerate them, nodding gravely, while quaffing their wine. You don’t contradict if they’re buying.
But lo! As with everything he did, Newby wasn’t bullshitting. We suddenly found out he had won the Natal Wine-Tasters Guild sniffing and spitting finals and was off to represent us at the nationals in Cape Town! I mean I always thought of myself as an oenophile, but that was in a volume and enthusiasm sense, not so much as a nexpert judge. I always swallow.
So now we were rooting for Nubile! We always knew he was a connoisseur, we now said. We had helped him train, we said. My memory is that he won that tasting too, and Hunt Road thus had an SA champion under our roof; WE were expert wine tasters.
If I were you, I would take this 38yr-old self-serving memory with another sizable pinch of salt. And a large swallow of chablis.
Nubile upped and offed to Aussie, which we didn’t like, but worse: he took Heather with him!
I was looking thru Dan Palatnik’s Digital Garage – well worth a visit – and an old Willys Jeep reminded me of Leibs and Achim who had developed the bad habit of lying under their old Jeeps in the backyard of our communal home at 4 Hillside Road, Parktown. Mainly they were banging out rust and stuffing revived V8 engines under the bonnets. Leibs was a handsome schoolteacher at Roosevelt school in Joburg (why ‘Roosevelt?’).
One of the highlights of 4 Hillside was when his girlfriend visited. The delightful Claire was a huge favourite among the bachelors. What a sweetie. Leibs was a myope like me (shortsighted) and happily allowed us optometry students to practice our contact lens skills on him, trying out all the latest lenses. We practiced and he got free lenses: Win-Win!
Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together. Achim went on to do a lot of off-road rallying in the dodgy metropolis of Brits, where he ran his optometric practice with his bream, wife and former lecturer, Eva the dispensing optician aus Austria or Germany. On the side, Achim ran a garage to tjoon up his racing 4X4’s and fit double divorce pipes. One of those eventually got him. Maybe Eva kicked him out for getting grease on the contact lenses?
Inmates of 4 Hillside:
‘4 Hillside’ was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers and former teachers in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillside was a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old London Plane and Jacaranda trees, a lovely quiet spot, right on busy Empire road but isolated from it thanks to being a ‘straat loop dood’ and having a big water furrow servitude with a lane of trees on our Empire Road boundary. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days. Big hydrangea bushes against the walls; we’d greet them Hi Granger!
It was a Teachers Digs. Educators. 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 long-suffering Sandy Norton. Norts. 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 iron 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 such an asset that she almost balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda RX2 rotary-engined gas guzzler with NCW then CCW plates: That’s Kokstad, where his Dad Theunie sold Massey Ferguson tractors to the boere. I’m not kidding here – except for the Rembrandts and Monets. Clive ‘Nel’ Nel. A book could – and should – be written. “Dee dee dee BARKER! baap”. “Howdy Norts!” Endured by the wonderful and long-suffering Sandy Norts. His white Mazda RX2 – high speed, high consumption rotary-engined boy racer, ended up in a head-on collision after the Brauer-Saks wedding of the year.
The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming, hard-golfing sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa, with some anthirium hothouse culture thrown in. 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. NX was for “Alexandra County,” Glen would never tire of reminding us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had ‘distriks.’ The first NX 106 plate had been nailed to their ossewa when the first very Reverend Barker arrived aus England to bullshit, rob and confuse the poor happy heathens.
Then they let me in – Vrystaat boykie with a grey and grey 1965 Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now the digs had deteriorated down to four teachers, three optometry students, a Malawian and a Norts – a delicate balance.
– Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire. As students we fitted Leibs with silicon permawear contact lenses! And we ogled the gorgeous Claire. He drove a TJ Alfa Romeo. Was it a horrible brown colour?
– Granger Grey was a teacher too. He drove a dove-grey VW Beetle; TVB plates.
– Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins. Teacher. Coolest of the gang. There was some pottery in his family background, I seem to recall. He had various girlfriends, all of whom were reminded not to get too serious. One was‘Vaalwater’ who was famously told to ‘take off your clothes, so long, I’m just having a shit . . ‘
– Mike Doyle, ex-teacher, now a cement mogul; lovely girlfriend Michaela or ‘Shale’. Old blue British Land Rover 5-door station wagon; a healthy cynic, he loved the great outdoors.
– Gerald or Gerrard – ‘Gelard’, pronounce Jell-laahd, the Malawian butler with ambitions of becoming a tycoon. Deeply hurt and offended that we thought mowing the lawn was in his portfolio. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command. He called CoolsieBoss Donut. Anyone who asked him to do anything he considered unreasonable, he would defer to Boss Donut.
Friends-of-4-Hillside – not quite inmates – included:
– Jos, another teacher who lived nearby. Not tall, with high-plus specs, an Alfa Romeo and a lovely girlfriend Brenda;
– ‘Norbs’ Norbury. Yet another educator. Big black beard. Norbs imitated Charles Fortune to perfection at the Wanderers cricket ground, entertaining the inebriated crowds on the grassy banks as he waxed lyrical about the clouds and the birds while blissfully ignoring the fall of a wicket. Would sing loud John Denver: ‘You Philip My Dentures . . . Like a Knight at the Florist;’
– A Demmler oke – ?? Craig?
– Brauer – full-time tutor to Nel. Inhabitant of a huge Yeoville flat full of dodgy flatmates.
– Budgie Burge – mild-mannered gentleman.
Sitting in the crowded little TV lounge watching the news and Dorianne Berry came on to read the news wearing a strapless top. The camera carefully stayed just above her dress line making her look maybe naked! Horny bachelorness ran rampant: “Ooh, maybe we’ll get to see Dorianne’s berries”, was the call. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in. Again.
Lying under the grey-and-grey Opel fixing the drum brakes before going to Port Shepstone. Now, I ask you: Who the hell would drive 700km in a car whose brakes I had fiddled with!? Turns out a few students, including the delightful Cheryl Forsdick;
The delightful Triple SSS – Sexy Susan Staniland Fotherby – was a welcome visitor to 4 Hillside in one of my lucky – and brief – periods I . . . ‘had a girlfriend!’ Far and few between, they were.
Steve Reed wrote:Granger – never forgotten. Mostly for his height-enhancing shoe-stuffing for weight watchers meetings;
Pete Brauer wrote:More vivid nostalgic memories of Granger Grey stuffing quarts of Black Label down his throat;
I remember Granger Grey (6ft 4 high, 4ft 6 wide) getting home late one night, well-oiled with a placid beam on his face. He joined us students braaiing on the lawn next to the pool and started eyeing the sizzling meat, staring hypnotically. Borrowing one ale after the other he got progressively more glass-eyed and we watched in awe as he swayed, Obelix-like, WAY past a normal centre of gravity then slowed to a halt, jutting chin way forward, eyes on the tjops n boerie till you just knew he was going to platz on his face; and then SLO-OWLY swayed back to upright, then way back past upright, with his beer resting on his boep till he was leaning 450 backwards and HAD to see his arse and crack his skull; but again he halted, hovered, and started the slow sway forward again. Musta been the size eleventeen shoes that held him upright! We formed a wall round the fire, guarding the tjops n boerie, and keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs.
We had to hurriedly clear the braai and endure his hurt look. Imperative to be tough and take evasive action when Granger got near food. I think we invented the phrase ‘tough love.’
Mealtimes for Seven Lads and a Norts
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 scrupulously fairly onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagily watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first and do the tedious division under intense scrutiny.
On steak nights – Big Nights – the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf – a dividing wall, actually. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was alone at home and he was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. After all, someone might not be coming home that night, you never know. Often someone would skip supper. Maybe they lucked out with a chick, who can tell? Then one more, and then just one more. And SO, verily, did Granger finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome with remorse. The Seventh Steak – quite biblical, actually. He was a very good man, Granger Grey and he had a heart of gold. So verily, remorse he didth feel.
Jumping into his grey VW beetle – TVB numberplate for Vanderbijlpark, home of ISCOR, Boipatong and Sharpeville – he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three beautiful golden-brown roast chickens off their famous rotisserie to make good for his sin – he was atoning bedonderd – and rushed back, flattening only one whole chicken by himself en-route.
This caused him to reflect. He had wobbled before, but this was a seismic wobble. So he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-in report-backs. Getting back from his initial weigh-in he sank down onto the low – low cos it was broken – couch in the TV room with a huge sigh. Reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, he wheezed as he removed a thick wad of newspaper from each shoe. ‘And now, Granger?’ we asked. ‘No, we had a weigh-in tonight and I didn’t want them to give me a low target weight,’ he said, quite seriously, matter of fact. We collapsed when we realised what that entailed! He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight! You gotta love Granger Grey! Not only for doing that, but for the complete openness and honesty with which he ‘crooked!’
Granger. Heart of gold. He had bigger brothers, one called Tiny. He read Ayn Rand and thought she was on to something.
The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ingeniously solved by someone who fitted a long narrow wooden shelf in the passage where all socks were placed after washing. Sort them out yourself. Some of the holy ones would grow mould on that shelf. So we always had a choice: Clean or Matching.
Steve Reed again:The legend that I subscribe to is that the famous Vespa scooter that ended up on the bottom of the 4 Hillside Road pool originally belonged to a bird called Terry, who later married Keith Taylor. Keith’s brother Ian Taylor [who became a Doctor] had apparently commandeered Terry’s scooter and somehow it had ended up at 4 Hillside where it met its famous fate. Of course, the story may be the result of the effects on Terry of the third bottle of pinot noir on a cold Auckland night.
Me: Vespa scooter reminds me of Keith Ballin zipping along, specs and moustache peering out from under his helmet, scarf trailing behind him in the breeze!
I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine – (Lou Reed)
Nostalgia: A device that removes the potholes from memory lane – (Doug Larson)
Vaalwater – name of young lass from the distant metropolis of Vaalwater
tjoon – tune-up in this case; sometimes ‘explain’
braai – barbecue
tjops n boerie – red meat sacrificed over an open fire
boep – stomach; paunch
‘Twas at 4 Hillside that a knock came at the front door. We knew it was a stranger as no-one knocked at the front door. Actually, no one knocked, you just walked into the open kitchen door.
It was a pink-faced balding chap and he asked for Peter Swanepoel.
We found out later from Madeleine what had transpired: A pink-faced balding chap walked into the School of Optometry and enquired at reception: Who’s your BEST optometrist? When Madeleine asked Um, Why? he said I want to employ your best final year optom student. Stifling a grin, Madeleine said politely, Actually most of them already have jobs, they’re nearly finished their exams. Oh, said the pink-faced balding chap, So who hasn’t got a job yet?
The rumour that he then went on to ask Oh. OK, then who’s your WORST student? is just that: A vicious rumour.
He made me an offer I couldn’t understand; I haggled the pink-faced balding chap up by a full R100 a month – that was 20% – and I had a job in Hillbrow! This Vrystaat boykie would be testing unsuspecting eyes in Highpoint in Hillbrow for a while – in fact, for the foreseeable future! Geddit!? We lasted three months before I fired him.
The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now spoil the space! Bah!