Alf Beyers, son of the Hoof of the Hoerskool in Petrus Steyn OFS, struck enormous good fortune on leaving the village and striking out for the big smoke of lower Doornfontein, Johannesburg, city of sin and laughter. It was akin to winning the lottery.
He was allocated me as his room-mate.
Dropping our suitcases on the sticky deep purple linoleum floor we immediately headed off to Nirvana, a place we had heard about for years. A place our mothers warned against with such dire foreboding that we knew we had to find it.
We heard they sold liquor in Hillbrow and we had fresh pocket money, so off we went with the gang of new students in the Doories res of the Wits Tech for Advanced Technical Education on our first night in Joeys, 1974, in search of pubs and nightclubs. Vague names waft around in my head now: Summit? Idols? Sands Hotel?
Most of us returned late that night, but there was no sign of Alf. He had landed up in the Johannesburg General Hospital, a victim of alcohol poisoning. The docs assured him it wasn’t bad liquor, it was simply too much good liquor.
The ill-effects wore off quickly and the potential for fun endured. On another occasion when we’d had a skinful Alf indulged in a bit of streaking under the Harrow Road flyover, appearing completely kaalgat to the amusement of rush-hour motorists. Someone called the cops and Alf roared up the stairs and hid in the smallish free-standing cupboard in our room, which actually overlooked the spot where he’d been parading!
When the hullabaloo died down he appeared with a huge grin on his face, still buck naked and inquired innocently “Looking for me?”.
twaalf eiers – a dozen eggs; rhymes with Alf Beyers;
My Best Man, I have always said, is one of the most honest upright people I’ve known. I’ve said this for many years. It isn’t strictly true.
One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein, shortly after having been crowned The Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World, the story of which famous victory has appeared in print elsewhere, we were smuggled out of the bar in secret to avoid a massacre by the vengeful forces that had lost to us in the final.
Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen, past the chest freezers and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein. Out into that dark night.
Through the kitchen. Did you get that part? Through the hotel kitchen. Past a number of chest deep freeze cabinets. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the lids lifting, a hand reaching in and a packet being shoved under an old jersey. The jersey was probably part of the uniform of the new Official Inebriated World Dartsh Championsh of The World.
When we got to the safety of our large and lavish room in the plush Doories residence a few blocks away we were highly relieved and thankful to have survived. So we reached into the huge old off-white Westinghouse we had inherited with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on the door in black coki pen and calmed our nerves. Poor old Willie the housemaster came round to ask us to Please turn down the sound, manne, my wife is trying to sleep.
Then an interesting aroma started to fill the room: BACON. Being fried on the two-plate hot plate. By My Best Man.
THAT’s what had been lifted from the chest deep freeze of the New Doornfontein Hotel. Illicitly. And THAT’s who had dunnit. Did I mention he has a small trace of Jewish blood running through his veins, making this not only a crime, but also a sin?
As we revved up on another evening after a night’s carousing, we rollicked as poor old Willie the housemaster asked us Please to behave manne, my wife is trying to sleep. Another bright idea took hold: Converting the hostel angle-iron bed into a fold-away stretcher. You can’t bend angle-iron, but he had done a year’s engineering before he started optometry, so through persistence and focused dedication, he did. His skilful panel-beating expertise is depicted in the big pic *.
The sheer force of this exercise bumped the bed against an heirloom 5-gallon glass flagon with two ears. SMASH and tinkle. It must have been tempered glass, as there were millions of tiny pieces!
Barks sometimes inexplicably went to bed early. Something about a good night’s sleep. One night we got home handsome and clever and Barks had locked his door. Which was his right, except the Fridge Over Troubled Waters was in his room, and the beer was in that fridge. When we failed to rouse him Chris Slabber said “Hold My Beer and Stand back!” and next minute BA-BLAM! he shot off the doorlock! It seems people from Die Perel with CJ numberplates carry small arms with them in case of moeilikheid. I didn’t know that. Access to refreshment obtained. Like the bloody Wild West!
Asseblief manne, said poor housemaster Willie, My wife is trying to sleep. We felt for him.
You’ll have a positive outlook on this if you remember:
“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars” – Stephen Fry
Asseblief manne – stop it, you hooligans!
Die Perel – the city of Paarl in the western cape province; average of eighteen teeth per head
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.
Ponte loomed above us. It was still being built then.
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!
One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein we were playing darts. In the New Doornfontein Hotel pub.
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:
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 and Joburg English.
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 past the chest freezers and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. Then out that side gate visible on the far left into Height Street.
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. It was all 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.
Suddenly the smell of frying bacon filled the room . . . (to be continued)
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 lenses, 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.
As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz Simpson’s lime-green VW Beetle or Steve Reed’s beige Apache or Bobby Friderich’s white Mini Cooper S or Glen Barker’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”
I don’t have a pic, but here’s the Doll House in Highlands North so long:
Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray Elvis had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.
Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us twenty six years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!
I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?
“Thirty six years” he said “but I’m just filling in now”.
Charged me 70c. Plus twenty six years-worth of inflation.