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4_Optometry Johannesburg 8_Nostalgia

Letter from a Student – 1977

I wrote a letter as a final year optometry student! Astonishing. When could one find the time? To sister Sheila, newly-qualified teacher in Empangeni in Zululand. My news was:

Passed my supplementary exams.

Started organising our Annual Ball at Carlton Hotel already.

I’m SRC chairman till July.

The mighty grey and grey Opel Concorde ‘needs a tjoon up.’

I may not make Rag Ball in Pietermaritzburg this year!

Unhappy with res in Doories; expensive, badly looked after, phones don’t work; fought with matron; moving into communal house 4 Hillside Rd in Parktown, where Glen Barker and Clive Nel stay. ‘Before I go, though, I’m going to raise hell to see if things’ll improve.’ (!)

Steve Reed, Cheryl Forsdick and I baby-sat for Bobby & Jill and Louis & Gail; ‘chaos for an hour, then not too bad. They enjoyed their evening; it had been a long while since they’d gone anywhere.’

Great parties; Braais; a Chinese Dinner-Dance; a cricket day; ‘played our first rugby match in our new kit – pitch black from toes to necks with the only white our optom badge on the pocket and our numbers on the back; Beat engineers 18-0.’

‘Went to the Vaal river for a weekend’s skiing; two of the guys had boats; stayed in a resort – lovely; went to a 21st in Pretoria; Generally busy except for work – work is suffering muchly; latest tests got 50% and 82% – the averages , thought were something like 80% and 95%.’

And all that was in a letter written 10th March!

Later that year:

Went to Pete Brauer and Terry Saks’ wedding in Pretoria. I was best man, had to get on my hind legs. My partner was the delightful Cheryl Forsdick; Lovely evening; Driving back with Clive Nel and the delightful Sandy Norts in Clive’s gas-guzzling white Mazda RX-2 we had a midnight head-on collision; Some drunken idiot turned straight into us on the highway! I was fine but the others got a bit battered, with Clive, driving, the worst. He’s in plaster and on crutches.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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4_Optometry Johannesburg 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia school

House (mistress) Trained

Willie the housemaster of the Doornfontein residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education was a good ou. In the fickle lottery of life he drew the short straw when we moved into the large, highly-prized room adjacent to the housemaster’s conjugal apartment on the corner of Louisa Street and St Augustine Street that he shared with his long-suffering wife.

Willie tried his best. We ignored him.

You couldn’t really ignore the real boss of the res, Sarie Oelofse though. She was fearsome. When we checked in to res on day one as fresh new arrivals in 1974, she made it very clear that she vatniekaknie.

Let us pause briefly right here to think about what sort of doos would christen a place a “College for Advanced Technical Education / Kollege vir Gevorderde Tegniese Onderwys”. Fuck me! Catchy title, china! One can imagine flocks of proud alumni saying “I went to the College for Advanced Technical Education.”

But back to onse Sarie: She was tall, had been through some husbands, and was crowned by a snow white mop on top. No one would dare give her kak, we thought. Then we met Slabber. Sarie marched into our room one day in our first week as inmates in first year and asked in her strident voice, “Vuddafokgaanhieraan?” We were drinking against the rules and making a happy, ribald commotion against those same rules.

We were ready to capitulate and come with all sorts of “jammer mevrou’s” and “ons sal dit nooit weer doen nie’s” and untrue kak like that when Chris Slabber – an old hand, in his third year in res – stepped forward and said “Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Kry vir jou ‘n dop,” and poured her a large brandy.

Sarie melted like a marshmallow on a stick roasting on an open fire. Reminded me of that Christmas song by Nat King Cole. She sat down, smiled coyly and lost all her authority in one gulp. It was wonderful. From then on, we wagged the dog. We continued to show her huge respect while doing whatever the hell we wanted. We helped her, and she turned a blind eye. The formula Chris Slabber had worked out while living over the road in the old St Augustines Street cottages worked like a charm. It needed regular dop provision, of course, but that was no PT: Whatever we were drinking we would just pour Sarie some and she would remain completely reasonable and amenable.

It was what you could call win-win. Educational, in fact.

~~~oo0oo~~~

vatniekaknie – intolerant of rambustious student behaviour

doos – person lacking your clear insight

kak – uphill

Vuddafokgaanhieraan? – What gives, gentlemen?

jammer mevrou’s – apologies

ons sal dit nooit weer doen nie’s – perish the thought

Ag kak, Sarie, hier: Kry vir jou ‘n dop – Have a seat, ma’am

dop – libation. Actually, any alcoholic drink

~~~oo0oo~~~

Another lady lived off the premises, just outside our windows in St Augustine Street. Her name was Agnes and the poor thing would attempt oblivion by swallowing methylated spirits. ‘Riding The Blue Train,’ a wild and dangerous ride. When going strong she would rant and rave and give us plenty of lip with some choice foul language. We would shout out the window: AG SHURRUP AGNES! and she would come right back with FUCK YOU YOU FUCKEN POES! Feisty, was ole Agnes. Sleeping rough in winter, she and her companions would huddle around whatever they could set alight for some warmth. One night she must have got a bit too close to the fire and then belched. A fatal meths burp roasting on an open fire. Reminded me of that Christmas song by Nat King Cole. ‘Twas the end of Agnes. The police mortuary van came to take her on her last wild ride.

The street was quieter after that. I had to step up into the vacuum.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Many decades later – 2020 – I was misled into drinking a lot of wine into the wee hours at Mike Lello’s lovely home overlooking the Palmiet valley. Mike had also stayed at the Doories res, about five years before me, and Sarie Oelofse had been his House Mistress too. He had fond memories of the old duck, including gently carrying her to bed. And then leaving her there, dead drunk! So not what you were thinking. He stayed in her wing of the establishment, down at the bottom end, under the same big roof as the dining room. They got on so well, indeed, that Sarie even attended his and Yvonne’s wedding, how’s that!

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4_Optometry Johannesburg 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal

Round The Bend

Mandy’s reply on the 21st post reminded me of The Bend – that sacred pilgrimage site we would repair to as part of growing up and learning wisdom and wonder. Also drinking, puking and dancing. Especially drinking. It was like Mecca.

We searched the whole of Joburg all term long for girls and women and couldn’t find any, but on The Bend there was always a goodly gang of inebriated bright young future leaders and fine examples to our youth, dancing, hosing themselves and matching us drink-for-drink.

Some of the drinking was very formal, with strict protocol, enforced by some kop-toe okes who had already been to the weermag and wanted to show us lightweight long-hairs what DUSSIPLIN was all about. Louis was very disciplined under General Field Marshall Reitz as was I under Brigadier Field Marshall Stanley-Clarke:

Late at night important stuff would happen. This time it was inventory control. It became vitally urgent that we help Kai clean out old Dr Reitz’s expired medicines. Mainly by swallowing them. The muscle relaxants caused great hilarity as we pondered what effect they might have on our sphincters. Yussis you’d think with a resident pharmacist we’d be told the possible side-effects, but all we were told – or all we listened to – was “Fire it, Mole!” and down they went, chased by alcohol to enhance the effects. Highly irre-me-sponsible, but all done for research purposes.

The Bend Old Drugs

  • Dr Prof Stephen Charles dispenses –

The research was inconclusive. We fell asleep before any fireworks happened.

In those days we all shared one cellphone, which you didn’t have to carry in your pocket. It was already there when you got there, nailed to the wall so it couldn’t get lost and so everyone could overhear what you were saying. There it is:

Bloody bottle shrunk!

  • I forget what this was, but it was important and Stephen Charles was giving it his rapt attention –

Sometimes farming interfered with the serious part of the weekend and then we would be of great help to Kai. We’re taking his mielies to market here. Don’t know what he would have done without us. Airbags and seatbelts were not highly essential in those daze, as we were usually well internally fortified, and as our driver had his foot flat we knew we’d get there quickly. So it was alright.

Taking mielies to the koperasie silo. No airbags.

  • Taking mielies to the koperasie silo. No airbags –

Back: Me; Kevin Stanley-Clarke (now a Kiwi); Glen Barker (now an Oz). Front: Pierre du Plessis; Steve Reed (a Kiwi in Oz); Lettuce Wood-Marshall (a Chinese or an Oz?); Dave Simpson;

glossary:

kop-toe okes – taking themselves seriously; which made them more hilarious

weermag – ‘again might’, as in ‘we might have to go there again’; involuntarily

mielies – maize, corn; sometimes schlongs

schlong – your mielie

koperasie – co-operative: socialist gathering of capitalist farmers

In JHB, a mate swears he heard me giving directions to the farm. I’m sure he’s mistaken, but Trevor John says: Swannie, I will never forget your directions to a farm in Harrysmith – 2 quarts of beer to the right turnoff; one pint to the next turnoff; and a small shot for the next left to the gate .

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4_Optometry Johannesburg 8_Nostalgia

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.

Doories cars - and Ponte
Doories cars – and Ponte

Doories res and view
Doories res and view

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!

Dave Simpson, Louis Slabbert at Wilge River swing, Harrismith;

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4_Optometry Johannesburg 7_Confessions

International Darts Champs

One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein we were playing darts in the New Doornfontein Hotel pub, a salubrious emporium of renown. Probably one of the best hotels in Doornfontein. Top three anyway.

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 unOfficial 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 this in the Us vs Them stakes:

– Us – – Them –

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. He ‘eskorted’ us note . . Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen past the chest freezers – take note, I am not mentioning the chest freezers for nothing here – past the chest freezers: these clues will feature again at the end of this story, eskort and those chest freezers – and out the back door. As I hurried through the kitchen I thought I had seen some movement of the one chest freezer lid out of the corner of my eye . .

Then we were outside – into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. Then out that side motor gate visible on the far left into Height Street.

New Doornfontein Hotel side exit
– recent pictures here and top showing clearly how the New Doories has been nicely renovated since our day – also doubled its number of stars – bloody looxury now – I see they are still ‘open till late’ –

We scurried home through the empty streets at night 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 unOfficial Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax. Another beer to calm our troubled nerves . .

fridge.jpg
Suddenly the smell of frying bacon filled the room . . .

and then . . . . .

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4_Optometry Johannesburg 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

A trumpet? Or were we just trumped?

We would meet on The Bend, Kai’s paradise on the Tugela outside Bergville. The guys from Doories in Johannesburg studying to be optometrists and engineers at the Wits Tech and the gals from NTC in Pietermaritzburg, studying to be teachers of the future fine upstanding youth of SA. We would meet specifically to practice setting a good example.

We’d sing and dance, play loud music, down many beers, fall in love, salute General Armstrong the whisky bottle, dance, laugh, swim in the river, jump off the dam wall, have a ball, dance, laugh, recover and start all over again. In hunting season some of us might shoot a few guineafowl.

The Bend Gen Armstrong

Sundays we’d load up and go back to school like responsible students. Speronsible, as Lloyd Zunckel would say.

On this occasion Lettuce Leaf loaded up the off-yellow Clittering Goach to head SE back to PMB and Spatch loaded up the beige Apache and Scratchmo loaded the green VeeDub to head NW back to Joeys. We decided to help Lettuce pack out of the kindness of our hearts, slipping a dead guineafowl in amongst the girls’ suitcases. Ha ha! That’ll give them a surprise when they get back!

Clittering Goach & Guinea

Here Scratchmo chunes the Clittering Goach’s under-bonnet-ular bits, pretending he knows what’s going on to impress Lettuce:

The Bend Spatch Lettuce

Back in Johannesburg later that Sunday night, we couldn’t wait to phone them from the nearest ‘tickey box’ or public phone.

How was your trip? Fine.

How were your suitcases? Fine.

How was Lettuce’s boot? Fine.

Oh! Um, was there anything unusual in the boot? No. Why?

DAMN! We suspected Scratchmo Hood Simpson, and interrogated him accusingly: Are you so in love that you removed the fowl to spare the girls the smell? No, it wasn’t him. But, but . . someone must have removed it. Damn!

Oh, well, it was a great idea for a prank! Pity it failed . . . .

A week later we got a parcel slip:

A parcel from PMB awaits your collection at the General Post Office in Jeppe Street.

It was big and quite heavy and read: Contents: Musical Instrument.

Interesting.

Unwrapping layer after layer of paper and one plastic bag after another we unveiled: THAT GUINEAFOWL! The girls had suckered us! We had been (in 21st century-language) SERVED!

Hummed? It honked! It ponged! – that was obviously their “musical instrument” clue! Heave! Vomit! Yuk!

So what to do with it? Holding it at arms length we carried it out. It was 5pm rush hour. Traffic backed up under the Harrow Road flyover. Innocent hard-working people on their way home. A little plumber’s bakkie looked easy, so as the light turned green we deposited the offending deceased foul fowl discreetly on his loadbed. He’d have an interesting mystery when he got home!

We then made our way to the nearest tickey box. We had a concession phone call to make to PMB.

Girls 1 – Guys 0

=========================

Harrow Rd Flyover & Res_2.jpg
Where the lucky plumber’s bakkie got its guineafowl

=======ooo000ooo=======

bakkie – pickup truck;