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.
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
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.
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!