This building used to be something else, I think – not sure – but in our time it was the junior primary school. Occupying a full block between Stuart and Warden Streets near the centre of the metropolis, our Sub A to Std 1 classes were here. Except if your Std 1, 2 and 3 was all together in one room with one teacher (‘die Engelse klas’). Then you went down to the next school in Std 1. So I had Sub A and Sub B in this old sandstone building. I entered age five and departed age seven. With a blue bicycle.
My greatest achievement in this time was probably winning a high-pissing contest in the sandstone boys room and having big mate Fanie Schoeman report the feat to Mrs Van Reenen. Miss! Miss! Peter pee’d on my head, he said. Brief fame, diplomatically handled. The urinal was open to the sky and we’d been trying to see who could leave his wet mark highest up on the sandstone wall above the trough. Wee on sandstone leaves a very satisfactory, undeniable mark which cannot be disputed, in contests like these. It lasts long enough for judges to judge and disputes to be resolved. Mine was highest. And some did go astray and hit Fanie, it’s true.
Here’s a view of our classroom taken from the boys toilets. In fact this photographer’s head is very near where Fanie’s head was back then. Chips!
Another clear memory of that class was admiring the beautifully accurate Noddy car Lincoln Michell made of yellow and red plasticine.
That sums up my first year of formal education. Luckily it didn’t cost a lot.
One of the joys of being in this kleinspanskool was it was a junior part of the bigger primary school down the road and quite regularly something would need to be schlepped down there. To be chosen to pull the wooden trailer or trolley, with its rubber wheels from one school to the other was a much sought-after diversion from classtime. You’d be FREE! FREE AT LAST! and wandering the shady tree-lined streets in school time on a Long Walk To Freedom! Bliss!
Behind that long building was a rugby field where Giel du Toit despaired of my ever learning one end of a rugby ball from the other – or one end of the rugby field, for that matter. His coaching methods consisted of patting me on the head and muttering ‘There, there; Moenie worrie nie!’ Everyone was very kind to me in my young days. Occasionally onse Giel (Joyce Joubert called him Heilige Giel) would get a faraway look in his eyes and talk about walking behind the ploughshare and picking up a clod of freshly-turned earth, smelling it and saying something about nothing in the world could ever smell better. The dorpsjapie in me thought ‘huh?’ Years later I speculate he was angling to marry a farmer’s daughter and was practicing his pitch to Pa. He actually did just that, I learned.
I played for the under-eleven B team, and the only reason for that was there was no C team. Although we were now down the road at the bigger school, rugby practice was at the old kleinspan school, as the bigger school didn’t have a field.
The end of the season arrived – near the end of winter – and the last game loomed. The traditional big derby day against the Olde Enemy, Vrede, played home and away each year. This year the final game was away, in that far-off dusty city of sin and ribaldry. OK, dusty dorp. Now famous for not having a dairy, back then it was famous for losing at a range of sports to Harrismith. Though, every now and then they’d spring a surprise and beat us.
For some unfathomable reason, Giel decided I would captain the under-eleven B’s on that auspicious occasion. It was 1966, so maybe England winning the soccer world cup got him thinking, ‘Miracles Can Happen?’ Anyway, as the lowest of the most junior teams, we would be playing the first game early in the cold Vrede winter morning, long before most spectators arrived, only dedicated Ma’s and Pa’s on the rickety stand. Our job was to break through the frost on the dead grass on the rock-hard ground for the more important games to follow. With our bare feet.
Which is how I came to have the leather odd-shaped ball in my hand that morning. This was a novel experience. Usually I was only vaguely aware that there WAS even a ball involved in this mysterious game that onse Giel was despairing that I’d ever get the hang of.
My orange-clad barefoot underlings, now fully under my command, dutifully formed a line behind me as I ran onto the field and skopped the leather ball to start the game. I remember only four things about that game, but they are indelibly etched in my newly rugby-focused tactical brain:
1. We were awarded a penalty quite late in the game with the score still on 0 – 0;
2. I made a show of going down on my haunches, and staring at the posts, then tapped the ball and hared straight for the line and dotted the ball down. TRY!!
3. The ref awarded the try. We were 3 – 0 up!
4. There was a muttering from the tiny partisan home crowd of early-morning Ma’s and Pa’s, and the ref seemed agitated. At the next lineout I asked him ‘That was a try, nê?’ and he growled ‘Play on!’ So we won the game, I think.
The next year – or the year after? 1967 – I was suddenly a rugby player and in the A team. I’d like to say it was because of this revelation, revival, awakening and discovery of deep latent talent, plus a realisation of my brilliance thanks to Giel’s inspired and kind gesture, but it was mainly cos my balls dropped, and I shot up four inches and became the tallest oke among the under-thirteens! Size counts in a shoving and huffing and puffing game. When guys have to look up to you they often give way to you.
Kleinspanskool – small persons school; junior primary school
‘die Engelse klas’ – the English patient
‘Moenie worrie nie! ‘ – Dinnae Fash Yersel’; Don’ Wurry
dorpsjapie – townie; urban chap; not rural; the finer points of ploughing escape him
dorp – village; hamlet; one-horse town
skopped – kicked with pinpoint accuracy