The contraption that we called a “Foefieslide” was created by slinging a length of steel, multi strand cable between two trees. The trees had to be at different elevations so that the cable ran from a high point to a low point and the steeper the angle of decline the better. A pulley wheel with a handle was slid onto the cable prior to securing the cable ends to their respective trees. A length of rope was tied to the pulley so that it could be reeled up to the high point where the brave (or stupid?) could grab hold of the handle with both hands and then launch themselves to slide down the length of the cable. Generally the height of the cable above the ground was sufficient to dissuade the one sliding down from letting go. The choice was simple. You could let go and break some bones in the fall or you could hold on until the end of the ride. No one let go!
On the day in question we had a newly made slide that was not only high but ran over water and it needed a test run. Quite stupidly I had volunteered.
Staal tou tussen twee bloekombome
Lekker styf gespan
Oor die water lê sy weg
Met slegs ŉ katrol om aan vas te hang
Stewig vas aan beide kant
Een hoog daarbo die ander laag
Finaal getoets, ja als is reg
“Toe nou manne wie gaan dit waag?”
“Ek’s nie bang” sê ons jong held
En begin die boom te klim
Sjoe! Maar dis hoog as ek moet val
Bly daar van my bra min
Dis nou te laat ek kannie terug
Al breek ek hier my nek
My bek’s te groot dit weet ek goed
Daar’s nou geen kop uittrek
Vat dan goed vas en skop my weg
Op pad met volle vaart
Dis maklik vir dié daar op die wal
Hulle gee my goeie raad
My oë is toe, my hande klam
Meteens tref voete grond
Ek’s veilig nou en sê “Dis niks”
Maar my hart sit in my mond
Nou gaan die ander een vir een
Ek lag vir hulle vrees
Dit kan ek doen, ek is mos baas
Ek het die foefieslide oorheers
If people want “rights” they must be prepared to accept the corresponding responsibility, part of which entails self and group discipline. This is where the world and more particularly the Western world is going wrong. People demand rights but eschew discipline. This disconnect can result only in anarchy.
The Human Disgrace
I want the world to know and to see
Just how ecstatically happy I am to be
Part of a crowd that’s a sad waste of space
A card carrying member of the human disgrace
To say my fellow man disappoints me
Understates reality by a factor of three
Our collective behaviour serves but to debase
Far more worthy creatures that share in this place
What purpose a river what value a tree
An animal a human, all but a minor degree
Of importance that can vanish without even a trace
As we destroy and plunder and scar and deface
Grown to arrogance we assume we are free
To defile the treasures in our brief custody
But based on our actions we can’t make that case
Because the facts relegate us to the human disgrace
As a pre-teen I could not wait for Saturdays to come round. Not only was there no school but Saturday afternoon was when my friends and I went to the afternoon movie showing at the local cinema, which was known by all as “The Bughouse”. The performance always consisted of an animated comedy involving either Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny or Porky pig followed by an episode of a serial normally involving good and bad cowboys. Then there was an interval and after that the feature film started.
Unlike going to the cinema today, where silence is demanded during the showing of the movie, we would loudly try to warn the hero of approaching danger or boo the villain when he committed some dastardly deed. We were in the movie with the actors!The copy of the movies was often of poor quality and occasionally the film would snap and the showing would be interrupted while the projectionist sorted the break out. When this happened the entire audience would whistle and catcall and stomp their feet until the show got going again. At the time I describe we in South Africa did not have television so the cinema was an extremely important form of entertainment for us.
The Movie Matinee
A single shiny sixpence was all you had to payFor entrance to the magic world of the Movie MatineeSo small a price to be a part of each exciting sceneThat weekly mesmerised us as they flickered on the screenSaturday at one-thirty (you daren’t get there late!)For then you’d surely miss the opening of the gateAnd the ensuing mad stampede of many youthful feetRacing to be the first to grab a centre front row seatAs lights go dim and heavy curtains quietly glide apartThere is a sudden silence for the show’s about to startWith ads for some exotic things for which we cannot paySave here in the half-light where fantasy holds swayBored by the allure of an expensive French perfumeImpatiently we fidget waiting for our favourite cartoonWhich One? Who Cares? To us they’re all so funnySuddenly we’re cheering the appearance of Bugs BunnyThen on to important business, the new serial episodeLast week the Peon miners had struck the mother lodeBut now the greedy Baron will blow the dam upstreamUnless our handsome hero can foil his dirty scheme Intermission is the time for a coloured water drinkAnd many sage opinions prefaced with “I think”That the hero didn’t drown and he’ll yet save the dayWhen he rides again next week in the Movie MatineeTime now for the feature, today it’s SupermanBending bars of solid steel and saving Lois LaneEmerging from a phone booth, innocuous Clark KentThe safeguarding of Metropolis his singular intentToo soon the show is over, the afternoon is goneWe jostle out the exits and amble slowly homeReliving all the action in a blow by blow replayCounting days and hours ‘til again it’s Saturday
We lived in a two bedroom semi detached house in Mayfair and our Landlord (who was also our neighbour) was a blind man whose Christian name was Patrick. I don’t know that I ever knew his surname and I certainly can’t remember it now so I refer to him simply as “Blind Patrick”.
Every day except Sundays, Patrick would walk the three blocks from his home to the tram terminus where he would board a tram to take him into the City. In the City he would walk a block and a half to his spot beside the Northern aspect of the City Hall and there he would stand all day, tin cup in hand, begging for a coin or two from passersby. At about five-o-clock he would leave his spot and retrace his steps home. I knew his routine because I had once travelled into the City with him.
Ears straining to detect amidst the familiar comforting soundsThose that warn of dangerHe walks with cautious confidence born of years of practiceWhite stick, tap tappingBoarding the tram for the trip into town is a long acquired skillPerformed with exaggerated actionAnd the sightless journey is punctuated only by the greetings Of those identified by voice aloneAlight at journey’s end and tap with measured step the distanceTo his own appointed placeThere to stand protected by unwritten law that forbids intrusionBy another of his kindA penny in a tin cup rattles to attract those who would make Some small donationAnd for those passing guilty by looking at some distant pointJust a hint of a smileWhat visions inhabit his mind? What shape and size and colourDoes he apply to city sounds?For never having seen these things do they appear to himAs they do to us?Does he simply accept them for what he has been told they areGiving them no further formContent that they exist as described by some sighted soulNeeding nothing moreIs he certain only that today will pass as did yesterday?And as will tomorrow?Content to challenge with unseeing eyes that which he knows notYet knows so well?Is each step taken, each day successfully negotiated A singular achievement?Or is he so accustomed to his lot that like us his only fear Is of the unknown?Seek no answers in his face for his serene countenanceAffords no cluesNor do his unseeing eyes yield solutions but prompt insteadFurther questionsKeep then your secrets Blind Patrick and continue in weather Fair and foul To challenge the sighted world with indomitable courage White stick tap tapping
My youth was spent (or perhaps misspent) in the vicinity of a number of goldmine dumps and two small dams. The dams were fed by a combination of water pumped from mine dewatering operations and rainwater runoff, neither of which was very healthy I suspect. We didn’t care whether the water was good for us or not and played and swam many long summers away in the one dam or the other. The upper dam was known by us as the “Blue” dam while the lower dam was the “Brown” dam. The major difference between the two was that the “Blue” dam had sticky yellow clay deposits along its shoreline and we spent many happy hours making war by hurling clay balls at one another using short sticks cut from the blue gum trees. The idea is simplicity itself. First you cut a 600 to 700 millimetre long blue gum stick of about 15 to 20 millimetre diameter. Then you gather a huge lump of the yellow clay and knead it until it’s nice and plastic. Then you mould a lump of clay the size of a golf ball on to one end of the stick and holding the other end firmly in your hand, you swing the stick in a 90 degree arc starting from a horizontal position and stopping abruptly at the vertical position. This action has the effect of releasing the lump of clay from the tip of the stick and turning it into a projectile that, with practice can be accurately aimed at a target and delivered with painful consequences if the target happens to be human.
Many a bloodless battle was thus fought between two opposing armies and the most serious injuries that I can recall were some lumps and a few multi coloured bruises.
Daar onder by die Bloudam
Was die klei so taai en geel
En elke dag was dit onspret
Om kleilat te gaan speel
Gepaste lat van bloekomboom
Brei klont stewig op sy spits
Lanseer die skoot op volle vaart
Die vyande goed te klits
Dis ek en Bob teen Boet en Jan
Elkeen het hope klei
Staan dan gereed, oorlog begin
Die klonte gons verby
Jan tref vir Bob hier langs sy kop
ŉ prima skoot voorwaar
dis twee teen een tot hy herstel
ek gooi net aanmekaar
Boet tref my skielik teen die bors
Dit pyn maar ek moet veg
Ek korrel goed en brand weer los
Jan snik en vryf dan aan sy nek
Die stryd woed voort met onopthoud
Tot laat sons ondergaan
En more kry ons weer die kans
Ons vyand te verslaan
The Police Athletic Stadium in Mayfair was located directly behind the public swimming pool in Ninth Avenue and consisted of an oval, eight lane athletics track surrounding a grassed rugby field. On the Eastern side was a grand stand overlooking the start/finish straight and a six foot high diamond mesh perimeter fence enclosed the whole complex. While the stadium was under construction the entrance gates were not locked and this gave the local children access to the athletics track which was informally used as a bicycle race track.
On the day in question, workmen had dug a trench on the far side straight in order to gain access to some underground piping. The trench cut through lane one and then into the rugby field leaving the other seven lanes intact. I was not present when my “friends” spotted this and decided it would be an excellent opportunity to play a prank on me by challenging me to a cycle race in which they would give me the inside lane. We would start, as usual, from the start/finish straight so I would have no opportunity to see the trench on the far side in advance. During the race the group would box me in so that I was forced to stay in the inside lane and when we got to the trench I would fall in to the hole going at some speed. They imagined that the accident should be quite spectacular and all except me would have a big laugh about it.
The Cycle Race
Bring your bike and we’ll race the track at the police athletic groundOne quarter mile flat and the quickest time is now 65 seconds aroundWho did the best? Who got that time? Was what I demanded to know?Well, Leonard did by a country mile, the others were much too slowIf you think you’ll do better come with us, we’ll settle the matter thereThe trap is set, they know me too well and I just can’t resist the dareNext thing we’re ready, five abreast and I’ve drawn the inside trackGet away fast and stay out in front, that’s my simple plan of attackI’m much too excited to spot the deceit, winning has addled my brainAlmost too late I look up to see a trench, three feet wide cross my laneInstinct takes over, I’ve no time to think, fling body and bike in the airUp over the maw that’s waiting to bite, land safe with inches to spareNow it’s a joke, let’s all have a laugh but clearly I see through their planFrom quasi “friends” a lesson in life, trust only yourself my young man
I entered high school aged thirteen years and ten months and quickly realised that this was a very different world to that which I had enjoyed in primary school. For starters, there were “boys” in short pants that had heavy facial stubble and looked old enough to be my father. Some of them were already hard cases and when, at lunch break they enquired “What are we eating today?” you handed over your lunch without argument.
The teachers were also a motley assortment with some so old they looked as though they might drop dead in the middle of a lesson and others younger and more intimidating. It was the latter group that was more dangerous because they gave “cuts” for real or imagined transgressions. The “caning” of boys was standard disciplinary procedure in those days and generally consisted of three strokes to the behind with a light, bamboo cane for minor infractions and six stokes for more serious offences.
The headmaster of the school was a stern, red faced individual with thinning hair combed straight back. He was devoid of a sense of humour and I didn’t once see him smile in the five years I was at the school. Understandably, his nickname was “Turkey” because of his ruddy complexion but also because of his drooping jowls which resembled the wattles on a turkey. The Afrikaans word for turkey is kalkoen and this poem is accordingly titled “Meneer de Kalkoen” or Mister Turkey.
Meneer de Kalkoen
Die Hoof van ons skool was besonders gemeenMet ŉ bloedrooi gesig en ŉ kalkoen kakebeenGroen oe soos albasters, koud hard en rond En nimmer ŉ glimlag op sy stywe ou mondLanger as ses voet en reguit soos ŉ paalHare effe bles die blinkkleur van staalEn hande soos skopgrawe soepel en sterkHeel geskik om oorlelle se sake te werkSy bynaam? Wat anders as “Meneer de Kalkoen”Maar slegs buite gehoor word dit hardop genoemWant sê jy dit elders en word jy gevangGaan jou sitvlak goed brand van rottang se gesangSy voorkoms en humeur het gesag afgedwingMaar seuns bly maar seuns en die duiwel glip inOnnoselle jeug hoekom waag jy so ŉ streekIn sy kantoor word jou astrantheid gou-gou gebreekRegter, Jurie en Laksman drie in een is KalkoenJy’s skuldig, buk vooroor, vingerpunte teen skoenTrek boudspiere styf, beheer skreeuende breinHoor rottang se fluit wetend hier kom die pynDrie pers strepe sal kort-kort jou boude versierNet bravade dwing jou daartoe die seer te verduurEn die folteraar kyk snags diep in ŉ bottel brandewynSy gewete te sus vir sy rol as boodskapper van pyn