VLIEëRS (Kites)

Vlieërs is the Afrikaans term for Kites and I devoted a great deal of my youth to making and flying kites.  No two kites that I made were ever identical in performance and I was fascinated by the diversity of personalities they displayed.  Some were aggressive in flight while others were completely docile.  Some took their role very seriously while others were playful.  However they behaved, the basic construction materials were always the same and consisted of bamboo strips, tissue paper, strong cotton and glue.

On the day described below, my friends and I wanted to make a few kites but had no bamboo and no money to buy some from the farmer who sold it to us for a penny a length.  After some discussion, the solution seemed obvious – we would simply help ourselves to a few lengths.  All we had to do was not get caught.  That part of the plan didn’t work too well and I had to take a hiding stoically since I couldn’t tell my parents what had happened.  To confess my crime would doubtless have generated another hiding – this time from my father.

VLIEëRS

Op ʼn dag wil ons toe vlieërs maak
Maar bamboes het ons nie
Die ou boer by Langlaagte het
Maar hy vra daarvoor ʼn pennie
 
G’n een het geld, wat sal ons maak
Maar wag! Louis het ʼn plan
Daar is gevaar maar ons is jonk
Kom ons gaan steel daarvan
 
So gesê so gedaan
En kort kort is ons daar
Stilletjies kap ons bamboes af
Niemand moet ons gewaar
 
Skielik skreeu ʼn stem hardop
“Haai wat maak jul daar?”
Dit is die boer, hy’t ons gesien
Vandag kry ons pakslae
 
Die oubaas en twee outas
Kom vinnig aangedraf
En voor hul hol vier honde
Met skrikwekkende geblaf
 
Elkeen laat sy bamboes val
En kies ʼn wegkom pad
Ons spat in alle rigtings uit
En vrees gee bene vaart
 
Ek hardloop deur die bloekombos
Maar struikel oor ʼn tak
Ek val my stom, my wind is uit
Meteens is ek betrap
 
Die outas hou my stewig vas
Ek pleit en tjank en ruk
Dit help my niks, pak gaan ek kry
Hul maak my vooroor buk
 
Die oubaas slaan my pienk en pers
Met sy renostervel sambok
Die pyn is erg my boude brand
Ek soebat “Hou tog op!”
 
Skielik word ek los gelaat
Dit is my wegkom kans
Hul gryp na my maar ek is weg
So vinnig soos ʼn haas
 
By die huis gaan dit maar ewe swaar
Want Ma wil weet hoekom
Ek nie wil sit, bly liewers staan
“Wat’s fout, toe sê nou jong?”
 
“Ek het perd gery en afgeval
Op sitvlak hard beland”
Of sy my glo kan ek nie sê
En ek’s vroeg bed toe die aand
 
 

Die Skoenlappers (The Cobblers)

In my youth, neither money nor goods were in plentiful supply and the culture of the day was one of “repair” rather than “replace” as is the modern approach.  This repair philosophy applied to almost everything, not least of all to shoes.  At that time, both the uppers and the soles of shoes were generally made from genuine leather and with reasonable care they would last for many years and be handed down to younger siblings or cousins as you outgrew them.  Along the way they might have several sets of heels and be “half soled and heeled” at least once and possibly more.  There existed specialist shoe repair businesses to whom you took your worn shoes and other leather goods for expert attention and our local “shoemaker” business was operated by a Mister Johannes Wolmarans together with his partner a Mister Gerhardus Nel from premises in Central Avenue, Mayfair.

I loved going to their shop to watch the sewing machines and the grinding and buffing wheels that were driven by flat canvass drive belts powered by a shaft which ran the length of one wall.  I also enjoyed inspecting the variety and diversity of items brought in for repair.  From shoes of every size and description through leather briefcases and school bags to saddles and bridles, they all received the expert attention of the repairers.

Sadly this business and many like it is no more.  It was overtaken by progress in the form of artificial materials, the ‘throwaway’ society and fashion trends that dictate change often well before the product has reached the end of its useful life.

Here is my tribute to the shoemakers.

Die Skoenlappers

 Die Ooms Johannes Wolmarans en Gerhardus Nel
Was in Sentraal Laan bedrywig met skoene herstel
Skoenreparasie was vanmelewe ʼn waardige professie
Want wegsmyt van stukkendes was buite die kwessie
 
Egte leerskoene is deurgaans duursaam en sterk
Maar lewensverwagting word wel deur misbruik beperk
Om klippe en blikke te skop en in poele te baljaar
Beteken kort voor lank is duur trappers so te sê klaar
 
Maar als is nie verlore daar’s tog hulp byderhand
Die plaaslike skoenlappers bied wel kundige bystand
Slegs tiensjielings en ʼn sikspens koop half sole en hakke
En gepoets lyk die ou skoeisel weer vanuit boonste rakke
 
En hul dienste beloop meer as net skoenedrag voorwaar
Omtrent enige leer artikel word wel vir reparasie aanvaar
Van ʼn voetbal of ʼn skoolsak tot ʼn leer baadjie of ʼn saal
As dit van gelooide vel gemaak is geld daar geen bepaal
 
Die aroma van die plek lê nog altyd sterk in my neus
En in my kop maal die ritme van hamerslagte op lees
Asook die gons van poetswiele getol deur seilbande
Begelei deur naaimasjiene onder vaardige hande
 
Nou is die winkel gesloop, die saak verban tot die verlede
ʼn Kantoorgebou op sy plek, veel meer geskik vir die hede
Mens en masjien is tot die laaste lank daarmee heen
Nes die verlies van my jeug wat my somtyds laat ween
 

Die Foefieslide

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.

 Die Foefieslide

 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

Kleilat Gooi

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.

KLEILAT GOOI

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

Meneer de Kalkoen

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 gemeen
Met  ʼn bloedrooi gesig en  ʼn kalkoen kakebeen
Groen oe soos albasters, koud hard en rond
En nimmer  ʼn glimlag op sy stywe ou mond
 
Langer as ses voet en reguit soos  ʼn paal
Hare effe bles die blinkkleur van staal
En hande soos skopgrawe soepel en sterk
Heel  geskik om oorlelle se sake te werk
 
Sy bynaam? Wat anders as “Meneer de Kalkoen”
Maar slegs buite gehoor word dit hardop genoem
Want sê jy dit elders en word jy gevang
Gaan jou sitvlak goed brand van rottang se gesang
 
Sy voorkoms en humeur het gesag afgedwing
Maar seuns bly maar seuns en die duiwel glip in
Onnoselle jeug hoekom waag jy so ʼn streek
In sy kantoor word jou astrantheid gou-gou gebreek
 
Regter, Jurie en Laksman drie in een is Kalkoen
Jy’s skuldig, buk vooroor, vingerpunte teen skoen
Trek boudspiere styf,  beheer skreeuende brein
Hoor rottang se fluit wetend hier kom die pyn
 
Drie pers strepe sal kort-kort jou boude versier
Net bravade dwing jou daartoe die seer te verduur
En die folteraar kyk snags diep in ʼn bottel brandewyn
Sy gewete te sus vir sy rol as boodskapper van pyn

Die Spookhuis

Close to the public swimming pool in Ninth Avenue, Mayfair stood a derelict double storey house.  The house must have been quite old for it was built in the style of early Johannesburg with sash windows, corrugated iron cladding and cast iron balustrades and ornamentation.  The double wrought iron front gates hung askew and the grounds were covered in waist high weeds.

We didn’t know to whom it belonged nor what the story was but the popular belief was that the house was haunted.  The Afrikaans word for “ghost” is “spook” and “huis” means “house” so together “spookhuis” means “ghosthouse” or more correctly, “haunted house”

Die Spookhuis

Die Spookhuis staan eensaam en verlate
Onsamehangend met sy omgewing
 ʼn onbekende se verwaarloosde bate
 
ʼn Dubbelverdieping huis is baie opvallend
Veral  tussen die plat skakelhuisie hordes
Wat netjies saamdrom in rye sonder end
 
Eertyds  ʼn spoghuis, dit is duidelik van buite
Met sy skyfraam vensters en gietyster tralies
Plus deftige skilderglas voordeur en ruite
 
In die twintigejare volgens praatjies gebou
Deur  ʼn welgestelde huidemakelaar
Vir sy eggenoot, ʼn beeldskone jong vrou
 
In my verbeelding ontwaak ʼn volkleurtoneel
Van ʼn geluksalige gesinsgroep
Wat heel gelukkig hier woon, werk en speel
 
Realiteit skep egter veel treurige beelde
Van jarelange verwaarlosing
En die verbrokkeling van  weelde
 
Wat het tot hierdie stand van sake gelei?
Watter ramp, watter tragedie
Het hierdie bekoorlike toneel gekasty?
 
Het die Groot Depressie gely tot bankrotskap?
Of was hulle verslaaf aan dwelms of drank?
Het een of ander euwel hierde mense betrap?
 
Of het een van die paartjie ʼn minaar gekry?
En ontblood, is deur die ander vermoor?
Doodgeskiet tydens ʼn geweldadige stryery?
 
Die bouvallige huis staan baie lank leeg
En elke leidraad wat ek ondersoek
Loop vinnig dood in nog  ʼn blindesteeg
 
Die raaisel van die spookhuis bly dus onverklaar
En sy onnaspeurlike voorkoms
Verklik geen antwoorde, stel eerder meer vrae

Voëllym

One of the “characters” living in our neighbourhood (and there were a few) was Hannes Venter who lived with his wife Hester in the house vacated by the Strydoms after the “Lebs” had trashed it.  They had no children and that’s perhaps the reason they had a car when so few others did.  It was a cream coloured 1948 Pontiac four door sedan which made it about five or six years old when the events described below took place.  If you lived in Mayfair it was because you didn’t have much money and Hannes and my father were constantly hatching “get rich quick” schemes one of which was to drive out to an area Southwest of Johannesburg and there tap a particular species of succulent plant of its milky sap which would later be boiled to produce birdlime.  Once this was done we would leave in the early hours of a Saturday morning to drive to Rustenburg (a country town located a good distance from Johannesburg) where there was a farm dam that Hannes knew of.  According to him the dam attracted many thousands of exotic wild birds which we could capture using the birdlime smeared on the thin side branches of the trees surrounding the dam.  The birds would attempt to land on the sticks covered with birdlime and become stuck. We would then grab them, clean the birdlime off them and put them in holding cages.  When we had caught sufficient numbers and varieties we would transport them back to Johannes burg and sell them to breeders and pet shops and thereby make our fortune.

That was the premise. The reality was a little different. We captured only seven birds in total, five of one species and two of another and neither species was particularly rare.  I doubt they recovered the cost of the petrol to get there and back but we youngsters didn’t care. We had a fine time in the car and at the dam so our world was okay.

 

Voëllym

 
Oom Hannes Venter sê ons kan wilde voëls gaan vang
By  ʼn dam naby Rustenburg genaamd Sukkelaarspan
Blousuisies is volop en Vinke is miljoene verby
En ons gaan hope geld maak, altans so sê hy
Maar eers moet ons self die voëllym produseer
Wat ons dan sal gebruik om op stokkies te smeer
Dit op hul beurt word aan boomtakke gebind
Sodat voëls wat beland  hulle vas sal bevind
 
Suidwes van die stad lê n groot stuk braakland
Deel van oopvlaktes duskant die Suikerbosrand
Juis daar kry ons genoegsame beeskloutjie sap
Deur die plante te sny en die vloeistof te tap
In ʼn pot op die stoof word dit dan afgekook
Tot die inhoud wel lyk soos taai gouestroop
 
Voorbereidings is voltooi en die motor is gelaai
Vroeg bedtoe,môre wiel ons nog voor hanekraai
Kort  voor twee uur die oggend ry die ou Pontiac
Met ons jonges onder komberse op agtersitplek
Voor sonsopkoms is ons daar en als is gereed
Die toneel is spookagtig in ʼn misbaadjie gekleed
En die swerms waarmee ons ons rykdom bereken?
Daglank is daar weinig van hulle ʼn enkele teken
ʼn Skrale vyf ou Blousuisies en ʼn Sebravink paar
Is ʼn power opbrengs om by die huis te verklaar
Die kool was nou wel nie die sous werd gewees
Nietemin wag daar op ons ʼn koninklike fees