Days Of Youth

George Bernard Shaw was well-known for his acid wit and had very clear opinions on most subjects. One of his gems is that “Youth is such a wonderful thing; it’s a pity it is wasted on the young”.   How right he is! Like most children I wished my youth away then continued this stupidity into adulthood and on into old age.  Wishing my life away is possibly the only wish that has ever come true for me but somehow I don’t think congratulations are in order.

Days of Youth

How well I remember the long summer days
The golden sun swimming in a cloudless sky
Of brilliant blue
 
How easy it was to lie in knee-deep green grass
And think thoughts of no consequence
Or think not at all
 
How long those days and peaceful too
 
How well I remember the cold winter days
The anaemic sun crossing a cloudless sky
Of palest grey
 
How pleasant it was to feel frost underfoot
Or shatter the fragile layer of ice
On a pond
 
How short those days and far away
 
How could I know? Who dared tell me?
That those precious days would quickly pass
But they did and me so busy I hardly noticed
Until now
 
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Christmas Lights

The Johannesburg of my youth was a fascinating place to be at Christmas time because the city centre was transformed by the City Council and Department stores into a night time wonderland of twinkling lights, window displays and giant, decorated Christmas trees. Hundreds of families would descend on the city after dark to stroll along Eloff, Rissik and President Streets and because traffic was light it was safe to walk arm in arm in the middle of the road. The summer weather would be balmy with star filled skies above, except, of course if there happened to be a sudden thunder storm. These rarely lasted very long so you simply took cover until the rain stopped and the stars came out again and then you continued your tour of the displays.

While the Christmas and Nativity scenes in the department stores were very attractive it was to Joubert (pronounced jewbear) park that everyone made their way because there the City Council pulled out all the stops and created the most magnificent fairytale wonderland imaginable.

Folks would buy big bunny balloons for the kids and ice creams and candy floss for everyone then stroll at their leisure through the park staring in wonderment at the displays.

Christmas Lights

 The City’s all dressed up for Christmas
The streets are ablaze with bright lights
Families stroll hand in hand on the main streets
Wide eyed at the Yuletide delights
 
Shop windows with scenes of the North Pole
Mock snow renders everything white
And the heat of an African summer
Detracts not one jot from the sight
 
Santa’s workshop is busy as usual
With industrious elves making toys
For the girls doll’s houses and cradles
Wood blocks and wagons for boys
 
In their parlour sit Santa and Mrs Claus
Before a cheerful log fire gently rocking
Soon he’ll leave on his annual journey
To fill many a child’s Christmas stocking
 
Outside stands the sleigh quietly waiting
To be drawn at great speed I suppose
By the reindeer team led by Rudolph
The one with the shiny red nose
 
Street lights and store windows are pretty
But the best place to see after dark
Is the glittering world of the fairies
That each year transforms Joubert Park
 
No doubt the right place for enchantment
Every turn holds a brand new surprise
And we marvel at the storybook pageant
Brought to life under Johannesburg skies
 
Cinderella’s busy sweeping the kitchen
While her step-sisters prepare for the ball
And Humpty sits wobbling precariously
Surveying the Kings men from his wall
 
Snow white waves goodbye to the seven
As they march off to work in the mine
While the hatter runs ‘round in a frenzy
Double checking his watch for the time
 
In contrast mother goose reads a story
To a group that includes Little Boy Blue
And a dozen or more of the offspring
Of the woman who lives in a shoe
 
But the favourite display without question
Is the tableau of First Christmas night
With the infant asleep in the manger
Soft lit by the East Star so bright
 
An ox and an ass look on quietly
At father Joseph and mother Mary serene
While Three Kings bearing gifts for the Baby
Complete this timeless nativity scene
 
For a month ‘til twelfth night each summer
Noël lights shine bright as many a jewel
Then fade but leave not without promise
To return again for our pleasure next Yule
 

Pizza Night

According to Jean Paul Sartre “The poor don’t know that their function in life is to exercise our generosity”.  Perhaps that is true but the lady in the next poem knew nothing of Sartre or of his words yet she succeeded in exercising my generosity.

Pizza Night

Friday night is pizza night and this night it’s my turn to buy
Two quatros in hand as I reach the car a woman catches my eye
Her sandals are all but worn through and the babe on her back makes no cry
She’s tired but worse she is broken and instinct alone makes her try
To sell one more cheap little tray cloth so they might eat rather than die
I have no need of her offering but I reach for my purse with a sigh
And buy not one but two bits of lace, thinking “But for God’s grace there go I”

Edlaw Mansions

I was born in a nursing home in the Southern suburbs of Johannesburg.  Why I got this special treatment at a time when home birthing was the norm, I never did find out.  When my mother and I got to go home it was to a two storey block of flats on Central Avenue which is the main road through Mayfair.  The flats were tiny two bedroom, one bathroom affairs and number 3 was to be my first home.

Edlaw Mansions

My first permanent abode (after the womb, I must stress)
Was number three Edlaw Mansions, Central Avenue no less
Sadly not Illovo nor Athol nor even Eastleigh my dear
But Mayfair, near Fordsburg, the wrong trackside I fear
 
And “Mansions” was poetic licence misused to excess
So grand a title far removed from reality, I guess
Yet its two bedroom flats served for many a year
As refuge and haven for all who lived there
 
A veritable potpourri of people used this address
All forced there by hard times, by financial distress
And things were seldom as they might outward appear
With any signs of prosperity just a fragile veneer
 
In the absence of affluence one could sense nonetheless
The unmistakable presence of class consciousness
And while the language division was painfully clear
Politeness and civility is what you’d publicly hear
 
Those on their way up might try hard to impress
With a new woollen suit or a smart winter dress
And those of less fortune would pretend to good cheer
Then blow their last shilling on two bottles of beer
 
Gone now the mansions, in the name of progress
But neither absence nor time can serve to repress
The memory of those who arrived in joy or in tear
To find warmth in her shelter, to be held by her near
 

The Human Disgrace

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
 
 

The Movie Matinee

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 pay
For entrance to the magic world of the Movie Matinee
So small a price to be a part of each exciting scene
That weekly mesmerised us as they flickered on the screen
 
Saturday at one-thirty (you daren’t get there late!)
For then you’d surely miss the opening of the gate
And the ensuing mad stampede of many youthful feet
Racing to be the first to grab a centre front row seat
 
As lights go dim and heavy curtains quietly glide apart
There is a sudden silence for the show’s about to start
With ads for some exotic things for which we cannot pay
Save here in the half-light where fantasy holds sway
 
Bored by the allure of an expensive French perfume
Impatiently we fidget waiting for our favourite cartoon
Which One? Who Cares? To us they’re all so funny
Suddenly we’re cheering the appearance of Bugs Bunny
 
Then on to important business, the new serial episode
Last week the Peon miners had struck the mother lode
But now the greedy Baron will blow the dam upstream
Unless our handsome hero can foil his dirty scheme
 
Intermission is the time for a coloured water drink
And many sage opinions prefaced with “I think”
That the hero didn’t drown and he’ll yet save the day
When he rides again next week in the Movie Matinee
 
Time now for the feature, today it’s Superman
Bending bars of solid steel and saving Lois Lane
Emerging from a phone booth, innocuous Clark Kent
The safeguarding of Metropolis his singular intent
 
Too soon the show is over, the afternoon is gone
We jostle out the exits and amble slowly home
Reliving all the action in a blow by blow replay
Counting days and hours ‘til again it’s Saturday
 
 

Blind Patrick

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.

Blind Patrick

Ears straining to detect amidst the familiar comforting sounds
Those that warn of danger
He walks with cautious confidence born of years of practice
White stick, tap tapping
 
Boarding the tram for the trip into town is a long acquired skill
Performed with exaggerated action
And the sightless journey is punctuated only by the greetings
Of those identified by voice alone
 
Alight at journey’s end and tap with measured step the distance
To his own appointed place
There to stand protected by unwritten law that forbids intrusion
By another of his kind
 
A penny in a tin cup rattles to attract those who would make
Some small donation
And for those passing guilty by looking at some distant point
Just a hint of a smile
 
What visions inhabit his mind? What shape and size and colour
Does he apply to city sounds?
For never having seen these things do they appear to him
As they do to us?
 
Does he simply accept them for what he has been told they are
Giving them no further form
Content that they exist as described by some sighted soul
Needing nothing more
 
Is he certain only that today will pass as did yesterday?
And as will tomorrow?
Content to challenge with unseeing eyes that which he knows not
Yet 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 countenance
Affords no clues
Nor do his unseeing eyes yield solutions but prompt instead
Further questions
 
Keep then your secrets Blind Patrick and continue in weather
Fair and foul
To challenge the sighted world with indomitable courage
 White stick tap tapping