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

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


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.



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