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.
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 LightsThe 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.
VoëllymOom 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