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

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

The Cycle Race

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 ground
One quarter mile flat and the quickest time is now 65 seconds around
Who 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 slow
 
If you think you’ll do better come with us, we’ll settle the matter there
The trap is set, they know me too well and I just can’t resist the dare
Next thing we’re ready, five abreast and I’ve drawn the inside track
Get away fast and stay out in front, that’s my simple plan of attack
 
I’m much too excited to spot the deceit, winning has addled my brain
Almost too late I look up to see a trench, three feet wide cross my lane
Instinct takes over, I’ve no time to think, fling body and bike in the air
Up over the maw that’s waiting to bite, land safe with inches to spare
 
Now it’s a joke, let’s all have a laugh but clearly I see through their plan
From quasi “friends” a lesson in life, trust only yourself my young man

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

The Soldier

My father, Gerhardus Hermanus du Toit, was one of life’s great enigmas.  He came from an Afrikaans upbringing yet married an English speaking woman, spoke only English himself and considered the “English” orientated United Party his lifelong political home.  During World War Two, he was working on the Langlaagte Deep Mine as a shaft timber man and because mining and miners were considered “essential “to the war effort,he was not allowed to “signup” for active duty.  So strongly did he believe that he had an obligation to do his bit that his simple solution was to quit the mine job and signup anyway leaving my mother to do the best she could on the meagre army pay.  Joining the army simultaneously gave the finger to his Afrikaans relatives since the majority of Afrikaners openly or secretly supported Germany.  Manie, as he was known, spent three years in the Signal Corps seeing action first in Egypt and later in Italy. He returned home physically unscathed but like so many returning soldiers the scars were on his psyche.

The Soldier

Come let me wash your face son
We are going to meet your Dad
He’s coming home from up North son
And he’ll leave us no more, are you glad?
 
The troop train’s due in at eleven son
Three years last week he’s been gone
But today he’ll be at Park Station son
And he’ll wonder at how big you’ve grown
 
Just look at the flags on the streets son
We are flying the proud Union Jack
Johannesburg is happy today son
For at last her men have come back
 
Hold tight to my hand on the platform son
Or you’ll surely get lost in this throng
Hear Johannesburg lifting her voice son
To welcome her men with a song
 
Don’t fret, I’m not really crying son
For tears can mean both joy and pain
And my heart’s bubbling over today son
For your Dad will be with us again
 
Some day when you have grown up son
You’ll know why I’m no longer afraid
And why there are faces missing son
And the terrible price that was paid
 
But for now be happy and smile son
There’s nothing can mar our joy
We’ll pick up the threads of our life son
Your Dad your Mom and their boy
 
Look! There’s your Dad at a window son
Now wave, wave with both hands
There look, he’s seen us, he’s waving
At last, back from far distant lands
 
 There’s hugging and kissing and crying
 No more will Mother be sad
For a man is back with his family
Our Soldier, our Hero, my Dad