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.
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 MatineeA 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
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 PatrickEars 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
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 GOOIDaar 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 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 RaceBring 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
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 KalkoenDie 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
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.