Fixes – another vacuum cleaner

This Kogan vacuum cleaner was brought to me with the complaint that, when it was new, it worked fine. However, now that it is a few months old it will not pick up anything.

Even though the dust container had been emptied and the machine appeared clear with no obstructions in any of the flexible tubes, still it did not work. The machine had been bought online and the owner was disappointed and considering getting a replacement.

Would I have a look at it first though?

I took the machine and examined the more obvious things such as the flexi tubes before I switched it on. As soon as the motor came on I heard a sort of POP sound and the motor sounded a bit laboured. After listening to this once or twice I determined that there is a blockage and the POP is either something being sucked into, and closing, an airway or a safety by-pass feature to stop the machine from overheating too quickly.

After removing the dust container I looked into the blue uptake tube and found it was blocked. I removed the filter assembly from the container and took the fine dust filter off the top of that.

Looking down into the filter unit I could see that the filter head was also very blocked.

After picking out a lot of the material blocking the pipe and the head of the assembly I could see the latches that hold the top of the assembly to the uptake pipe. It works like a bayonet light bulb fitting and with a gentle twist I separated the two parts of the filter assembly.

It was fairly easy to then clear the tube but the head was a bit more work using long-nose pliers and a wire hook I gently worked the blockage loose until I could shake all the rubbish out.

I tipped all the material that was trapped in the two parts of the filter assembly out onto a sheet of newspaper. An explanation of what was found is in the captions on the photographs but, to reiterate:

Small sections of what appear to be some kind of rigid plastic straw were found in the vortex assembly (the filter assembly head). Some of these had become trapped ACROSS the airflow path. Once that happened any slightly large dirt – such as cotton cleaning pads and bits of paper lodged against them then larger bits of dust and debris (and hair) also packed onto this until eventually, rather like a beaver dam, the air stream through the filter was completely blocked and no more suction would take place.

What is more commonly found, rather than these STRAWS is hair pins and paper clips – they perform the same blocking function in a vacuum cleaner. It is better to pick up any such items BEFORE vacuuming. This includes balled up pieces of paper and larger lumps of cottonwool.

I then opened the sweeper brush compartment and removed bits of thread and hair from the brushes themselves and from the ends where they could impede the rotation of the brushes.

Once cleaned and reassembled the vacuum worked AS NEW.

If YOUR vacuum cleaner is giving problems – and you are on the Sunshine Coast – let me have a look before you dispose of it and buy a new one. It could save you $$$$!

Fix – knife repairs

A few weeks ago a lady brought me two knives that her father had made for her many years ago. She really liked them because they are really nice knives to use. They are similar to cleavers although not as heavy as a traditional cleaver. The problem was that the handles kept coming loose.

It turns out that the handles were fitted by heating the pointed tang of the knives (the bit that goes into the handle) and then forcing the hot steel into the wooden handle. 

I found the problem with both knives was that the tang was not anchored in any way in the handles. In both cases the tangs were very short and unsubstantial – only extending about two centimetres or less into the handles. The leverage effect of using them eventually caused the handles to come loose and they had to continually be forced back into the handles. This went on until they were only good for a minute or two of use before the handles parted company with the blades.

With the first one, the larger of the two, I took the approach of extending the tang with a length of eight millimetre threaded rod that I welded onto it. I then carefully drilled through the length of the handle and slid the handle down over the now extended tang until the threaded rod protruded out of the back of the handle.

The threaded rod was then cut to allow about ten millimetres to protrude through the end of the handle after which a washer was fitted and a domed nut was screwed onto the thread.

The original, handmade, handle was now firmly attached to the blade with no chance of it coming loose.

After sharpening the blade I sprayed the handle with a couple of coats of varnish.

…and then:

The smaller of the two knives was next and I took a slightly different approach with this knife. Instead of extending the tang I cut the blade back about a centimetre effectively giving it a longer tang and a slightly shorter blade. I then made a cut across the width of the handle where the blade was to fit and, after heating the tang I forced it into the handle so that the width of the blade would also extend inside the handle for about a centimetre.

The next step was to drill two five millimetre holes through the handle and the part of the blade seated inside the handle and fit two brass machine screws and nuts. This did not turn out to be as neat an operation as I had hoped but it was a workmanlike solution.

Once again I sharpened the blade (another service that I offer) and varnished the handle.

The owner was very pleased with the results and that she could now use both her knives.

Knowing where…

There is an anecdote about a HUGE SHIP worth perhaps 50 million dollars or more that developed a problem with starting its engines.

After every technician had looked at the engine and much money had been spent on consultants someone suggested a man they had heard of who had an uncanny ability with matters of this kind.

The man was summoned and when he turned up he was seen to be a rather elderly, small man with an old-fashioned tool bag. He reminded the suits of one of those cartoons we see of an old railway engineer in the late 1800s.

He walked around the enormous engines and listened with an old stethoscope.

Eventually he took out a small ballpein hammer and tapped gently in several places, all the while listening intently with his stethoscope.

Finally, as the big bosses were becoming fidgety, he took out a slightly larger hammer and gave a sharp rap with the ball of the hammer.

“Try now,” he suggested.

The engines turned over and ran smoothly even after several tests.

The man packed his tool bag, took out an invoice book and wrote an invoice which he placed in an envelope and handed to the senior manager present and left.

When they opened the invoice they were surprised to find it was for $10,000.00 – ten thousand dollars!

They wrote to the man and asked for an itemised invoice for they had only observed him tap on the engine with a hammer.

In due course the invoice arrived. It had two lines:

Tapping with hammers – $2.00
KNOWING where to tap – $9,998.00

Even at my level – that is nowhere near such desirable numbers – it is my knowledge, my time and my readiness to get my hands dirty that I am charging a very reasonable rate for…

Fixes – vacuum cleaner

I was asked if it was worth keeping an LG vacuum cleaner. It was a good machine so I said I would check it out.

The owner said she had cleaned it and when I opened the machine to check the filters were clean and the machine was empty of dust and rubbish.

I then dismantled the hose ends where they clip into the machine and also the end where the attachments are connected.

I found an interesting mix of hair pins, paper clips, hair, dust, sweet wrappers and post-it notes all mixed up with floor sweepings and food crumbs near the ends of the flexible tube and trapped in the end attachments. The floor/carpet cleaning accessory (sweeper head) was similarly clogged.

Some of the plastic clips and rubber seals that hold the sweeper head together had been broken and lost. When I reassembled this item I sealed the places where the rubbers were missing with duct tape so that air leakage would not affect the vacuum suction.

 I removed all the debris and cleaned the hose and its connections and the sweeping accessory. After reassembly the machine worked like new.

On the subject of vacuum cleaners…
I was asked to attend to a very good Hoover. The owner said it just did not switch on and wanted to know if it was repairable or if a new one might be in order.

I disassembled it and found the fault to be the on / off switch inside the machine (it is activated by the large knob on the top of the machine).

I found HOOVER to be rather unhelpful but was able to source the correct switch in Maroochydore (for those not familiar with the area that is a larger town near where I live in Palmwoods and about 20 kms away) where I had to take the sample for comparison. The switch itself was not expensive but, because of the travelling I was not keen to go home, write a quote and, if it was accepted, have to go BACK to town for the part.

I bought the part and installed it and reassembled the Hoover. I tested it and it worked perfectly.

When I contacted the owner and quoted $45.00 she was a bit miffed suggesting she could have bought a new one for not much more. The equivalent new machine would, of course, have cost over $100.00, perhaps closer to $150.00 so I was a bit aback taken. After a bit of dickering the vacuum was collected and I was paid. If it had not been for the travel and time spent finding the part the cost would have been less but I felt it was not unreasonable under the circumstances.

Reminiscent of the story about KNOWING where to tap? See http://eriktheready.com/knowing-where/

Perhaps I should have suggested that I keep the machine instead of being paid?

Fixes – shelf install

I did a number of repair jobs in the last year and did not post many of them to this site so here goes.

First was a shelving project for a client in Coes Creek.

The garage area under the house was becoming very cluttered and every time something was needed all the plastic boxes had to be lifted down to get to the one that was needed.

Also, the boxes at the bottom of the pile were becoming damaged. They contained business documents that had to be kept for a time in good order so broken boxes would be a problem.

I worked out the materials and the client arranged for all the wood to be brought to site (I do not have a large enough vehicle).

The shelves are attached to the stub wall at the bottom and to the floor beams at the top. Each shelf is 450mm deep by 3.1m long and, including the floor at the bottom, roughly 6.7 square metres of storage space has been created. The floor to ceiling height is just over 2 metres.

It is now possible to get at one box at a time. Boxes are not being crushed by being on top of each other and it is possible to also store a number of other items on the new shelves.

Workmate table top

I wrote about this little workbench before at   http://eriktheready.com/refurbish-workmate-copy/.

However, I needed a flat work surface to do small work on because my big workbench is so crowded with all manner of stuff.

I scrounged a piece of board and cut it to a reasonable size – in this case just under 600 x 800mm.

I attached two pieces of wood  with screws to form a lip front and back of the board.

 

The back of these LIPS is just under 350mm apart.

By using the cranks on the bench I close the sides of the bench, place the board with the lips down then crank the bench open again so that the edges of the surfaces latch into the lips.

This now gives me a surface I can work on without worrying about it tipping if I put something near the edges.

When the top is on and the bench is being used as a table I needed to keep the dogs and pegs that I made before, somewhere they will not be misplaced when I DO want to use them.

I then drilled holes in the pegs and threaded a cord through them and did the same with the dogs that fit over them – threaded a piece of string through them.

I screwed cup hooks in under the bench and the dogs and pegs can hang there out of the way and where they will not be separated from the bench itself.

 

 

This turned out rather well – very satisfying and a great boon when I first used it.

 

 

 

 

Pop-up toaster that doesn’t

This toaster was working. BUT…when you inserted bread if you did not jam the lever down REALLY hard it did not engage and stay down. What this meant was that the toaster elements did not come on and no toasting was happening although the lever appeared to be down.

The pilot light did not light if the mechanism did not actually engage but this was not always noticed – very frustrating.

Once bread was in the toaster and being toasted the end of the toasting would happen but the lever would not come up. One had to hold the toaster cover and pull the lever up to get the toast to emerge from the slots.

If one wanted to STOP the toasting for any reason you similarly had to press the cancel button and push the lever up to disengage it.

I removed the cover from the toaster and examined the electro-mechanical part that controlled the POP-UP part of the device. I found that the shaft on which the mechanical and spring-loaded part of it rode up and down was gummy with quite a lot of old crumbs attached.

I cleaned the shaft and the lock mechanism and put a dab of lubrication in the cam that controls the hold and release of the mechanism.

After re-assembly the toaster latches into the ON state without effort and pressing the eject button works at once whereas it had to be pressed and the lever physically lifted before.

Although toasters are comparatively inexpensive they are often repairable at little cost.

Abandoned – sort of

We arrived in Rhodesia from Cape Town in May 1958 when my stepfather, Cyril Williams, was transferred to Gwelo (Gweru) as General Manager, Prices Candles Central Africa.

By the end of the year he had lost that position and we moved to Sinoia (Chinhoyi) where my parents were to manage the Sinoia Caves Motel. The trip was quite an adventure with our trailer losing a wheel on the dirt road between Hartley (Chegutu) and Sinoia via Gadzema. (These are stories for another time).

There was no high school in Sinoia (that opened in 1960) so in the January of 1959 I was enrolled at Guinea Fowl School (GFS), halfway between Gwelo and Selukwe (Shurugwe). I was in Wellington House (WH) at the school. My brother was born in Sinoia in April 1959.

GFS was a great school, way out in the bush and almost every weekend would be spent walking and exploring.

Some time in about mid-to-late-1959 my stepfather caused the owners of the Caves Motel to, reluctantly in my mother’s case, let them go. My mother wrote and told me about this and said Cyril had got a job at Copper Queen near the Sanyati – way out on the Alaska road. He had been friendly with the people who offered him the job. The accommodation, I was to learn, was primitive – not to put too  fine a point on it.

Towards the end of 1959 I had no idea where my parents were.

I subsequently learned that the job at Copper Queen had ended and my parents were, by that time, living on a very basic farm (rondawels with no electricity or running water) with a chap named van Tonder about halfway between Karoi and Sinoia (I know it was 28 miles from Sinoia).

I had not been in contact with my parents for some time and I must have said something to one of the teachers. The upshot of his was that under no circumstances was the school prepared to let me get on the train to Sinoia until contact had been made with my parents. There was some discussion about what to do because the school would be closed. One of the cook matrons was approached and she offered to look after me until my parents could be contacted.

Accordingly, on the last day of term, I accompanied the lady (I will call her Mrs Brown for ease of reference and until I learn her actual name) to her home in Hunter’s Road, where her husband was a warder at Connemara prison.

They were lovely, kind people and I remember running around the area, exploring here and there. I don’t remember if they had children of their own but I remember that there were children around my age – perhaps neighbours?

After a few days Mr Brown announced he had taken a week off and was going to go down to his gold mining claims near Fort Victoria (Masvingo). He wanted to do as much as possible in his mine as he could because Lake Kyle (Lake Muturikwe) was close to completion and had already started to fill. When the lake was full all the little mine smallholdings would be under water.

He asked if I would like to go with him – I jumped at the chance and we set off. I cannot remember the accommodation there but I think Mr Brown had a small cabin that we stayed in.

I do remember exploring the mine. It was quite extensive with drives into hillsides and long dark tunnels and some deep, dark shafts. On one occasion I was walking along a tunnel and Mr Brown suddenly stopped me rather sharply. He then pointed out the shaft in the tunnel floor that I had not noticed. He showed me how to walk around this black hole and warned me about the care needed in the tunnels. He forbade going into the mine drives alone.

I did do a lot of exploring in the area on my own while Mr Brown and his black workers were occupied in the mine.

One day I was up on the hillside and had been peering down some of the open and unprotected shafts that were dotted around. At one of these shafts I was standing about half a metre from the edge and leaning slightly forward to peer into the dark hole, tossing a couple of pebbles in to hear if they hit bottom or splashed into water.

Somewhat engrossed in this boyish activity I suddenly heard an angry HISS by my feet.

Now HISS is misleading. It leads one to think of the insignificant sound of a tyre deflating…this was more like an EXTREMELY amplified consumptive wheeze, a noise you make in the back of your throat but loud and sinister! Think of the second syllable of BACH (yes, the musical genius – unless you can’t pronounce Bach …?) and imagine that CHCHCHCCH….at your feet but at CONSIDERABLE volume? That is the closest I can get to describe the sound of a startled serpent.

The next sequence of events took place so quickly that for many years I have believed that, in times of stress, one of the SIXTH SENSES is telekinesis.

I glanced down. The cobra was reared up. Its head was level with my knee, hood spread. Another angry CCCCCCHHHHHHH…. then I fell over a log some three or four metres BEHIND where I had been standing.

Trembling, I stood up, all the time staring at the place I had been standing. There was nothing there! Nothing. I picked up a large stick and looked around wildly…was the snake slithering towards me? Would it be angry and come after me? After another moment of dithering I fled. I am glad there were no hidden shafts in my path as I scampered pell-mell down the hill and back to our camp.

When Mr Brown got a message from home that my parents would be coming to fetch me we packed up and drove back to Hunter’s Road.

A day or two later my parents arrived to collect me. Cyril was grumpy that he had had to travel all that way and that I had wasted the train fare. He wanted to know why I had not got on the train – I think he had arranged for someone to meet me…but he had not told the school anything!

Anyway my mother was pleased to find me safe and well and thanked Mrs Brown and her family for their kindness. Although My recollection is scant on detail, and I have forgotten their name, they were the nicest of people – the best of Rhodesia. I have never forgotten this episode.

My stepfather enrolled me at the new Sinoia High School in January 1960. It only had form one in the first year and I had to hitch-hike 28 miles from the farm in the bush every morning. I was always late and I resented being put back a year. My behaviour was not exemplary and this resulted in Mr Talbot-Evans, the new head and my ex-housemaster from Wellington, giving me a talking to before he caned me. First boy to be caned at Sinoia High School – what an achievement.

Because of my rebelliousness it was recommended I go back to GFS and, two weeks late for the start of term I was back in junior dorm at WH.

By the end of 1960 my parents had moved to Salisbury and in 1961 I had to go to Cranborne High, near where we were living. This was because my stepfather could no longer pay my boarding fees due to his depleted circumstances.

1961 was eventful…I started at a new school where I refused to do Latin because I had been due to stop it at GFS. I was downgraded to a B stream as a result…My sister was born in the March…I broke my arm in the April (?), just before end of term…and then, a week or so after start of term, on 11 June 1961, my stepfather was killed in a car accident. 

I missed the rest of second term, we went to stay with relatives in South Africa but came back to Salisbury within months. At the end of the year I came seventh in class. As promised for passing the year, my mother bought me a bicycle. It cost her eighteen guineas that she paid off and it was many years before I comprehended what it took for her to keep her promise. 

My mother made a life for us, made a home for us and brought us up. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister three months of age when she was widowed. She always said that had we stayed in South Africa she could not have done that but, in Rhodesia, she could.

I have written a little about these events in my anecdote titled AFTER GUINEA FOWL SCHOOL.http://eriktheready.com/after-guinea-fowl-school-gfs-2/

Somerset West – The cabin the plot & going to Rhodesia

While I have been writing these anecdotes I started to realise that my memories are reasonably accurate but my memory of the TIME LINE for all these things is a bit out of kilter. (Remember I was a child aged between about eight and eleven when all this took place). So allow me some licence and know that these things all happened – in spite of the odd contradiction the eagle-eyed reader may pick up.

However, the time line for:

the plot being bought;
starting to camp there;
building the cabin followed by its extension;
arrival of the animals;
moving into the partly complete house and, finally;
moving into the house proper…

has all become a little fuzzy. The careful reader of these anecdotes will notice these anomalies but I trust it does not detract from the stories. A quick resume…?

Here is a picture of me in my first year of school at Maitland. I was at boarding school in Maitland until the end of 1955 when I finished Standard two and nine years of age when I started at Somerset West Primary at the beginning of 1956, in Standard three.

I would have been coming home from boarding school to the little flat in Moullie Point and later Sea Point and the plot trips may well have started while we were living in one of those places. I think I remember getting the train from boarding school to Somerset West a few times on a Friday. Children could safely do that in the mid-fifties.

The memory of those train trips also suggest that my parents may well have moved to the plot before I finished at boarding school.

The plot on Irene Avenue was a little over an acre in extent, bought some time before building of the house commenced.

We started going there for weekends and holidays almost at once. At first we spent weekends in a huge tent that Cyril had had made. After a time we had a chap from the Transkei, Marikane, working for us and staying on the plot.

Cyril helped Marikane build a small (well-built) shack for himself and made sure he had the basics of life (probably more than he had ever been used to). I think these basics were a paraffin stove, some pots, crockery and cutlery and a bed and table and maybe a few other bits and pieces and several sets of overalls, courtesy of Prices Candles I think. There was water laid on to the plot so that was never a problem.

Marikane dug two long drop toilets – one over towards his shack and one nearer our tent site that was more or less in the middle of the plot. Cyril made sure to site these very carefully and ensured that there was plenty of lime on hand to treat them.

After some time of staying in the tent at weekends (we could leave the tent up because Marikane was there to look after it), Cyril decided to build a cabin. Ever thorough, he must have done some reading and research and a delivery of timber, nails, cement and rolls of malthoid arrived at the plot. Malthoid is/was a waterproofing material for roofs. A tarry, slightly flexible grey/black sheeting probably two or three millimetres thick.

Construction of the cabin started by digging a number of holes in a square arrangement. He then planted what I seem to remember as 4 x 2 timbers (roughly 100 x 50mm in cross-section) in the holes. Marikane mixed a batch of concrete to fill the holes around the poles. While the concrete was still wet, Cyril very carefully checked that all the timbers were correctly aligned and vertical using builders lines, levels and all those good things!

I won’t bore you with the details but in a fairly short time the one-room cabin was finished. It was about six or seven metres square so not much bigger than a decent bedroom but adequate for weekends.

My memory is a bit woolly about this period but I THINK my parents may have moved out to the plot BEFORE the house was completed and while I was still at boarding school.

I do know that the cabin became a bit small for us and that the animals had already started to take up residence at the plot and the two black bunnies were still spinsters. I remember the bunnies because one day Cyril had had one or two libations too many, as was his wont, and had fallen asleep on my bed in the ANNEX. He had been petting the two rabbits when he nodded off and they were climbing all over him. They had donated a generous helping of droppings on his sleeping form and he and the bed looked as if someone had spilled chocolate-coated raisins over them. In spite of her annoyance, my mother couldn’t help laughing at the site of this slumbering man with two black rabbits hopping all over him, pooping as they went. This sketch is the extended cabin with notes.

Cyril had built the original cabin really well using tongue and grooved timbers for the walls and floor. It was raised a couple of feet above ground at the front and quite near the ground at the back, or uphill end.

The later extension to the cabin was not nearly as elaborate. Instead of tongue and groove, the outer walls were made of less robust planks done in a shingle fashion. This meant that there were slightly more uprights but the walls were flimsier. The floor was hard-packed earth that I think either duckboards, or some kind of linoleum, had been laid on. The roof was similar to the original cabin and covered in malthoid.

To connect the two rooms Cyril removed a section of the original cabin wall.

We had a paraffin primus and when not used for cooking we had a big, brass reflector that could be fitted to it to turn it into a very efficient heater.

Showering was a matter of timing. We had an incredibly long hosepipe. We ran water through it then closed the sprayer. After it had been lying in big loops in the sun, we connected it to a spray rose in our outdoor shower cubicle. Water on, get wet, water off, soap up, water on and rinse. It meant waiting a while between showers while the water warmed up but – it worked.

Finally, we had a fridge, electric lights and a few other mod cons, as utilities were connected and made available on the plot.

When building on the house started, Cyril had the builders complete the garage and servants quarters first. We/my parents moved into that part of the house while building on the main house proceeded. It is entirely possible that we were living in the cabin or the completed servants’ quarters when I started at SW Primary School…but I THINK we may already have been in the house.

One thing that I do remember was that Cyril got to know people and made friends in the village and the general area. Even before the house was completed, we had some great braais. Most of these I never saw the end of, having nodded off and been carried – or led off half asleep – to my bed.

I think we had been living in the house proper for about two years when Cyril mentioned that his employer was talking about transferring him to Central Africa. This was discussed off and on for a while but really only became serious in early 1958.

One thing that has always stuck in my mind was my thoughts on the matter as I lay in bed one night. Cyril had, on a couple of occasions threatened to leave me behind in South Africa. This would occur on those occasions – fairly frequent occasions – when I had done something that annoyed him and, of course, he could be equally annoyed if I had not done something.

Anyhow, one night as I lay in bed I got to thinking about this potentially life changing move and how it would affect me. I got to thinking about life and mortality and the thought of the year 2000 crept into my eleven-year-old mind. How old would I be in that year? I would turn fifty-four in 2000 and that would be unbelievably ancient. What would I be like, what things would I think about, and what would I be doing and what would it be like to be so unbelievably OLD?

As I am sure everyone knows (and for the information of those who may not), the little boy is still there, inside my head and inside me. That little boy is the grown up me, (71 years of age in pic taken 30 May 2018) and the grown up me is the little boy and I defiantly wear a badge on my everywhere jacket that proclaims:

Growing OLD is inevitable, Growing UP is optional.

 I try to keep my sense of wonder that allows me to ask daft questions and be interested in all kinds of things that GROWN UPS should apparently not show they care about. I try really hard to hold onto that unconscious naiveté that children have that allows them to see things without our faux sophistication. Does that make sense?

I drifted away there!

Prices Candles transferred Cyril to Rhodesia as Manager, Prices Candles, Central Africa, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in mid-1958. I was to turn 12 in August of that year.

We had left Cape Town station on the 30th of April or the 1st of May and arrived in Gwelo on the 3rd of May 1958 at about midnight. It was a wonderful trip and we were well looked after by the cabin staff and the conductor. My mother was to tell me later that it was because Cyril had slipped the conductor five pounds and the chief steward had received something as well. Five pounds at that time may have been half a month’s wages for a railwayman I suppose?

Within three years our life, our way of life, was to be destroyed due to a number of factors but mainly due so something that, in those days, was deemed a nervous breakdown as a more genteel way of not acknowledging that someone was an alcoholic.

I will write of that in other posts. The signs had been there for a while with a couple of NURSING HOME stays before the transfer. With hindsight I think the transfer to Rhodesia was a LAST CHANCE for a very talented and capable man. It was a time when no one openly discussed or dealt with the demon, and the stigmatizing of people with alcohol problems was quite awful. Of course, one has to acknowledge that it – alcohol – CAN be beaten but it is not easy and certainly with the attitudes of that day and age perhaps more difficult than today, when we tend to be more open and less condemnatory.

My stepfather died in a car accident on the 11th of June 1961 aged just 38 – he was passenger in a touring car that overturned one evening when, we believed, the driver had fallen asleep. His children, my brother and sister, were just two years of age and three months old respectively.

My mother was not yet 38. She took us to Cape Town after the funeral but decided that life would be easier for a widow with three children back in Rhodesia. We left Cape Town to return to Rhodesia on the 5th of September 1961, my mother’s 38th birthday.

There will be a few more anecdotes of my time in Somerset West. Of course, the time I spent there was comparatively short. Three years in a child’s life is a long time, not so much for an adult!

Perhaps a few of you may enjoy exploring my site and seeing how my life panned out…and a bit about how it was BEFORE Somerset West!

Somerset West – The Skollie

Skollie – a young tearaway hooligan
Snik-snik – haltingly through tears
Imperial coinage – a shilling (twelve pence) converted to ten cents and a sixpence was five cents when decimal coinage was introduced.
Tuppence – two pennies (colloquial)

This is actually NOT a Somerset West story because it took place in Observatory, Cape Town. We were, however living in Somerset West when it happened (I think we were and if not we had already bought the plot and started spending weekends there so maybe it counts?) I am sure people who know the area will relate.

My stepfather, Cyril, worked for Prices Candles in Observatory. Sometimes in school holidays, he would take me to work with him. I would get filthy playing and walking around in the candle factory and climbing all over the high, dirty stacks of bagged paraffin wax. I used to enjoy those days – something different for an eight or nine-year-old. I learned how candles were made.

We usually took sandwiches to the factory and from time to time there would be food prepared in the offices where there was a relatively small staff working.

On the odd day we would get in the car and go to a café in Salt River to have tea and sandwiches or a light meal.

One day Cyril was busy at work and it was late morning so he asked me if I would like to go for a walk and buy us a packet of sandwiches.

I was a bit bored with the factory and was happy to do something different. The streets were quite safe during the day so off I went with three shillings in my pocket. Two and sixpence was for the sandwiches and I was to have a soft drink out of the sixpence (and probably have tuppence change). I would wait while the sandwiches were freshly prepared.

They made three generous sandwiches for me, two rounds of egg and one of polony. They cut them diagonally and wrapped them in greaseproof paper. The sandwiches were then placed in a large brown paper bag for me to carry them back to the factory. The distance I had to walk was probably a mile – say one and a half kilometres?

Like all children – and many others I imagine – I loved looking in all the shop windows. There were many different shops in the area from bicycles to hardware, jewellers, small grocers, pawnshops and many others. I dawdled along looking at this and that until I got close to the factory when I turned off the main road.

There were a couple of quiet side streets with houses and small yards with non-retail type businesses in them. Car and bicycle repairs, small scrap dealers that kind of thing. It was very quiet in these streets as I got closer to the factory and I was probably not even a block from my destination when it happened.

I stopped to look at something that had caught my attention, holding the bag of sandwiches in one hand. As I stood there a young coloured man, probably a teenager, came loping up the street towards me. I was only absent-mindedly aware of him.

As he got close to me, he seemed to put on a spurt, dodged half a step towards me and snatched my precious bag of sandwiches! Stunned I turned and shouted “Hey!” I think he glanced over his shoulder and laughed, he may have shouted something rude, I don’t know. He turned the corner and was gone.

Getting over my initial surprise, I felt hurt and angry but mostly just shocked, I suppose. “How could someone do that?” my innocent mind seemed to ask rhetorically.

Flowing directly from that thought was my apprehension over how Cyril was going to react! Knowing how unpredictable he could be, and already in tears, I walked (maybe I ran?) the remaining distance to the factory.

Cyril surprised me. He crouched down and put his arm around me, and told me to tell him what had happened. Snik-snik, I told him about the skollie, and the stolen bag of sandwiches.

He told me not to worry, wash my face and hands, and we would go and get another bag of sandwiches.

We drove out of the factory gate and he said we would drive around a bit and see if we could see the skollie. I don’t think we saw him at all – or if we did he quickly vanished down some alleyway.

After getting the sandwiches, we went back to the factory and at last had our tea and sandwiches.

Writing about that now, I remember that factory rather clearly. The streets in the area were clean with very little litter. One drove in the gate by the offices and the yard was spotless.

Inside the factory though, things were dirty because of the type of work and the railway line that ran past the back (the factory had its own siding too). Steam trains were still common with the attendant dust that they produced.

We moved to Rhodesia in mid-1958 when Prices transferred Cyril to manage the Gwelo factory. For reasons that I will talk of elsewhere he soon left the company.

Then, sadly, in 1960, we heard from my aunt that the Prices Candles factory in Observatory, Cape Town had burned down in a spectacular fire. Considering the raw materials that would have been in stock, it must have been quite a blaze.

Somerset West – school trips

Braai – a barbecue (Pronounced brigh – to rhyme with sigh or why, the word is a dead giveaway that someone hails from Southern Africa.)

Somerset West Primary School and Somerset West the village was, as you may have noticed from all my anecdotes, a big influence on my life.

Until I started writing these recollections of the time spent in Somerset West I don’t think I had realised what a profound influence this little cameo, these three or four years of my life, had on me. I cannot say that it was life changing or that I learned things that made for startling changes in my life but perhaps, in its way, it was the happiest period of my childhood. Our life was more settled than ever before, or after, and I was young enough not to be bothered by adult matters that took place on a higher plane and did not really affect me.

Something that stands out in my memory of school was trips to learn about businesses and manufacturing. We learned something about where the things we used and ate came from, how things are, and were, made.

Three trips (well four actually…you’ll see…) in particular were…

The Cape Times Newspaper.

This was the mid-fifties, a long time before computers. The offices, behind the reception façade, struck me as being slightly dingy and dirty – probably all the ink and dust from various printing techniques. Rows and rows of typewriters and rows of READERS – checking copy for spelling and other errors – little did I know that one day I would be working at this, proof reading and editing.

The TELEX room was so noisy with the old Creed teleprinters, (generally referred to as TELEX machines, I was to learn). There were people typing on them and creating punched tapes at the same time so that the same copy could be sent to several distant places and of course there were machines RECEIVING stories from all over the world. Even with silencer boxes over them these old electro-mechanical machines were incredibly noisy. (I was to become a soldier when I left school. I served in the Corps of Signals and, apart from rifle fire, I think that working in communications centres, with a dozen or more of these old machines hammering away, contributed to the hearing problems I have been aware of for many years).

They showed us the thundering presses as these gobbled up huge rolls of newsprint and the compositors’ room where the print was prepared and set in blocks to be printed. Some of this last process was mechanised (automated…? I am not sure that would be an accurate term to use). The Cape Times was, and is, a broadsheet, a BIG, full sized, newspaper. Blocks of print, each the size of a double page spread, had to be fitted to the printing presses in the correct sequence. 

What I found most interesting about this trip was my first experience of a fax machine. 

This, however, was NOT the little desktop unit we know (and that is already becoming obsolete). It was not even called a fax (or facsimile) machine but rather it was termed photographs by wire or some similar term – I remember seeing the tag in brackets picture by landline. The machine used, however, rather like early computers, required a huge room all to itself and it was as noisy as the noisiest factory.

We were shown the receiving of a press photo of something that had happened in London or somewhere equally distant a few hours earlier that was being received as we watched. The machine thundered and banged like  a war zone. At the end of the performance a grainy, black and white picture, that was probably about the size of an A4 sheet, appeared. It was a marvel of its time.

Sweets.

Another memorable trip was to a factory making sweets (Buchanan comes to mind…? but I am not sure).

What I remember about this visit was my first impression, that the place was dirty – well at least grubby.  They showed us sheets of toffee, wrapped sweets, nigger balls (I know you shouldn’t, for rather suspect PC reasons, use the word but that IS what they were called), and all manner of other sweet things being made and packaged. They had all these different things in progress and some damaged stock so we all went away with pockets full of sweets. In many cases – and I was one – we stuffed so many products into our pockets that we were eating pocket-furry sweets for days!

Andy Becket and I went up to one chap who was working with chewing gum – great flat sheets of what I think was Juicy Fruit – and scrounged SOME chewing gum. He laughed as he cut a great strip of gum for each of us. My child memory tries to say that it was about a metre of chewing gum but… anyway it was more than we could hope to get in a year. We quickly rolled it up, stuffed it in our pockets and hurried to catch up with the rest of the group. We had been expressly forbidden chewing gum so naturally Andy and myself…

Prices Candles

We also visited the Prices Candles factory in Observatory where my stepfather, Cyril, worked. I had asked him and, to my great joy, he agreed. I told the teacher, arrangements were made and one day, off we went. I don’t remember much of that one because I had been to the factory many times. The entrance yard and the offices were immaculately clean.

I knew the manufacturing process pretty well. We always had balls of scrap wax with bits of wick in them at home to start our winter fires and our braais. We also always had bobbins of partly used candle wick that we used as string – it was incredibly strong.

The wax storage warehouses were huge, and very dirty, full to the rafters with sacks of wax. On the factory floor at one end were the melting vats. From there the workers carried the liquid wax in big scoops to the ranks of candle moulds. Naturally, a lot of wax slopped onto the floors and you had to be very careful not to slip.

The candle making machines, for straight and non-fancy candles, were amazingly simple. The wick was threaded through each mould in the machine that had perhaps fifty moulds in it. The wick was tensioned above and below to ensure it stayed in the middle of the mould. At the top of the mould, where the base of the candle would be, was a tray arrangement about three centimetres deep into which liquid wax was poured and this ran down into each mould. After moulding a very sharp butcher knife was used to cut the wicks above and below the moulds – leaving a short piece for lighting the candle at the tip of it (the bottom of the mould).

A short time later the tray at the top of the moulding machine was cleaned out with a sharp scraper/cutter that removed all the excess wax and bits of leftover wick – the smooth bases of the candles could now be seen. These scrapings were discarded in big boxes from which the scrap balls, that everyone who worked there took home for lighting fires, were roughly fashioned.

The finished candles went into a packing room where a number of women worked at wrapping the candles in packs of six, in wax paper printed with the Lighthouse logo that Prices Candles used for this product.

Finished packets of candles were packed in wooden boxes. The wood panels were delivered in flat packs printed with the Prices’ logo and address in blue and red. These boxes were assembled on an automatic nailing machine. The operator positioned the box sections in a jig and pressed a lever with his foot. This brought down a piece of equipment that clamped the pieces for a moment simultaneously driving in the nails. It took the operator no more than a minute or two to put together each box. The lids, after the boxes had been packed, were nailed on by hand. The boys in the class were impressed by this nailing machine thinking it really clever.

A group of thirty-plus children, we inevitably came out of there rather dirty. We had, however, been told to wear old play clothes, which was a good thing.

I have a vague memory of a visit to a bakery…some place that made biscuits, Baumann’s or Pyott’s (?) and we all had biscuit crumbs in our pockets for days after. Or… was that also the sweet factory…?

…and now for the afterthought…

This was the visit to the Cape Town Castle! Also known as the Castle of Good Hope this formed part of our history lessons. It was a really great visit – seeing the cannons and all the old quarters and trying to imagine what it must have been like way back when it was built in the 17th century. When we were taken to the prison cells and shown the torture equipment there were some serious oohs and aaahs, especially from the girls. 

Down in the dungeon the guide told us how it would have been partly below water at high tide and remarked that prisoners had gone mad in there, scratching and tearing at the walls in the dark. 

Andy and I had crept up to the entrance while he was talking. Pulling the door almost shut we turned off the electric light. We took some stick for that but it was gratifying for two small boys to have heard the hysterical screams in the pitch dark dungeon just for those few seconds!

 

Repurposing 1

A lot is said about finding new uses for things we usually throw away and the buzzword for this is REPURPOSING.

Years ago I started saving plastic bottles such as shampoo and similar. I would cut the top and bottom off and clean them then use the “tubes” so formed to hold my cables together. Depending on the thickness of the cables, I would use larger or smaller tubes as my tidies.

Toilet roll centre tubes, wrapped in packing tape, also make good cable tidies – cheap and easy to replace when they wear out.

 

 

 

I have always hated the fact that people wrap electric cables around appliances (hair dryers for example) or tools (such as electric drills). One reason is that the constant twisting can damage the inner cores of the 

cables as well as the cables outer insulation. The other reason is that often the cables come unwrapped and various other cables tangle with them and people start tugging at this cable bundle – that does none of the cables any good.

Another thing I have noticed is that people coiling up cables that do not have built in storage, start doing so at the END of the cable furthest from the appliance. This also causes twisting and bulging in the cable because the appliance does not let it unwind. Rather, lay the cable out and with the appliance or tool close to you, start to gather the cable in as if coiling a lasso – as seen in western movies…? That way, all the twists are unwound as the cable is gathered; then squash the loops and slip one of your cable tidying tubes over it.

Store awkward items neatly in old plastic bottles that you have washed out.

For my camera cables and the cables for my multimeter, I  use various sizes of toothpaste tubes.

 

 

 

Refurbish workmate copy

Refurbish old WorkMate-type portable workbench

I was given this old piece of equipment and have found it very useful but difficult to use.

It only had two plastic dogs for clamping and one of the cranks for opening and closing the clamping action of the top was broken off.

I first fixed the broken crank handle with a piece of scrap aluminium tubing, an M6 bolt, some washers and spacers and a nylok nut. It looks odd but it does what is required, and the opening and closing of the table is smooth and effortless. (See pic V1)

I then found that the two plastic dogs were not satisfactory (see pic V2) and obviously would not hold a work piece firmly and squarely on the table.

I decided to make some new clamping dogs.

I first cut some pieces of 25mm hardwood dowel in 50mm lengths and got a friend to turn them on his lathe so that I had 20mm at the original 25mm diameter, the next 20mm at just under 20mm in diameter and he last 10mm tapered down to about 18.5mm. (also see pic V3).

After some sanding these PEG-type dogs fitted just fine (see pic V4) and held a work piece really well BUT…

I felt that if I clamped soft wood with the round hardwood pegs they could dent or bruise the wood unacceptably.

Only having some pine lying around, I made four dogs to slip over the pegs so that the clamping surfaces will be flat (see pics V5 & V6). The notches enable odd shaped pieces to be clamped and held too. I think I may have to scrounge around and find some harder, finer-grained wood and remake these because the pine might be a bit TOO soft – not at all hard wearing.

Overall, though, I am pleased with the result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clamping for drill press

Clamping a workpiece squarely for benchtop drill press

I was making some clamp dogs for a portable workbench and needed to drill 25mm holes in the prepared squares of wood.

After drilling a small pilot hole I then had to clamp each piece in my press vice and was concerned about getting them clamped so that they would be square (90°) to the drill. If my holes were not accurate then the dogs would not sit flat when slipped over the 25mm pegs.

I suddenly had the thought that I should look at the problem differently.

I lightly clamped the wood block then turned the vice upside down on the drill table. I loosened the vice and, by pressing on the body of the vice and, at the same time using a finger to press the wood down, re-tightened the vice.

Now when I presented the vice with the work clamped in it I could be confident that the work was SQUARE to the hole saw.

 

 

 

SOMERSET WEST – miniatures and Brooklax

I was probably ten when the miniatures collecting craze took hold in the school.

I think it started with one or two children having tiny bottles of Coke in miniature crates.

Soon we were getting into it quite seriously with dentist’s samples of toothpaste and any other “miniature” we could get our hands on.

In the town, maybe one street up from the Primary School and just off the main street was a company called EPEE Distributors. It was easy to remember and sort of a joke because my initials are EPE.

I had been into EPEE a couple of times to ask for miniatures, which, in the form of rep’s samples, they gave me. I remember they gave me a tiny tube of Kolynos toothpaste. It was quite distinctive with the yellow tube with black print on it. (If anyone remembers its colours differently then put it down to my colour confusion). There was also Ipana toothpaste and I had also got a tiny tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts and one or two other things from there.

The woman at reception told me that we could call in every couple of weeks and if there was anything new she would put one or two items aside for us.

One day after I had been playing at school, or at with some friends, I was going to hitch a ride to the Cylnor – if I got lucky, I might even get a lift part-way up Helderberg College Road. As I walked past EPEE Distributors I called in with my friend (I can’t remember who I was with) to check if they had any new miniatures. I think they were busy but they gave us a handful of samples (miniatures) and we scampered out to divide our loot.

Among the two or three items were about six sample packs of Brooklax, consisting of about six small squares that looked, innocently, like a tiny, thin slab of chocolate. The chocolate was even wrapped in silver foil and slid out of the wrapper just like Cadbury’s.

For those who do not know (and we didn’t) Brooklax is a fairly powerful laxative.

We got up to the garage where the fork in the road went right for Stellenbosch, and home for me, or left for Cape Town. My friend lived somewhere near there and went off home and I started walking up the hill. I got a lift as far as the Cylnor and started to trudge up Helderberg road.

I had read the instructions on the Brooklax wrapper without REALLY understanding the dire warnings. I decided a little taste would do no harm, would it? I mean it was just chocolate medicine that they would not just give to children if it was dangerous?

By the time I had walked to Irene Avenue I had eaten, if not all of one pack probably most of it. As I started into my road my tummy rumbled. Google Earth shows the distance from the corner to my then front gate as being 160 metres. I was probably 50 metres from the front gate when I rushed headlong into the bushes, barely able to adopt the position before my bowels emptied.

I made it home with about two more stops by which time there was nothing inside me and I was somewhat worried I was going to turn inside out.

When I told my mother why I looked so terrible she could barely contain her laughter but she made sure nothing bad would happen and I was OK to go to school next day. The lesson was well and truly learned.

To this day I avoid laxatives and even if a doctor wants to prescribe them, as has happened literally once or twice since, I try to talk the doctor out of it!

We children hiked everywhere if we did not cycle and thought nothing of it. Our parents forbade it of course but we did it anyway – a much gentler, law abiding and less dangerous world it was then.

SOMERSET WEST – Wa Wiel – Wagon Wheel

David, my friend, suggested I enlarge on this children’s farmyard game that I mentioned in my first Somerset West article.

We would draw the general shape, shown above, in the dirt in the yard. Usually by dragging out feet along to make the lines. It was perhaps thirty metres in diameter? A lot depended on the available space.

Much like what we called ON-ON (in Rhodesia I learned it was called Touchers) where the one who drew the short straw or lost at several rounds of one-potato, two-potato (we did not know about rock-paper-scissors yet) would be ON and have to take station in the BOSS (the middle) of the wheel.

As long as you were between the tramlines in the RIM of the wheel, you were safe – the boss and the spokes belonged to the person who was ON. Now I hope I have the rest of it right!

The object was incredibly complex – run down a spoke to the centre and run OUT on a different spoke, without being touched in the centre – or without being caught while on one of the spokes and dragged back to the centre. Do you see where the potential for it to get physical comes into play?

If you ran outside of the tramlines of the spokes you were deemed caught and would have to take your turn in the middle. No jumping across from one spoke of the wheel to another to avoid capture allowed. You could retreat, back up the spoke, if you changed your mind and were quick enough.

The person who was ON, tried to LOSE that position as soon as possible while the others’ ambition was just the opposite.

Several players would start to advance to the centre at the same time, tempting the ON player to try to catch one of them. If the guardian advanced towards one player on one of the spokes the hub would be temporarily unguarded and someone quick enough could score a point.

When play stopped the person who had made the most successful runs or points would be the winner. It was a pretty loose system though – mostly we just had fun. Generally, play stopped when we were tired, it got dark or the resident parents called time – often with some biscuits and cool drinks or tea.

I found a similar game played in the USA called Fox and Geese…here http://grandmaideas.com/fox-and-geese

SOMERSET WEST – I can see clearly now

I think I was in Standard 3 aged nine, when they discovered the problem.

Our classroom at Somerset West Primary School that year, 1956, was long and narrow. You entered from the veranda through a door in one of the narrow ends of the room. The blackboard was on the long wall to the right with the teacher’s desk in front of it and about four rows of desks facing it. Each row was about four desks deep and each desk seated two children. I cann0t really remember dimensions but it was probably two or three times as long as it was deep.

Like all boys, I had grabbed a seat at the back of the class – probably only about five metres from the front.

Soon, however, the teacher had me moved to the front of the class and, horror of horrors, sitting next to a GIRL! (I am not sure that I really minded but peer pressure demanded that little boys and little girls should avoid each other.)

The reason for the teacher moving me was that she soon realised I was having trouble reading the notes written on the blackboard. More to the point was the fact that most of these notes had to be copied into our notebooks and I was sitting there, less than five metres from the board, unable to read what the other children were having no problem seeing.

I think part of this ritual was that we got to practice our handwriting and it set the salient facts in our minds. With many of these notes – in geography for example – we had to illustrate the notes to further show that we had understood the lessons. Unlike today with the singular focus per subject, good English was always expected. Whatever the subject, Geography, History, Arithmetic etcetera, you lost marks for poor spelling and grammar. I have noted that most people educated in that era have good language skills and often remember, 50 or 60 years later, what they learned.

However even from the front row, I was squinting and unable to read the board. The upshot of this was that the teacher took the book of my desk mate (girls’ handwriting was generally better that the boys’ anyway) and told me to take it home and copy the notes from it.

When Cyril saw me copying the notes he bristled and accused me of cheating and cribbing other children’s work. Well that was the gist of his tirade – and wanting to report me to the school for cheating. My mother, who I had told and who had the note from the teacher, tried to intervene but was met with scorn for trying to PROTECT me.

In those days, a team from the health department used to come to the schools and give the children a rudimentary health check. I think the check was primarily for TB but it also ensured that any underprivileged youngsters would not fall through the cracks because the parents could not afford to take them to the doctor. Most of us were disgustingly healthy and the checks never bothered us.

Eye testing teams also visited schools for the same reason – quite progressive thinking in the fifties.

A few days after one of the episodes of copying notes from another child’s book, the optical team visited the school.

I failed! I was chronically short sighted and, because of the alarming result of my test, I was given a note for my parents.

Cyril was openly scornful again. I was just playing up, he said, and being too lazy to do my work. This was just another excuse and so on and on…such fun!

My mother put her foot down. Reluctantly and with dire warnings of the consequences if I was malingering, Cyril let my mother make an appointment for me to see a well-known optician in Cape Town. I think his name was Townsend…could that be?

There were no Spec-Savers® type opticians in that day. We arrived at a very ordinary building in central Cape Town and climbed the stairs to the optician’s offices on the first or second floor. A very plain door with the name of the optician and his business on it, opened into a tiny reception area and a rather old-fashioned waiting room.

The optician’s office/consulting room was all wood panelling and books with none of the modern paraphernalia one expects today. I sat in a chair and he wheeled his apparatus over and proceeded with his tests.

I was vaguely apprehensive. What if the optician somehow found it was my fault that I could not see properly – effectively supporting Cyril’s stance?

The optician confirmed that I was very myopic to the point that he did not understand that no one had noticed this before. I suppose it is a sort of a boiling frog syndrome – my eyesight deteriorated but to me that was normal as I continually found ways to WORK AROUND the problem. He also discovered that I have a degree of colour confusion. This was to preclude me working in the electrical and electronics fields and it would probably have stopped me had I ever had the opportunity to learn to fly.

I was prescribed spectacles and my mother helped me to choose a pair of horn-rimmed frames that she thought looked good. Cyril muttered direly in the background.

About a week later my parents came home from work with my new specs. The optician had counselled that I should not wear the glasses to school at once and I should only wear them at home until I got used to them.

I seem to remember that I was outside when mom gave me my glasses – probably doing the hated watering of the garden.

 I put the specs on and I think my eyes filled with tears.

A step back.

Where we lived on the slopes of the mountain the view over False Bay was one of the most spectacular that you could expect to see ANYWHERE. It was simply breathtaking but I had not even been aware of its beauty. To me it was just, the sea is over there and on the right , I know, is Simonstown and Muizenberg and over to the left is the Strand and Gordon’s Bay and the mountains that we drive along to Hangklip. I KNEW this but my VIEW of it was a vague blur. The photo, mined from the internet (acknowledgement to GORDO), is not an ideal image but serves to give some idea of the vista from Helena Heights on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain. 

Analogy is my strong point but it tends to elude me when I get to describing this. Imagine your TV is slightly off station and the image is a sort of sepia blur. You fiddle and suddenly it is in sharp, brilliant colour. Can you imagine that? I thought of a blind person seeing but that would be presumptuous for I can, and could, see. I don’t think one can imagine being blind but it is perhaps as difficult if you have always had 20/20 vision to imagine the transition I experienced.

Technicolour – that was my first thought. The world has changed to Technicolour – and it is beautiful. I just stood, and stared and slowly looked around at all the things that I had never noticed. The detail of the rocks on the mountain, the dynamite factory and the lake in its grounds five kilometres  away near the sea and more than 200 metres below us…. everything was pin-sharp and in TECHNICOLOUR – even the chickens, thirty-odd metres away, were no longer a heaving blurred mass of white as they fed – I could see individual birds.

Overwhelmed, I cried.

I suppose that is the only time I have experienced what is termed sensory overload. My mother just put her arms around me and held me as, confusedly, I tried to tell her what I could see and how beautiful it was. I suppose it was a kind of revelation to her, too. After a bit she chuckled quietly, genuinely pleased for me, and told me it was alright but to wipe my eyes and act normally to avoid any nastiness when we went back into the house.

Next morning I was to leave the specs at home…NOT. After assuring the parents that I HAD left the glasses in my room I got into the car to go to the bus stop, with the precious specs in their hard case at the bottom of my satchel.

As soon as the car had disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust, I put on my glasses and marvelled at all that I could SEE.

At school there was some teasing about four-eyes and so on. I silenced that by saying I would rather see than not see – the teasing NEVER bothered me and because of that it never lasted and I, and my glasses, became just part of the normal school scene.

My schoolwork improved and I told my mother later that I had never left the glasses at home – she had known but not said anything.

A few years later, in 1959, I started at a boarding school called Guinea Fowl in Rhodesia. It was a wonderful school out in the bush and there I was given the nickname Goggles. I wore the name with pride and it never bothered me. One or two people still remember that nickname – Goggles.

Somerset West – the bike and Cyril’s cock

I always wanted a bicycle. I had never ridden one but I had seen plenty of other people, and children younger than me, effortlessly riding around on bicycles. How difficult could it be, I thought to myself? I made a point of making a point of this whenever I could!

While I was at boarding school it was never going to happen, I suppose. We were living way up in Sea Point just below High Level Road and the thought of a bicycle, that hill and me, scared my mother I think!

Shortly before we permanently moved to Somerset West – I think it may have been Christmas 1955 – I got my bike!

Cyril had gone to a lot of trouble with the presentation of it, only bringing it into the house after I had gone to sleep and packing it in a special bike-sized cardboard box he had had specially made. Inside and packed around the bike were a number of other presents.

Of course, when I came out and saw this huge, beribboned box I had no idea what it was so when invited to open it I was stunned to find the long-awaited two-wheeler. As much as was my joy at getting a bike so too was my apprehension because I KNEW I could not ride a bike – having insisted that I could in order to get the thing.

After breakfast, Cyril took me out to one of the more level roads and was dismayed to learn that, in fact, I could not ride a bike! He was both annoyed and disappointed and now, with an adult perspective I suppose I can understand – especially as he had gone to such trouble to surprise me with it.

That, sort of, spoiled the rest of the day.

After we got to Somerset West, I tried and tried to ride the bike. Even with Cyril helping, I did not have enough confidence to develop the intuitive sense of balance. Cyril’s scornful opinion of my bike riding and other abilities did not help in the slightest as far as building confidence was concerned.

Enter Ellis Jackson. How this came about I am still a bit unsure but I think my parents knew Ellis’ parents. One day he was at our place and the subject of riding, or not riding, a bike came up. Ellis offered to help and patiently got me riding the bike, with him helping to balance it by holding onto the saddle behind me. I am not sure how many lessons like this it took but I clearly remember the day he let go.

I was talking to him and realised he was not replying. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Ellis standing in the road about twenty metres behind me. In that instant the fact that I was riding solo never entered my mind – instead my confidence fled. After a series of wobbles, I proceeded to make intimate contact with the gravel road.

Ellis had me up and, wise beyond his years (I have learned he is only two years my senior) he encouraged me, got me to dismiss my scratches and get in the saddle again. He pointed out that I had just been riding solo and promised not to leave me to my own devices again. (He did though – let me solo without telling me first – but the scare only lasted as long as it took for the next attempt).

Ellis Jackson kindly sent me this picture of himself in which he thinks he would have been about eleven so it was taken about the time that the cycling lessons took place….

It seemed it was not long before I was soloing on the bike with no one in attendance. Fall I did, many times although it seems – from the distance of years – that it was only a short time before I was riding with absolute confidence. Actually, too much confidence.

One day I came barrelling down Annandale road towards our gateway a bit too fast – and a bit too late on the brakes. The little bump before the gate acted like a pivot and instead of zooming, ramp-like over it the bike catapulted me over its handlebars to land in a heap in the drive. Luckily, a couple of additional scratches and a bruised ego were the only result! I did learn how to ramp that bump though…

Cyril, who was already – and without great success – into keeping rabbits, pigs and sheep for the pot decided we should keep chickens and be self-sufficient in eggs and chicken for the Sunday roast.

Now I am uncertain, all these years later, if the breed I have described is actually the correct one but I do know they were all white. There is a chance the pictures I have chosen will not be correct – to the purists, forgive me.

Accordingly, after some research, a large box appeared in the corner of the dining room containing a hundred day old chicks. Over the box was suspended a high wattage light bulb to keep the chicks warm.

With his usual thoroughness, Cyril then built a large chicken run at the bottom of the plot with a nesting and roosting enclosure in the middle of it, so that the chickens could be closed in at night.

When the cross Australorp/Leghorns (for that is the type of chicken they were) were old enough they were placed in the chicken run and I (read we, my mom and I) had the job of seeing that they had ample water and feed and that the eggs were collected. Oh, and that the cages were kept clean and the enclosure swept and raked from time to time – the sweepings to be used in the garden as fertiliser. 

One day I had gone into the chicken run – a job I disliked because the chickens seemed to be rather aggressive (I may have been approaching my tenth birthday). We had a large cockerel, with a magnificent red comb, that was the bossiest chicken you could imagine and he always intimidated us – mom and myself.

On this day, I think I was putting water in the troughs with the hose, Mr Rooster came buck-buck-ba-cawing over self-importantly, as if to interrogate what I was busy doing. I sprayed him. Bad move.

He fluffed up and spun round once or twice then stepped towards me, muttering in chicken. I sprayed him again. Once again a couple of pirouettes, a couple of more noisy buck-bacaws were followed by more aggressive  steps towards me.

Maybe I kept up the teasing and spraying a bit too long but when I moved to do something else, Buck-Bacaw was right behind me and very vociferous. I moved away from him quickly. This must have encouraged him to think he had me on the run (well, he did I suppose) and he went to peck at my foot. I jumped, he jumped in, I jumped back and before I knew it, the massive chicken had me running around this big chicken enclosure shouting for help.

Mom was in the garden and came hurrying into the chicken run, grabbing a broom as she came. Getting between the rooster and me, she jabbed at him. He flapped up into the air ba-cawing with some anger now and landing closer to us. Darting in at our feet, mom jabbed again. The performance repeated a couple more times but the fowl was now in a foul mood and with much chicken-shouting came flapping in in attack mode.

This time mom swung the broom like a hockey stick connecting the rooster on the head. Down he went, motionless. We tentatively stepped forward to examine the creature and mom gently prodded him with the broom handle. He did not move.

“Oh, my god, Erik,” she exclaimed, “we’ve killed Cyril’s cock!” then immediately started to giggle. I was much too young to realise what was causing her to laugh at this serious incident but she continued, her voice genuinely worried, through her chuckling, “What are we going to do? What are we going to tell him when he gets home?”

She took a tin and threw some water on the chicken’s head. It stirred! It shook its head and scrabbled in the dirt as it struggled to its feet.

“Come on, let’s get out of here.” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling me to the gate while the groggy rooster was still getting its bearings and gathering up its somewhat damaged dignity.

It was to be YEARS later when we were telling someone this story that I REALLY saw the funny and understood why she had been laughing – and, I recall, she would laugh heartily every time we talked about the incident.

Not that they were our favourite creatures but I think the chickens were the only halfway successful FARMING venture undertaken on the plot. We got plenty of eggs and mom and I had no qualms about eating chicken. In any event, they were so anonymous we would never have known which chicken was missing.

Somerset West – of rabbits and woodwork

My stepfather’s name was Cyril Williams and from now on, I will refer to him by his first name.

Cyril was born and brought up in the coal-mining area of the Rhondda Valley in Wales, in the UK. From what I can gather, it was a mostly rural area but at about the age of fourteen, which would have been in about 1936/37) he was enlisted into boy service in the Royal Navy where he completed his schooling to GCE O level I believe.

He served in the RN during WWII and I think spent time in the middle east but I am not really sure other than some of the few times he spoke of his service he mentioned that region, the heat and having to accompany shore parties into the desert.

Cyril had been brought up in an area where game such as wildfowl, some deer and rabbits were part of the normal fare along with mutton, pork and beef.

The Rabbits – I have written briefly about this in my first article but, just to enlarge on it…

I think the rabbits – two black ones that we got – were bought for, or given to, me but Cyril decided that we should breed them. Accordingly, with the help of Marikane, our general factotum from the Transkei, he built an enclosure of split logs on our plot in Helena Heights.

In spite of his supposedly KNOWING about rabbits, Cyril forgot that they are burrowing animals but, at first, the burrows that we saw in the enclosure were just curious and interesting. Within a day or two, we realised that they were ESCAPE tunnels and we were chasing the bunnies all over the plot. He then built new enclosure that had a wooden floor topped with about a foot of soil so that the rabbits could burrow but not escape.

…and we waited. After several weeks, our very happy little bunnies were still playing house but showing no sign of breeding. Having befriended a chap named Bill Prince in the village, and knowing that Bill had a number of rabbits himself, Cyril asked him what he thought the problem could be. The bunnies (my mother and I had probably given them names by this time), were examined by Bill who with great amusement, informed us that the rabbits had not been breeding because we had two does (girls).

A buck rabbit was introduced to the mix and the stage was set for him and Cyril to start the commercial supply of rabbit to the local butchers and specialty restaurants. (There were none of the latter in the area although they did exist in Cape Town – I think).

Cyril was very good with his hands and particularly good at woodwork. He bought a supply of timber and built some very professional cages that were about six hundred millimetres deep by about a metre wide and perhaps six or seven hundred millimetres high. They had mesh front, back and sides and a mesh floor so that droppings could fall through. Under each floor was a slide-in drip tray the size of the cage, that he had had made out of galvanised steel. I think there were about 12 cages in all.

As our two girls started to produce offspring the cages soon filled up (and Cyril added some new livestock I think) and it fell to me to clean the cages. As a city-raised child of nine or ten this was not something I took to with relish and there were often some vigorous exchanges about the poorly cleaned cages and drip trays. Cleaning was more difficult because the bunnies, usually two to a cage, produced prodigious amounts of droppings – mostly in one corner of the cage where all the droppings would clump together and stick in the mesh like tar. I was not strong enough to wield the wire brushes to good effect nor tall enough to get into the higher cages. My mother would then get stuck in and clean the cages out. Cyril would come home, see how well mom had done the job and come looking for me. (This may have occasioned the lone pine tree incident that I spoke of elsewhere).

I mentioned before that my mother and I would not eat rabbit, if we had raised the creature, but if it came from Bill as ANONYMOUS meat we condescended to consume the meat – rabbit is delicious by the way.

As to the commercial viability of the venture I seem to remember it fizzled out…The pelts were meant to be a by-product of the venture but I only remember a couple of pelts ever being properly cured while the rest turned hard and ugly. I think Marikane did cure a few pelts for himself and he got the odd rabbit to slaughter for his own consumption.

I believe that Bill Prince ended up with all the rabbits and their cages because, unlike Europe and Britain where rabbits are largely regarded as livestock, in South Africa the white people tended to think of rabbits in the category of domesticated pets. Black and coloured people would have gladly eaten rabbit but not at the kind of prices that these were being offered.

Cyril was very good with wood, and I picked up many ideas and some technique from him but because of his impatience with me, the experience was sporadic and came to be something that I would avoid.

Having decided that we should fence the plot Cyril bought a huge pile of raw pine split logs and made up sections of fence that looked roughly like this.

Each section was about 2 to 2.5 metres long with the ends about 1,800mm high and the middle about 1,400mm high. Each pole was about 100mm wide and 100mm apart and he nailed it all t0gether with 100mm nails which, for the first couple of prototypes he did not drive all the way in – leaving the rather big heads projecting for about 5mm. The sketch I have created is NOT to scale of course. The fence needed quite a few of these sections. In a 2 to 2.5 metre section there would have been twenty to twenty five uprights – a considerable weight of timber.

In order to be able to see these sections while getting the pattern right Cyril needed the sections upright and I, still aged nine, was roped in and made to sit on the ground and hold a section so that it could be viewed to see the effect.

One section of fence was MUCH heavier than I was so all I was doing was precariously balancing it in an upright position. I was taking some flak from Cyril as usual, not getting anything right according to him. My arms were getting tired when an errant gust of wind caught the structure.

I valiantly tried to hold the section but it pivoted to the horizontal on my outstretched arms. For just a moment I was supporting the entire weight of the section before my arms collapsed.  The structure fell on me, driving one of the protruding nail heads into the centre of my head. There was pain, surprise, a not-inconsiderable amount of blood and, I was nine, remember, howls of pain as I lay flattened under the section of fence.

“Bloody fool, why didn’t you hold the bloody thing up…useless idiot.” …words to that effect were directed at me but I think he had a fright because he soon had the thing off me and my mother was out with a cloth and warm water – and some words for Cyril. I think we went down to the hospital where they determined that apart from a sore head and a severe, shaved, bump – accompanied by a wound that was soon to scab over I would be OK. I was young enough, and my skull was still flexible so there was no skull damage. I do have a slight concavity on top of my head though, that perhaps might not have been there otherwise.

The finished front fence (I think Marikane was pressed into service – or someone was hired to complete it) was quite smart looking.

Somerset West childhood memories

Somerset West recollections from 60-plus years ago – I was asked to write about my memories of the place and it has turned into rather a long post…

My mother married my stepfather in early December 1953, The end of my first year of boarding school. They went away for a few days to a place called MOON RISING on the road that ran from Helderberg college up over the shoulder of the mountain and down into Pérel Vallei (Silverboom Kloof Road, according to Google Earth). When they had been there a day or two a friend or theirs, named Jimmy Brookes, took me to visit and I stayed with them for a couple more days after which we all returned to Moullie Point where we were living in a small flat in Moullie Court – it is still there to this day.

In about 1954 my stepfather and my mother bought a plot on an area called Helena Heights, situated on the flanks of the Helderberg Mountain. It was about four or five miles from the then village of Somerset West on the Stellenbosch road. We were in Irene Avenue – the fifth road to the left after turning off at the Cylnor Hotel (in those days Irene Avenue did not carry on to the right towards Pérel Vallei, as I now see it  doing on Google Earth). The Cylnor Hotel was on the corner of Old Stellenbosch Road and Helderberg College road where I see some shops are now located. In the fifties, and beyond I suspect, it was a very popular place.

Below, taken from Google earth – where we lived with my comments

Somerset West in the mid-fifties was considered true country living – thirty miles from Cape Town it was something of a sleepy hollow. On returning to the town in 1982 I was not too surprised to see the extent of development on Helena Heights but the town, with the new highways to get one there, seemed like a suburb of Cape Town! What did surprise me after having left, as a child 24 years previously was that I was able to take the Paarl turn-off and, via Stellenbosch, drive straight to our old house.

Anyway, 5 Irene Avenue was our plot and we were to build THE VERY FIRST HOUSE ON THE NEW ESTATE. My stepfather first built a wooden cabin that we lived in at weekends until they had enough to start building the house. The plot was just over an acre in extent and Cyril made it a stipulation that, apart from what would be absolutely necessary to build the house, NONE of the protea bushes was to be cleared so we had these magnificent, huge protea bushes dotted around all over the property.

We probably moved into the new house some time in 1955 when I was still at boarding school but I started Standard 3 at Somerset West Primary School in January 1956. I would have been nine years old. We used to get the school bus on the Stellenbosch road where it intersected with the Faure/Firgrove road, which I think was still a dirt road.

In summer they allowed us to go to school barefoot, (the reason given for this was so that poorer families could save some money). My stepfather very firmly told me that he would NOT allow me to go barefoot and I was always to wear shoes and socks to school.

Some of the children came from fairly well off families many of whom farmed in the area – grape farms had become a big thing with the wine industry starting to go full out. One of my classmates, with whom I was friendly, was a chap named Basil Boer whose family had a farm a couple of miles on the Stellenbosch side of where I used to catch the school bus. Basil used to go barefoot in summer, as did many other children who were in no way underprivileged so I was determined to do the same. For a while, I got away with it too.

I would take my shoes and socks off as soon as my parents had dropped me at the bus stop and driven off and I would hide them in a culvert to be collected when I returned after school. One day I stayed late at school and was given a lift home by a friend’s mother. It was only the next morning that I realised I had no shoes and socks to put on! The confrontation with my stepfather was not pleasant but at least the shoes and socks were where I had left them. I still went barefoot as often as I could but was a lot more careful with my shoes and socks.

I remember only a few teachers from my school days but Miss Melville, who was my teacher for quite some time at Somerset West Primary School, is one such. She was strict, with a forbiddingly upright demeanour but (and I began to realise this many years later) she was a teacher because it was her VOCATION – it was not just a job, it was her life’s purpose…and she was not that strict, either. It just seemed that way. Miss Mellville had a broad leather strap cut to form three tails that she used on the boys’ bums and the back of their legs – the girls only got it across the back of their legs. Not viciously or very hard and, I think that because family values were the way they were in that era, it was more the embarrassment and shame of being singled out for punishment rather than any lasting pain.

Certainly, my recollection of that time, of those punishments, is of a benign era of honour and decency and I doubt that ANY of Miss Melville’s pupils will be carrying emotional scars, as today’s PC folks would have us believe we should.

The school was dual medium and classes were streamed as Afrikaans medium or English medium but I think we all, certainly most of us, spoke both languages – using them quite unconsciously depending on who we were playing with.

It was a long time ago but some of the lessons taught by Miss Melville stay with me to this day – you may gather she made a big impression on this little boy. Miss Melville who we thought SO OLD, who rode an upright bicycle with mechanical brakes that had a basket in front and a carrier over the back wheel. The back wheel had a screen over it to prevent her skirts or dresses from catching in the spokes. …and she had a briefcase and a basket that came to school with her.

Yes, DRESSES AND SKIRTS – no such thing as trousers for a lady such as Miss M – even on a bicycle!

Calling children KIDS had started by then but Miss M overheard us using the term she would admonish us that we are CHILDREN and HUMAN young and that KIDS are the offspring of GOATS!

In 1957 at the end of Standard 4, a couple of us decided tat we would hide Miss Melville’s strap. The classroom blackboard was fixed to the wall and we got the strap firmly wedged up behind it. Lo and behold, next year Miss Melville took over Standard 5 so we were back in the same classroom! Miss M grumbled quite a bit about her missing strap but a few weeks into the new term, she became somewhat agitated with someone and banged the blackboard with the duster to make her point. There was a sound of something moving and, with a loud clatter, a very dusty leather strap tumbled out from behind the board. Holding the strap in her hand, she gave the class a triumphant glare – but said nothing.

My stepfather’s name was Cyril Williams and he was the kind of person who came to know everyone. In our time in Somerset West, he soon DID know everyone it seemed. He was friends with the butcher, the hotel owner – Barney Teperson (?), the hardware store owner even members of the police.

We used to have some wonderful braais at our place. It was before transistor radios and other personal devices and there would always be someone who had a guitar or piano accordion who came along and I have great memories of how popular my mother, Enid, was and what a fine singer too. She was always asked to sing the popular songs of the day – Moonlight and Roses, Memories are Made of This, Send Me the Pillow that You Dream on are just a few that come to mind.

Some people may not be aware that South Africa was VERY Calvinistic in that era and at about 1200 or 1300 on a Saturday all retailers closed. On Sundays, hotels could only serve liquor with a meal. Cinemas (or bioscopes as we knew them then) did not open on Sundays. If it was decided that we were going to have a braai and it was after closing on a Saturday Cyril would make a couple of phone calls, go for a drive and come back with meat and drinks and bread and the party would get going. Of course there was only one other house near us by 56/57 so no neighbours to worry about, as invariably they would be at the party.

In about 1956 a couple – who I only remember as Ginger and Iolanthe – built a house on the plot just in front and to the right of us (on Montrose Crescent directly opposite the end of Pierneef Street) – you could say at one o’clock from our plot and sharing a short bit of boundary in the corner. They had a baby named Cynthia (I think?). We kept rabbits and one day when Cynthia was a toddler, they came over and my stepfather gave the child a baby rabbit to hold. No one was watching the child as she hugged and hugged and hugged the little bunny. After a while I noticed that the little creatures head was lolling unnaturally – quite innocently, the little child had hugged the bunny to death!

The rabbit saga, that was to cause much strife for me and my mother, started when Cyril, bought a PAIR of rabbits with a view to breeding them for slaughter but they steadfastly refused to breed. Enter Bill Prince, a friend Cyril had made in the village who was from rural England. Bill determined that we had TWO FEMALES and after he had introduced a buck, we had something of a rabbit population explosion. My mom and I determined we would NOT eat OUR rabbits so the only ones we ever ate were the dressed-out-ready-to-cook ones obtained from Bill who was also breeding them.

My mom and I did that with every animal brought to the plot for breeding and eating. We made pets of them. The sheep – my mother cooked a leg of it but neither she nor I would eat any. Cyril was livid with us.

Enter the pig. When it came time to slaughter this creature Cyril decided that it was to be carried out in our big kitchen yard that was of steel-floated concrete with good drains. One of his less well-known friends, who claimed to know all about slaughtering and butchering, came along to assist. The calibre of pistol they used was too small and the wounded pig squealed and thrashed around the yard spraying blood while these two men tried to put it out of its misery. This was, I think, achieved with another bullet and slitting the now-stunned animal’s throat. My mother and I were periodically peeping out of an upstairs window, horrified by this obviously amateur debacle in the yard that was now awash with pig blood.

When the mess was cleared up and the butchering completed a few days later (I suspect some of that was done by the butcher friend in the village), some of the meat was brought home. Mom said she would cook it for him but she was buggered if either of us (mom or myself) would eat any of it. That bad vibe lasted for some time.

I was good friends with Andy Becket, a classmate whose grandparents had a small farm a short way up the road and spent many holidays and afternoons over there (it was only a short walk across a field to get there). I helped to turn the handle on the separator and I would get a glass of milk, still warm from the cow, for my trouble. Scones fresh from ouma’s oven with FRESH cream and FARM butter that I sometimes helped to churn.

Climbing Helderberg and almost getting stuck on the mountain. Going there again, caught by bad weather, stumbling around in the mist. We survived all that stuff and more and no one seemed to get into a panic at us actually packing some food in a school satchel and setting off for a day of adventuring.

Tree houses, amateurish and probably unsafe, built in trees on the farm. We swam in ponds of black water with soft squishy mud on the bottom: scaring each other with fanciful stories of monstrous creatures in the murky water.

The Cylnor was the local watering hole and although my stepfather was friends with Monty at the Helderberg Hotel the Cylnor was far enough out of town that they would close the doors after hours and the party would continue behind the closed doors. Not so easily done down in the town.

Does anyone remember playing WA WIEL (Wagon Wheel)? Never came across the game after I left SW. It was a children’s farmyard game played on a roughly 30-metre wagon wheel marked out in the sand. There was a big family on a large property on what I see is now called Future Road just next to the Old Stellenbosch Road. I became friends with the family and it is where I played Wa Wiel.

One time I was in town and playing cowboys in the grounds of the Helderberg with Monty’s son, Barney and a few others and I ran through a drainage ditch with some black waste water in it. I felt a tickle on my foot and a few minutes later one of the boys commented that I was bleeding. Sure enough, there were big splotches of blood where I had been moving around and, after I raised my foot, we saw a big cut in the ball of my foot, just behind my big toe.

No panic, Monty or one of the other adults, just got the cheerful coloured delivery bike rider from the off sales to put me in the basket on the front and run me up to the doctor – about a block away – leaving big splats of blood every couple of metres. At the doctors I sort of hopped up to the door only to be shooed away by the receptionist who made me go to the back door (where the coloured people used to enter) and I had to go in that way to be treated. Laws or regulations around the colour of one’s skin notwithstanding they were NOT about to let someone bleed on the floor of the practice!

I still have a faint scar from that cut. They did not stitch it and it healed quickly – we were real little animals!

I could barely keep my head above water when it came to swimming – let’s face it, I couldn’t swim. I learned though, in the Lourensford River a few hundred metres from the Helderberg Hotel when a friend chucked me into the river one day. Talk about sink or swim…

Stealing fruit was a rite of passage. No one needed to raid orchards or vineyards but we did it because they were there. On one occasion, on Lourensford estate, we were being chased – I cannot remember what fruit we had been helping ourselves to but probably grapes – and we rode off as fast as we could on our bikes through the pine trees where a vehicle could not go. The deep pine needles hid something else – stumps. After hitting one of these little stumps, I went flying over the handlebars. I bounced to my feet, grabbed my bike and joined the rest of the fleeing robbers. One friend also came off his bike, somehow landing up on his chest, which meant he had a lot of squashed fruit in his shirtfront!

I did not get along famously with my stepfather and one evening he came after me for some transgression or other. I jumped out of my first floor window onto a ledge and swung down off that to land in the garden. Then I took off. As I crossed the road in front of the house, I heard the front door open and he bellowed for me to stop. I ran faster but I was still small and I knew I would be caught so I had to make a plan. I ran along the footpath that went towards the Becket’s farm and when I got to the lone pine tree by the path I shinned up it as fast and as far as I could.

After yelling at me to come down he climbed up the tree but, when it bent alarmingly, he realised nothing was to be gained by both of us falling some 15 or 20 feet to the ground. He climbed down, all the time demanding that I come down. I stayed. After a bit he left and went home where I heard him shouting at my mother after which he drove off in the car in the direction of the village. Still I stayed. After some time I heard my mother calling from the corner, assuring me it was OK to come home and have my supper…

At our house the front door faced the street and around the back of the garage, where the maid’s room was, we had a door into the kitchen yard, which the maid could use. We had a big coloured woman as our housemaid and a rough one she could be – especially when in the wine. She was married to a very gentlemanly black Nyasalander (today he would be a Malawian).

The doorbell was wired so that the front door had a double ring BING-BONG, BING-BONG while the tradesman’s, or servants, entrance had a single tone – BONG, BONG, BONG. Both of these rings only chimed ONCE at each push of the button.

One Saturday night the tradesman’s bell started its monotonous BONG….BONG….BONG and no amount of cursing and swearing out of the upstairs window would stop it. In high dudgeon and with all of us awake, Cyril went down to see what the hell was going on. Before he could start yelling, the husband fell forward through the door, bleeding rather profusely and superfluously informing us that he had been stabbed.

After packing old blankets and stuff around the man, I went with to the village hospital where they removed about seventy millimetres of broken knife blade from his back near the spine and the heart. I do not remember if they kept him in but he had bled right through the padding we had wrapped him in in the short time it had taken to get to the hospital. He recovered quickly and was soon seen around the garden where he helped from time to time.

It turned out that he had been to a farm compound to FETCH his wife who he believed was buggering around with someone. After receiving considerable abuse, he had decided to leave when he was stabbed from behind while simultaneously being told to bugger off by all present.

The stabber was identified and deemed to have been drunk; he was sentenced to only three months in jail!

This has turned into something far bigger than I had expected it to be when I started but I will finish with two more anecdotes…

In early 1958 the new cinema (bioscope) opened in SW at the top of the street as you came into town from the Stellenbosch side – it was about a block up from the road where the Primary school was.

Elvis Presley’s JAILHOUSE ROCK was the feature film, showing for the first show in the new cinema. It was a black and white film and probably the only B & W movie he ever made…?

I so dearly wanted to see this movie (I was not quite eleven and a half) and managed to cobble together the one and sixpence (about fifteen cents) that was the normal ticket price and walked from Helena Heights into the village. When I got to the ticket office the price had been put up to one and ninepence – or about eighteen cents!!

I knew my parents had gone to Gordon’s Bay for the afternoon so, figuring to come back for the late afternoon show, I started to hitch hike to GB. I did not get many lifts and was standing on the road about halfway between G B and the Strand when a family friend stopped to ask what I was doing. I said I was trying to find my folks so that I could get the extra tickey (threepence) to get into the Elvis movie in town. I think it may have been about that time that my parent’s happened along and Cyril was angry with me while my mother was quite aback taken – she just wanted to help me sort this out.

I don’t remember WHAT exactly transpired except that I ended up getting into the movie. Every time old swivel-hips came on screen and started to sing all the girls SHRIEKED (and there were a LOT of girls in there) and no one could hear a thing. The manager turned off the sound, the screaming stopped, sound on – screaming, sound off – quiet, sound on…. Eventually the manager came out and said he would restart the film but if there was any more screaming he would stop the film entirely and it would be the fault of the screamers.

So I watched, and heard, Jailhouse Rock and the very start of any screaming became muffled as boyfriends shushed their dates and groups of girls managed to keep themselves in check.

At New Year there would be a New Year’s Eve dance-cum-ball in the town hall. I and a few other children were able to attend if we kept quiet and sat upstairs in the balcony. The town hall had also been the town cinema before and there were comfortable seats upstairs. There would be a huge net with coloured balloons suspended from the ceiling and a bar going like the clappers – not sure if there was food but there probably was…

Below: My mother, Enid, on the right, Cyril (holding Teddy the maltese) and a friend of theirs.

I remember sitting upstairs watching the grown-ups and, even as a youngster I was aware of how good-looking my mother was and how much attention she received – both good (from the men mostly) and bad (from some of the women!). Looking back as an adult I know I was right when I often thought my mother the most beautiful woman at any gathering.

At midnight the balloons would be released and there would be singing of Auld Lang Syne and other songs and my mother might be asked to sing along to the piano. Next thing I would know would be being carried to the car or woken up to go home and perhaps a bacon sandwich.

Above: My mother at around age 20

If more comes to mind I will add to this post…it was the best of times in many ways and a few years later perhaps the worst of times. After we went to Rhodesia in mid-58 my stepfather’s fortunes changed for the worse and we lost the house in SW and, to a large extent, our way of life and standard of living. He died in a car accident in June 1961. My mother remained in Rhodesia with me and my much younger brother and sister, who had been born there, and our little dog, Teddy. She made a home and a life for us and we were all OK.

eriktheready is a work actively in progress