5. All about Moi, ME, I

But be that as it may about my families, the small-holding farm became my playground in Crawford. It was one of Cape Town’s suburbs on the Cape Flats, and so called because of the flatness of the land that stretched from the north to the south in the shadow and to the back of Cape Town’s mountain ranges of Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and The Twelve Apostles. On their small holding farm my grandparents grew crops and bred farm animals. To further supplement their income because by then they had seven mouths to feed, my grandma’s three children from her first marriage and four more by her second, she made ice cream, candyfloss and toffee apples that she hawked together with farm produce off horse and cart. At times she let me churn the butter and ice cream that she made, and to help with the muslin clothed cheese and Christmas puddings that she prepared and were then hung together with the onions that were strung in the farmhouse loft. At other times when helping my grandfather feed the poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, bantams, maccoa-ducks, turkeys) and the other farm animals (horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep) he would carry me strapped on his back so that I wouldn’t get under his feet. His slaughtering of the farm animals though must have really impressed me. He never chopped off a chicken’s head in the usual way, what he did instead was to grasped the head and swing the chicken in a circular fast movement by rotating his wrist whereby breaking its neck. I though received a good spanking on been found in the chicken run doing the same thing to a clutch of chicks. On another occasion a piglet squealing for mercy brought them running to find me clutching and dragging a four-pound sledgehammer that I was trying to hit it on the head with, as seeing my grandfather do when delivering a death blow to larger pigs. That entailed another spanking and they kept me away from the lambs and calves from then on

One of my mother’s brother’s must have been naughtier than me though due to him hiding and sleeping under the raised farm house at times because of been too scared to face the music, for whatever reason. We would hear him knocking on the floorboards below our bedroom and my mother would pass on food and blankets to him. There were also times when my grandparents would ask a neighbour who was an Afrikaner police sergeant to fetch him from out under the farmhouse. On many occasions he ran away from home and always went to Kimberly where there were relatives. He cycled the week long distance and survived on farm produce that he pinched on his overland travels, slept in farm barns, and the bicycle tires he kept continuously hard by stuffing them with grass from the veld. My mum, dad and myself occupied the side end of the house that consisted of a bedroom and dining cum kitchen with a side entranced stoep (Dutch = small porch) that lead off the back door. The rest of the house had four more bedrooms, a large dining lounge room, large kitchen, a separate pantry, bathroom with a copper for hot bath water, an enclosed back stoep and veranda, an outside toilet, and the washing got done in a large concrete washtub that stood against the side and back of the house. My grandmother had one of those old-fashioned hand wringer washing machines and by me hanging on the end of the handle at the down turns; the wringers would squeeze the water out of part of the clothes. However, for me to continue doing that my mum had to do all the up turns. The exterior of the house and roof was constructed of corrugated iron, and what drove everybody crazy was the rattling sound produced as I ran around the house holding a stick against it.

My grandma must have been glad when we moved out due to firstly because of my mischievousness and at last she was getting rid of my dad, who was giving back as good as receiving from her. From the farm we moved to Hazendale and resided in a semidetached house in a town called Bokmekerie, which was so named because of local bush birds repeated calls of bok-bok-mekerie. I remember it been a loving disciplined period for me and I must have become a good boy because of that, on account of receiving a red pedal car that our neighbour’s children and I raced up and down our street. It was also a peaceful and respectable environment to grow up in because of a caring neighbourhood and helpful people. When my father worked night-shift, the neighbours would come around to see if we were all right on our own, and at other times would offer to baby sit me if my mum and dad wanted to go to the movies on his nights off. At 5-years-old we had to move again because there wasn’t a school in that area and I attended Saint Raphael’s School in Athlone, which was also a suburb of Cape Town on the Cape Flats. That acreage school playground was scattered with majestic pine trees and their proximity to each other created a foliage canopy as a shelter from the elements. Adjacent to the school was the impressive church of Saint Mary’s of the Angels that had a touch of Gothic architecture. High interior space, exposed beams, vertical lines of arched tall pillars in the nave, alcoves on each side of the sanctuary, and a choir balcony facing it at the back. To me the most intriguing and fascinating part of the church though was the imposing bell tower that was the highest building structure in that area. The church parish was vast and it encompassed another four suburbs of Gleemoor in the north, Black River in the south, Crawford in the east and Hazendale in the west. That was the reason for the lofty church bell tower so that over a wide area the pealing of the church bells would be heard. Being an inquisitive adventurous child my curiosity to climb the spiral staircase that lead up to the belfry became so unbearable that I eventually plucked up enough courage to do so. Trembling and breathless when reaching the top and still having to contend with a trap door that led to the belfry, my struggles were worth the overwhelming spectacular panoramic view that stretched to the horizon, and I still visualize that breathtaking adventure continued into my teen years of the layout of Athlone then, now.

Our family resided a street away from the school and church, which was Capuchin Street and so named because the priest were members of the Franciscan Order, a stone’s throw away from Athlone railway station and in the shadow of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. Our backyard backed onto a vacant lot that was the size of two soccer fields next to the railway station. With three platforms of which two were for passenger electric trains and one for locomotive steam engine that traveled daily to and fro conveying goods, that was the one that became my childhood passion. Having also a grandfather who worked for the South African Railway’s got me certain privileges, and the reason was that when going with him into the signal boxes and with the aid of his colleagues I would be allowed to pull the levers that controlled the signals and the railway track switching. The thrill of all thrills though was when up in the engine cabin when it was shunting the goods carriages and given a special treat of having been allowed to sound the engine whistle. The vacant lot that was church property was hired twice a year by the traveling circuses of Boswell and Pagel’s. The water supply for the circus that came from the close proximity of our backyard water tap attributed to my parents receiving a wad of complimentary tickets, which made me the most popular kid in the neighbourhood. That also gave me the opportunity to be real close to numerous wildlife animals such as lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, elephants and monkeys, and at times in the company of trapeze artists, acrobats, clowns and animal trainers. As we resided only a street away from the church we attend all church services, and because my mother was a devout Catholic she introduced us to all the devotions, especially her personal favorite of reciting the rosary while knelling every night with a picture of Christ facing us. That picture which depicted the Sacred Heart of Jesus left an indelible impression on my mind and the floorboard impression on my knees.

Another impression that I won’t forget was my dad’s hand imprint on my backside for the first time, which there were many more after that, and that came about when he eventually found out why the batteries in his touch never had the life expectancy as advertised. He was a baker confectioner at Pyott’s Bakery in Salt River and he cycled an hour to and fro from work every day due to no trains or buses operating late at night when he worked night shift or overtime. That made his touch necessary and crucial for he had been stopped numerous times by the police for having cycled without torchlight. That long cylindrical torch because it had held a fascinating temptation for me would cause me to release it from the bicycle clip that held it secure when nobody was around.  I would then play with it in my best hiding place under my parent’s high brass bed either flat on my back or stomach, which caused the torchlight to become my childish fantasy. Then one night my dad came home with friends while I was under the bed with the torch, but by laying still and keeping very quiet nobody noticed me. That was until they decided to have a card game, and the longer they played the more my childish impatience grew until my compulsion to switch the torch on got the better of me. Unfortunately, my parent’s bed stood opposite the doorway leading into the dining room where they were playing cards and they saw the flickering torchlight. My dad put two and two together and in those days kids always got spankings.

Image

Capuchin Street, Athlone, looking up at St Raphael’s School & St Mary’s of the Angels Catholic Church in the distance. Taken by my sister Shirley in 1990 and sent to me in Australia.

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