My alcohol drinking experience didn’t only eventuate in Langa, for there was also my grandfather who was of Irish stock and liked his wee dram. He preferred both brandy or red sweet wine and his drinking days seemed to be the weekends, and because of my attachment for him as my only pa I would at times spend some part of a weekend with him. It was always after lunch that he went to inspect the crops as he called it. That meant him going with me in tow to the furthest end of the property, sit beneath an overhanging willow tree that concealed him from my ma, and begin drinking either the brandy or wine that he always hid in a hollow of a branch in a willow tree. He always fell asleep in the shade of the tree and it was then that I sneaked a sip or two. It was also at those times when he slept that my wanderings took me way over to the fence of the adjoining property of his Afrikaner neighbour, who kept a baboon tied up by a chain to a dried up leafless tree on their property. After digging up potatoes I would pitch it at the baboon while hiding behind bushes. That got it so agitated that it displayed its spectacular canines, barked repeatedly, came down from the tree and ran to and fro the length of its retaining wire that brought out the neighbour, woke my pa and spoiled my fun. Whenever he was in short supply of liquor, with me again in tow, he would go deep within a bush near the farm to a smokkel huis (Dutch = smuggle house; a sly grog house) where he would purchase his alcoholic drinks from an African lady who lived there in a panddak (Dutch = roofed building; a shanty).
There were quite a few known shebeens in our neighbourhood that I was far too young to frequent, what interested me more though was the different other denominations that were there. There was the Church of England, the Baptist, the Apostolic and the Muslims. The Church of England had a marching band called The Boy’s Brigade that trooped their Girl Guides down the main street every Sunday morning, and that caused the services in the other churches to cease as they marched past because of the thunderous rendering of their brass band. My attendance one time or the other at Sunday school services in the Baptist church wasn’t due through not receiving enough Christian doctrine at my own, but it was rather of enticement with lollies, holy cards and pretty girls. When the Apostolic church at the end of our street caught fire I experienced the first real blaze. The excitement of fire engine bells clanging, the shiny red fire engines, the fireman resplendent in black and red uniforms with glistening strapped axe, and the whoosh as fire hoses came alive to spurt fire quenching water all became part of a dream and I wet the bed that night. The Muslim mosque’s priest calling the faithful to pray acted as a rude awaking alarm in the mornings and a reminder that night was falling during the Ramadan. Once because of that when someone let a piglet loose in their mosque as retaliation, they were not amused. What amuse us though about their children was when they had Labahrung Day that was celebrated similar to our Christmas Day during their Ramadan festivities. They would arrive at the door to wish you for their day with the expectancy to receive the same gift of lollies, cupcakes, biscuits or if you were lucky a few pennies that you received on Christmas Day when wishing Christian families in the neighbourhood. They were actually getting a bight of the cherry twice as they went around wishing the Christian families at Christmas too.
At Christmas time my parents never bought us toys, what they did instead was to fully outfit us with clothes. I though made basic toys with hands on showing, supervision and encouragement by my father. I learntedhow to make a kite, paper sail boat, paddle boat with a mechanism of rubber band and paddle pop stick, a trolley of lidded tin cans and wire coat hangers, and a catapult. The catapult though was my undoing, and after a spanking it was confiscated and I was banned from making any more. My accuracy and irresponsibility had become the neighbourhood scourge and my parent’s distress. From shooting stones at tins it led to birds, street lights, grazing horses that bolted, onto houses galvanized roofs as it rolled and rattled down, and in rapid succession onto wooden front doors that brought the home occupants out. That was the one that rebounded on me. The male occupant of the house had a full view of me even though it was at night as I stood with the catapult in my hand after releasing the stone that zipped past his head at the exact moment when he opened his front door.
The toys our dad made for us were billy-carts, wooden scooters with metal cogwheels from bus wheels, which a bus mechanic friend gave him, stilts, a corrugated iron canoe and a rocking horse. All of those and more were made from bits and pieces that he scrounged. The rocking horse he made consisted of vinegar wooden barrel stave’s for the bottom rockers, legs were from an old ball and claw chair, the seat that was flat and eight shaped, and the head were made from thick timber that came from a discarded school desk. His hand tools consisted of a saw, hammer, wood rasp and a steel fire poker. The wood rasp was used to shape the seat and head; the poker was continuously red hot heated in the coal stove for making screw holes, the hole for the insertion of a wooden handle through the rocking horses head and slots that held the mane and tail that came off real horse hair from my grandparent’s farm horses. My dad was a practical and inventive man, and was the type who could make something out of nothing. My mum had an electric iron that was used constantly to iron everything that came off the wash line and that in turn caused wear and tear to the copper elements that fused constantly. By him extracting a roll of copper wire from a salvaged street electric light cable and by using the fused copper element as a template, he shaped the copper wire accordingly. Next he placed the shaped wire on the railway line and waited for the next train to pass. The flattened, perfectly fitting dad made electric iron copper element brought a thank you and smile from my mother and from me a feeling of pride for my ingenious father. By accident I also found another use for his copper wire trick by flattening metal bottle caps on the railway line that I discovered became the similar size and exact weight of a penny. What I also discovered was that they fitted chocolate vending machines at railway stations. When a penny was inserted into a slide slot and pushed inwards the penny dropped onto a lever that released a bar of wrapped chocolate. There were three railway stations in walking distance where my friends and I were successful. The railway station master must have got wind of it though for the machines were eventually moved from the public sitting rooms to the front of the ticket selling office, and that curbed our choc holism and making of counterfeit pennies.
World War 2 was still happening and compulsory black outs were still enforced with night wardens patrolling all areas. Although houses were curtained, blankets or any other darkening devices were also used at night when the air raid warning sounded. Streets lights, shops and even churches if there was a service on had to douse their lights and candlelight came into use. That wasn’t an overnight occurrence for it lasted close on five years and during that time food commodities were in short supply and families were just getting over the Great Depression. The purveying of sustenance to the troops was a main priority and imports were at an all-time low, all the same South Africa at that time made strategic and economic contributions to the Allied cause. All shipping used Cape Town as the sea route to North Africa after the Axis closed the Mediterranean to them, and Cape Town became vital for supplying the Allied Forces with ammunition, food, clothing and other necessities. The army then controlled all distribution of scarce staple diet and it also saw all citizens complying with stringent rations of butter, rice, coffee, tea, sugar and condensed milk that were some of the few that were restricted. People’s ingenuity then came to the fore. Lard was made to look like butter by grating carrots, squeezing the juice out and mixing it in. South Africa’s honeybees were in full production, as honey became a substitute for sugar. All bread was brown and coarse because it was wheaten, and it was illegal to bake white bread because of shortages. Some smart individuals, of whom my father was one, invented a sifting device that would divide the chaff and produce white flour for an occasional white loaf. It consisted of a box like contraption with a metal rod that had an egg beater type construction for the inside of the box and lead out to be affixed on one of the outer sides. The other side had a turning handle, and the centre of the box had muslin cloth that caught the husks that allowed the white flour to pass through. From those homes you would smell the aroma of fresh baked illegal bread. Stamp mielies (Dutch = stampen mais, pounded maize) bought white granulated and simmered, became our other staple diet in place of rise. Coffee was made from coffee beans that you had to grind yourself, and those grinding machines were used for many other purposes, especially for mincing meat to make your own sausages. Tea was another problem but we reverted to rooibos (Dutch = rood bosje, red bush), an herb used as tea that grew wild in South Africa, and although pungent it was healthy and a good substitute with plenty of honey. Condensed milk, which was then considered next to mother’s milk, kept my baby brother going thanks to Mister Parker’s Grocery Store. Fresh vegetables were another necessity that became scarce because there were no frozen ones then. Again some forward thinking person in our neighbourhood organized farmers with unmarketable but edible produce to load up and sell a variety of the vegetables at two shillings a basket in poorer communities. Also, once a month done in a family rotation, our grandmother filled up her Austin, which was one of those cumbersome cars, squeezed us all in, and with her rationed petrol took us either for a country drive or to the beach.
Another of my dreams depicted together show my growing up on my grandparent’s farm with the animals. The toy boat was one of many that my father had taught me to fold out of stiff paper, which I had sailed on the fast flowing waters in road gutters. The white robed Africans were because of my association with them in the African township of Langa in Cape Town. The barking ferocious dog was the baboon kept on a running-chain tied to a tree on a neighbouring farm. The fire was the Apostolic Church burning with the firemen in attendance.