13. My Uncle John Rhode’s Fish Shop In Athlone.

What became an unacceptable part of my life was that my spending money was at an all-time low after leaving Mr Parker’s employment. Pocket money came only through one’s own efforts, and the extra pennies (cents) earned then were through the kindness of neighbours who tipped me for going into town to buy their newspapers. Nick’s Stores was the only newspaper purchasing agency in town, and again by been observant I watched as he operated his haberdashery store, collect the train transported bundled newspapers at the station, sold and delivered it. That made me realize that maybe he needed help. He was a Jew, and knowing their business mindedness my approach had to benefit him, so I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Observing that only a few business people in the town received delivered newspapers while the rest went to his shop to buy their own, I concluded that if the neighbours were giving me a few pennies extra to go and buy theirs, what would the business people tip me. My offer to do his deliveries free of charge and also asking to be supplied with extra papers to sell to the other business had immediate acceptance. He had extra time to see to his other business affairs and I had extra money jingling in my pockets again. That little venture soon began to blossom as neighbourhood people on seeing me with the papers would stop me to buy one with a little extra offered instead of going the distance to Nick’s. It was a simple matter to return and buy more, and over a short period of time my clientele had increased to a 60. I then also had my sister helping me so as to deliver the newspapers more efficiently that saw not only her receiving tips, which got her pocket money too, but Nick had also reduced the newspaper cost to me. And because of showing his appreciation for increasing his sales I bought my first brand spanking new bicycle with the extra money. That allowed me to travel easily and frequently to other neighbourhoods to visit girls that I had chatted up previously; on the other hand, it eventually found me with more girlfriends than I could handle and it also gave me an unfounded reputation of being a flirt. Puberty was a breeze for me, although not for my male friends it seemed, and I attributed it to their constant complaints of their acne, emotional and sexual frustration because of girls that they thought would put out but didn’t, and constant masturbating. On the other hand, I had no doubt that because of been in female company in all forms of undress and at times indulging their and my fantasies, and the constant stream of curious sexually experimenting girls that it was the reason for my teenage years to be problem free in those areas. The only problem I had was having too much of a good time, and the reason why was contributed to the many happenings and events that made life exciting in Cape Town.

To further supplement our family income, I had my sister do a reduced paper run and I helped out at my Uncle ‘John Rhode’s Fish Shop’ in Lawrence Road, Athlone. His purchasing of fish straight off the trawlers got me traveling with him to the harbours of Cape Town, Kalk Bay (Dutch = Lime Bay) and Hout Baai (Dutch = Wood Bay) that were where the main fishing fleets operated from. Because he was well acquainted with the fishing boat skippers, and after he had purchased their catch that were at times under his quota required for the next day, which caused waiting time until the other boats arrived, they would allow me to sail with them from the unloading wharfs to the docking berths. On the way back because of wandering the docklands for hours, it made me aware of the different shipping lines that encompassed passenger, cargo, oil tankers and factory ships of foreign fishing fleets. It fascinated and thrilled me to hear about the adventurous worldwide travels related to me by the seaman; however, I didn’t realize then that those tales would assist me later in life when as a Merchant Mariner I would also travel around the world. The seaman that really fascinated me though was the Japanese fisherman, and because of my knowledge of the Cape waters and the fish, we were soon communicating on the same level. The Maru Japanese fleet operated outside South African fishing waters, and from that period through to my merchant navy, stevedore and shipwright time spent at the dockyards, their factory ships always berthed at Cape Town docks. Through them I learned the art of eating with chopsticks, and that occurred because of the schools of porpoise that frequented Cape Town harbour that they would catch with fish baited meat hooks. They loved consuming bits of it marinated in soy sauce and washed down with sake and sake and more sake (Japanese fermented liquor made from rice), which was something I learned from them too.

What was also shown and learned at that fishing harbour from rough and tough looking fisher women was fish scale scrapping, which was accomplished with a homemade hand-tool that consisted of bottle tops nailed to a strip of wood, and also gutting, filleting, salting and the stringing of smaller fish in bunches. They thought it was funny when they donned me out in one of their large rubbery type aprons, which use to trip me up at times, because it looked like I was wearing a dress down to my feet. What would also set them in stitches with outrageous laughter was when carrying fish almost as large as me and it would often get away due to it slipping out of my hands to disappear under the tables with me in hot pursuit. The crayfish that were unloaded off the boats by basket loads to be either sold as is or precooked for distribution was another of my initiations into the fish market world. Although they didn’t, they gave me the precaution of thick gloves twice my size. They were the largest meanest looking crayfish I had ever encountered, and even carrying them at arm’s length would be scary as their snapping claws would come at me. The women though seemed to have no fear as the manhandled those snapping monsters with an ease born of experience and would laugh if I had the misfortune to be nipped by one. The craws were also the fastest climbing crustaceans to make a break out of those baskets so as to make it back into the water, and no matter how far from and from where, they seemed to sense in which direction when escaping. I was usually given the unenviable task of chasing after them amidst much laughter from the onlookers; however, the biggest laugh came while I was scrambling after two and one of the women who had spotted two more that were heading straight for the wharf’s edge made a beeline towards them. They all wore gumboots due to the wet conditions in the fish preparing area, and because she was too enthusiastic in retrieving those two, the boots skidded in the pools of water dispersed by the fishing trawlers when unloading on the wharf. It was if she had slipped on a banana peel because her legs went up into the air while still holding onto the crayfish. If she had let go of them her landing wouldn’t have been that precarious, particularly that close to the wharf’s edge off which she disappeared from view. It was like a silent movie as everything hushed followed by an enormous splash that brought all of us into action to rush to the wharf’s edge and peer down. First air bubbles popped up followed by two snapping crayfish held aloft in a pair of hands, and then she bobbed to the surface amidst the cheering and laughing of the crowd. She still wouldn’t let go of them when pulled out and assisted back, and held them up with a huge grin for everyone to see as if she had won a trophy. An unsavoury thing learned from them though was swearing that was due to the fishermen’s constant teasing of alluring that the fish smell emitted from them. I on the other hand wouldn’t have taken that chance because of the array of knives that they worked with, and there were quite a few who were not only threatened but also actually had to run while pursued by them with knife in hand. Otherwise they were a happy go lucky bunch of women who didn’t mind me hanging around while filling in time, took me under their wing and even gave me a nickname of affection of Klein-man (Dutch = small-man).

My uncle John had a heart of gold and was liked by everyone that knew him. His John Rhode’s Fish Shop was not only the hub of Athlons gourmet fish and chips fry but also the battlers and the down-and-outs daily free-feed center. You asked, you got. He was the only one that I knew of who commanded respect from any skollie, who always called him Mr Rhode, and they too when going hungry through no fault of their own would receive a free feed. His delectable fried fish was due to it coming straight off the trawlers, cleaned to perfection and a secret addition of grated onion added to the batter before being fried, which was my dad’s catering expertise when also helping out there. Business boomed even further, and people came from far and wide to taste this culinary delight. This hadn’t been my Uncle John’s first fish-shop. His first one was in the other end of Lawrence Road in Crawford when married to my Aunt Grace, my mother’s sister, which I also frequented as a kid, but not having the customer input he opened another one in Gleemoor. This one was situated in Goldblatt’s Stores, owned by a Jew, and it took off because it was surrounded by three estates and his was the only fish and chips shop in that area. Yeah! Being my Uncle John’s favourite nephew I helped out there too and we actually began hanging out together from there on in.  Because of that I have just recollected a ‘Ballies’ story that I’ll be telling when getting to that part of my blog.

I’ve so many great memories of this man who was right there next to my dad as my HERO, and I’ll tell a few just for you Chad Rhode. Imagine this scenario, I turn 21 and my family can’t afford to throw a party but Uncle John does at his home with all the trimmings. The great thing about it was that was the time that I asked Joan to marry me…surprise, surprise, surprise! Then there was the time when my young family and I are sitting in your grandfather’s car outside Groote Schuur Hospital while he was visiting your grandmother Grace and we haven’t had lunch and are starving. Guess who thought about this and somehow bought or scrounged two loaves of freshly baked bread that we devoured just like that. And at his home in Sunnyside, a good place for him to live because of his sunny disposition, your father, your uncles, my children and Joan and I were entertained with his cine-camera movies of Charlie Chaplain, Our Gang and so many funny ones that kept us all in stitches. And of course there were the many cars that he owned over the years, which would have been classics now. The one that I’ll never forget was the one with the ‘Dicky’ seat at the back and the running boards. Huh you might say, but when sitting in the ‘Dicky’ seat, which was the reverse of a boot now, it was like sitting in a convertible. And the running boards was a blast because I use to stand outside on it while Uncle John was driving, very slowly though and around our streets. But what he really liked doing was for me to work the accelerate pedal while he stood on the running boards steering. I loved my Uncle John and was devastated when he died a sudden death, R. I. P.

Kalk Bay became another haunt when waiting for fishing boats to return with Uncle John, and although the harbour was not on the same scale as Table Bay Harbour or have the set up for sea produce, it did have trips around the bay run by the larger fishing vessels in their down time. Knowing the skippers there too got me free trips that would take the day trippers out to circumnavigate Seal Island so as to watch the hundreds of seals that occupied its environs. Sardines and other small fish in buckets were handed around to those that wanted to feed them, but the honking, diving and frolicking were what actually drew the crowds.

I met very interesting people on those trips around the bay. All nationalities frequented those trips and I became acquainted with quite a few young female day-trippers, particularly two who were inseparable friends. You couldn’t prise them apart with a crowbar. They though thought that I was a son of a Portuguese owner of a fleet of trawlers and I wasn’t going to deny it. I fancied the dark haired one because she was always smiling and fun to be with. Her blonde friend although pleasant didn’t seem very adventurous and had to be coaxed in trying to do new things. Because they lived in Muizenberg (Dutch = Mouse Mountain), which was a white area and a seaside resort two railway stations away, it was through sheer luck that I met them because of them coming only occasionally to Kalk Bay for a change of scenery. When we did meet again by chance on a few occasions when they happened to be there and she would defer the trip on the boat, her friend wouldn’t go on her own even with the encouragement of a free one and stuck to her like glue. With the three of us wandering the town and me wanting to spend some time alone with her made me start to lose interest since there were other fish in that sea to catch in the form of other young female day trippers who were giving me the eye.

Then late one Sunday afternoon after leaving Hout Bay with no fresh fish available there due to bad weather, my uncle John and I stopped over at Kalk Bay on the off chance to maybe pick up a load there. Fishing trawlers had gone out the previous night but were lying out to sea until the bad weather abated, and the news was that a good catch had been made. We had a meal at a restaurant, consumed a bottle of sweet red wine, my uncle retired to the van to catch a snooze as we had a four-hour wait, and I decided to roam the town. Imagine my surprise on seeing the two of them walking towards me in that area at that time of night and not indoor as a requirement of their parents as they had told me before about. My inquiries though lead to a pleasant and eventual evening. Her friend’s uncle and aunt who lived in Kalk Bay were away for a week’s holiday and she had been looking after their home. The two of them had spent the weekend there together and had come out for a walk because they were bored. On smelling the liquor on my breath her friend mentioned that her uncle had a well-stocked bar in his home and they had sampled some of it, and if I had nothing else to do we could sample it together. Not slow on the uptake we made our way there. By mixing up a smooth palatable cocktail of eggnog, cherry liqueur and lemonade as a long milk shake type drink they consumed it by the glass full repeatedly even after warning them about the effect. They slow danced together after putting dance music on and I actually had to persuade them to dance with me as they had never danced with a boy before. Finding that unbelievable and after explaining to them that at an early age we were taught all the current and old dance steps by our parents, and practiced with relatives and friends so that we could join in at parties and dances, my offer to teach them were eagerly accepted. We had consumed quite a few drinks and were feeling very merry; especially the two of them who had never drank so much alcohol before and were unsteady on their feet. In between dancing, their intoxicated conversation turned to boyfriends and they had no experience there either, and like the dancing they giggling confessed that they had practiced on each other where kissing were concerned. On offering to teach them as I did the dancing there were no takers only bashfulness and more giggling. But seeing a window of opportunity to use to my advantage and as a means to stimulate in them some sort of amorous behaviour towards me, I took the initiative by turning off the lights. Dancing in the dark did the trick because they were then clinging to me and didn’t mind being kissed. Because the time had flown in that unexpected interlude I just managed to get back to see the first fishing trawler pull alongside to unload and my uncle John waiting for it. Yes I did see the one I fancied quite a few times again but without her clinging friend.

I was also fortunate to travel extensively inland in the Cape Province of South Africa with my Uncle John when visiting family and friends on their farms. Together we did many trips inland in his panel van. His stopping over-night would see him whip out either his guitar or piano-accordion to entertain family, friends and farm worker, and then the party would be on with drinking, eating and dancing till early hours of the morning. We always returned with heaps of fruit, veggies and bulging hessian bags that to my query were lucerne for horses owned by friends of his. Those friends were fishmongers who hawked their wares on horse and cart in the suburbs. They had a large property opposite Athlone Station on which there were rows of cottages for their families and workers, and it also had stables to house the horses and storage sheds for the carts and horse fodder. On our return from those inland jaunts they unloaded the panel van within his friend’s enclosed walled property while we waited inside their home consuming alcoholic drinks. Like most South African’s who have a liking for alcoholic drinks, his consuming of Cape brandy or its sweet red wine would continue after closing his fish shop late at night. He would drop me off at certain houses, I would knock and say that John sent me, tell them what I wanted in liquor and received it without any money handed over. Those were shebeens that dealt in illicit liquor or marijuana. I often wondered why he didn’t pay up front like everyone else, and also why the bags of lucerne never smelt like the fodder that had been fed the horses and donkeys on my grandparent’s farm when I was a kid. Having my suspicions were one thing but then again having a good time and minding my own business was even better. Part of all that worked to my advantage though when attending a party with my friends and we knew that the adults there wouldn’t encourage us by offering us drinks. When money for liquor was at times difficult to come by to have our own, by me saying that John sent me opened many shebeens doors for getting it free and my confused dreams then were of an intoxicated nature.

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Waiting for the fishing trawlers in Kalk Bay.

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4 thoughts on “13. My Uncle John Rhode’s Fish Shop In Athlone.

  1. christina says:

    Plz let me know my father’s name was John Gilbert Rhode he has family in balgravria road athlone did u know him his mother was staying in england

    • hgwlorenzo says:

      Christina, I haven’t forgotten your request, but the slight problem is that ,as you must know, the Rhode Family stretches almost to the ends of the earth, which is a bit of exaggeration there but you also know what I mean. I have so far sent out a good few emails to the John Rhodes in the family, of which there are quite a few on my Uncle John Rhodes side of the family, and I’m just waiting for replies.

  2. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have
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    • hgwlorenzo says:

      Towing Atlanta,Thanks for that. Another site of mine that has been taking up heaps of my time has caused the neglect of my blogs, but because it’s members are now getting really involved on their own, I can begin blogging again.

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