17. My Athlone Teenage Gang.

In my youth I grew up with three best friends, Ronald (Gus) van der Byl, Dennis Scott (Scotty) and Fredrick (Fricky) Hendricks. We all had nick-names complimentary to us and mine was Hazulu. Gus was because his second name was Gustav, Scotty because of Scott and Fricky was because of having ‘rick’ in both his names, and my name of Hazulu was because of my association with the Langa Africans. I was the youngest, shortest but the most daring, and automatically took the leading role when influencing them on group decisions. The streets weren’t well lit so we got up to all sorts of mischief. Catapult shooting at streetlights and onto neighbour’s roofs, scaring people at night as they progressed after alighting from the train across the dark lot back of our home, by jumping out of bushes. Breaking off tree branches and placing it against neighbours closed front doors, knocking and then running away, or peeped through girls bedroom windows at night, and sometimes be lucky to see them undress before going to bed. I first got to know Gus through Sister Gertrude of St Raphael’s School joining the two of us up in a school concert to perform a song and dance routine called ’Can and Can’t’ dressed up as sailors, and that’s when I also met his young sister Glenda. His brother George was my teacher in Standard 1 and Scotty and I were in the same class together with Gus being in Standard 2 when we performed. I also then became acquainted with all of the van der Byl family of Mr Thomas van der Byl, Mrs Susan Van der Byl and the rest of their other children of Patrick (Cobra), Lucia (Shorts), John (Jood), Freda (Frick), Wally (Laat) and Glenda (Skinner).  They too had nicknames complimentary to them with Cobra or Cobs because he moved like one, Shorts because she was short, Jood (Jew) because he was a penny pincher, Frick because of liking frikkadel (rissole), Laat because he was tall and long as a lang laat (long sapling) and Skinner because of her bushy eyebrows that she had to trim all the time to make it skinny. The name of their house was also a combination of the youngest, and the eldest daughter that had died, Phyllis; ‘GlenPhyl’. George and Gus was both pianist, but George was the one that was not only in a band but they also made records that even today are South African collectors’ items. The van der Byl’s loved to party and it saw me attending most of them with also Gus, Scotty and Fricky there too. They also had relatives called the Heber’s who also loved to party, and that’s where they alternated their after Midnight Mass Celebrations and New Year’s parties till the wee hours of the morning. At these parties, George would be the one to strike up the music by playing the piano and then we would all join in with a sing-along. There were also their relatives of the van Niekerk’s who had a milk dairy in Crawford next to my grandma’s small holding farm. Gus and I use to go there to fetch milk in an urn for his mother but always loitered on the way because of all the distractions, especially because of Crawford Park that was right opposite my grandma’s house. When the urn was filled, Mrs van Niekerk always told us to go straight home because if we didn’t the milk would turn to cheese and Mrs van der Byl would know that we were mucking about. Our young legs would go as fast as possible while carrying the milk urn between us, for that not to happen, and Mrs van der Byl being in on the con would open the urn making as if to check that it had turned to cheese, and it couldn’t have because she always gave us treats after…stupid us. Mrs van der Byl also made sticky, sweet, delicious donuts that Gus came around with every Sunday in a basket to sell to the neighbours. And our family of eight and others waited in anticipation every week for Gus to appear on our doorsteps with his basket of goodies. There was also Mr van der Byl’s butcher shop behind Athlone Station where Cobs learned his butcher trade and were all Catholics in the neighbourhood, and others, bought there meat from, including us. Then Mr van der Byl built a butcher shop in Lincoln Estate where both Cobs and Jood worked in, with Frick and Gus helping out on weekends.

Scotty and I lived opposite each other, he on Lawrence Road and me on Capuchin Street that saw us most times almost living at one another’s homes.  St Raphael’s School ground with its majestic pine trees was a challenge for any schoolboy to climb and we were no exception. A branch broke under me at one time and I sprained my knee in the fall. My mother and Scotty assisted me to a doctor where it was strapped up, but Scotty sustained a worse injury from another tree accident. On the corner of Lawrence and Aden Avenue was a bushed field that also had a few pine trees. What the two of us had done was to construct a flying-fox there, not the type that is now found in children’s parks where they can hang onto by a strap fixed to a cable from one end of a raised platform and then hang-slide down to a stopping distance, no, we were more adventurous and daring..  What we did was to find or maybe steal a coil of galvanized wire, then after climbing one tree and affixing one end of the wire by nailing it there, the other end we affixed to the bottom of another tree a fair distance away. Then we climbed up the tree with a bicycle tire that we hung over the wire and by holding on tightly with both hands would have the time of our lives whizzing down. This we had done many times until one day when Scotty with a bit of bravado tried it with one hand. He crashed into the tree, broke his arm in two places and we had to lie to his mum that he had falling off a bicycle…liar, liar, pants on fire. Gus, Scotty and I being altar boys together was another avenue for us to get up to mischief. St Mary of the Angels church doors were never locked in those days, so at times after mucking around in the school grounds we would make our way over to the church to muck around there too. Knowing the sacristy like the back of our hand we would let ourselves in to slack our thirst on the sacramental wine that was kept in bottle stock there, plus handfuls of communion wafers to ease our hunger…yes we are going to hell! We would also take turns to go up into the pulpit and make like a priest preaching…definitely going to hell! Then it was up to the back upstairs choir area…did I say Gus could play the piano, well the church organ did just as well. What we also loved doing at the church, which was actually allowed by Sister Gertrude the Sacristan, was to ring the angelus at 12 noon on weekends. Imagine three young scruffy kids pulling on the bell rope together to make the bell peal. It was an art though because the bell had to clang three times, silence for about 20 seconds, clang three times again, silence and then another three clangs that signified the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To stop the clanging we would hung on for dear life to make that happen. We found fun in ringing the angelus because we would take it in turns to be the one whose hands would be stretched up onto the top of the rope and stand on tip-toe that would see us been pulled up when the rope was pulled down and released to ring the bell. Then on to our favourite adventure of climbing up the rickety spiral wooden steps that took us into the belfry where we would plonk ourselves down for a well-deserved puff on a shared cigarette…yes the ones that I pilfered working at Mr Parker’s shop.

At times there would be four of us with Fricky also in the crew and we still stuck together like shit to a blanket. Fricky was an on again, off again fellow who liked to do his own thing. Although Gus and he lived opposite each other, Fricky because of belonging to St Marks Anglican Paris in Crawford spent most of his time involved there in church and school matters. He was an altar boy there and also belong to their church band that use to march by our church on Sunday mornings during church service, which had to stop because of the loud music played, and we other three while serving at mass would looked at each other with the expression of…Fricky again. There was a smokkel huis or shebeen as its called now right next to the Catholic Hall in Lawrence Road and it was run by Boeta (Brother) Awie. Now Fricky introduced us to this establishment one Saturday night when we felt like having a drink before going to a dance at the hall.  We were too young to go to a bar and bottle off-sales and my dad’s stock hadn’t been replenished yet, so we walked in with Fricky and acted sort of adult like. It cut no ice with Boeta Awie it seemed because business was business and he was getting a free drink with us. That became our watering hole from then on in until we reached legal drinking age. We did run knobs at one time when Boeta Awie was raided by the police and he had to close his establishment for a time. But again Fricky came to the rescue by introducing us to Antie Balles (Aunty Balls) an African fat mamma that ran a shebeen in a row of cottages in Carrington Avenue, which was across an open field from Boyd Avenue where Gus and Fricky lived. That was our first and last time there, because she, when having four good-looking young men surrounding her in her rather pokey dining room began to get frivolous with us after having a few drinks together.

Together we also attended the same dances, parties, functions and sporting events, belonged to the same sporting club, frequented the same pubs, drunk together at the same shebeens and visited girls at times as a group. We never latched onto one-another’s girls unless they weren’t a couple any more, and then we would have a nibble. The problem created by me though according to the fellows was that my nibbling was excessive, but then again the girls also kept on coming back for more. Most times we hung out in the front lounge, which was where I slept and it was private, at my home in Capuchin Street in Athlone. There we could either sneak a drink of whiskey or brandy that I had pinched from my father’s stock or the wine acquired through my saying that John sent me. The only thing we couldn’t do there was smoke cigarettes, which I pilfered from Mister Parker’s shop while working there, and to overcome that we went into nearby bushes. Gus and Scotty was Catholic like me and Fricky was Church of England, and all four of us went faithfully to church. We never had any argument or made distinctions about our different religions. There were heaps of discussions but never arguments, except for one. Because of the close proximity of living in the same neighbourhood, and not wanting to go from our homes to one-another homes when wanting to meet to discuss or to bring something of what we thought was of importance to our group, I came up with a call sign whistle. Scotty lived two streets across from me, Gus and Fricky lived one street and one block away from Scotty, and Fricky and Gus lived one street across from each other. With Scotty living central he could pick up the call from all three directions and relay it around to the rest of us. There was also a return whistle call to let us know if it was received. Because all of our mothers were constantly washing the clothes of their respective large families and hanging it out in their backyard on homemade long strung out wash lines, the shrill loud finger whistle went to the words of ‘does your mother take on washing’, and the reply was ‘how the hell do I know’. Those calls were also used to draw attention at distances, at crowded functions or when outside our homes and didn’t want to go knocking. That call sign worked well over a long period of time until family and other acquaintances picked up on the tune and words, and started using it amongst them. That caused a bit of confusion amongst the four of us, and annoyance on my behalf because my sign call had been used indiscriminately. That’s when a bit of argument occurred for I wanted to change the sign call. They didn’t want a bar of it, for they reckoned it had done us in good stead and that they could live with it, but not me, and because of being adamant I came up with a new one that wasn’t easy to imitate. It went with the words of ‘where, the hell, the hell, are you’, and it was a drawn out whistled at the beginning for ‘where’, with two short chopped shrill whistles for ‘the hell, the hell’, and a drawn out one for ‘are you’. They liked that, and it confused the rest because they couldn’t pick up the exact length and twist of it, and it was also the answered one. I had picked up the knack of whistling at a young age from my father who was always whistling songs. He was also pretty good at imitating bird whistle calls, and taught me quite a few that I used to confuse the crap out of his Cape Roller canaries and birds in the area. The four of us together though confused birds of a different type, the ones with two legs, for they found it difficult to prise us apart. And then there was the mountaineering that we also did together in a group with girls from the parish. We must have been feeling our oats by then because we four were always paired up then with the opposite sex. There was Gus with Ruth August, Scotty with Shelia Higgins, Fricky with Joan August and me with Cynthia Roodt, and also Glenda van der Byl with Maurice Lambert.

When in Australia, Gus whose son had also migrated here came to pay him a visit. He though was in Melbourne and me in Surfer’s Paradise, but that didn’t stop us from having a good chat over the phone. A most unusual thing that  he did though that blew me away with surprise, was that when I answered the phone he sang the complete song that we had sung  together in the school concert play of ‘Can and Can’t’ 52 years ago when we were 10, word for word. When inquiring how he had remembered the song, he laughingly confessed that knowing he was coming to Australia he had gotten hold of it through the school because he wanted to surprise me. He sure did, and so did Scotty when he too came to Melbourne after that because of Gus telling him how great it was chatting with me, what he had done and the great time he had with his family here. Scotty’s approach when phoning me was unbelievable too because he whistled our call sign of 50 years ago when we were 12 of “Does your mother take on washing”. I almost dropped the phone in surprise but gathered myself to return the call whistle of, “How the hell do I know’. Damn! Now that’s what bosom buddies are all about. Man, did we ever have a confab about the good old days and we both remembered heaps. And then surprise, surprise, Gus and his wife returned for a second visit to their son and this time they also came to Surfers’ Paradise to visit me and the family. Well I can tell you we tried to do as many things together as we could. Clubs, pubs, restaurants, beaches, entertainment centers and even going to church together. It plucked at our heart-strings when he had to leave, but hell it was damn good while that reunion lasted.

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Our Mountaineering Group:

Back Row: Maurice Lambert. Sheila Higgins. Ruth August. Gus Van der Byl. Joan August. Fredrick (Fricky) Hendricks.

Front Row: Glenda van der Byl. Dennis (Scotty) Scott. Mavis Higgins. Harold (Hazulu) Lorenzo. Cynthia Roodt. Anyone recognize the two outside ones.

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2 thoughts on “17. My Athlone Teenage Gang.

  1. E says:

    Love it-my Daddy-Laat!!! hehe he was always running late as well.heheT hanks again

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