Saint Columbas High School in Athlone in my time of 1944 that was an all boy educational institute taught by two strict Christian Brothers had the moniker of ‘Ballies’. This came about through the first batch of Athlone ‘gentleman’ skollies (scholars) from Saint Raphael’s School that attended there. And here are a few of their names. Owen Williams, Wallace van der Byl, John van der Byl Snr, Leslie Jutzen, John Pereira, Vincent Erhard, Charles Haupt, Basil Malunga, Stanley August and John Hendricks. I served at mass with this lot who were senior altar boys that usually officiated at High Mass as cross bearers, acolytes, thurible servers (a cup, suspended by chains, in which incense is place on burning charcoal) and incense-boat servers, and quite a few of them also belonged to Sister Gertrude’s Cord Bearers of Saint Francis solidarity, as I also did. The name of ‘Ballies’ was actually a Kaapse (Cape) skollies sign of respect in those days of calling an old man an ou ballie (old balls). So seeing how Brother Luman Hayes was the old one and Brother John O’Farrell the young one, they were labelled with the names of Ou Ballie and Jong (Young) Ballie, the school was called ‘Ballies’ and we are Ballies Boys. That high school sure pulled me into line for the tougher vigour’s of life, and the school motto of Viriliter Age (Latin = Act Manfully) said it all. Those two Ballies, who were strict yet fair disciplinarians, sure pulled all pupils into line quick smart. Nuns or lay teachers who only used the cane, blackboard pointer or the throwing of blackboard chalk erasers at those who really overstepped the mark weren’t in their category. Our first introduction to their disciplinary measures left us somewhat stunned and shaking in our boots. They never used the cane that caused welts on the hands or backside that you could ease by sitting on either and there was no embarrassment, but their type of dishing out discipline was one for the books. Their technique of standing you at attention with your arms at the side in front of the class, and then suddenly slap the palm of their hands together against your cheeks was really embarrassing and your red cheeks showed it for quite some time. Then there was the leather strap for those who really tested the waters. One whack on an opened hand with the arm stretched straight out resounded throughout the classroom, and it wasn’t the hand that hurt so much but your pride. There weren’t many; nonetheless, there were those who were taken into the back room for the scariest discipline of all. To having three of the best on your backside with the strap while bent over a table and clutching its ends was something you didn’t forget in a hurry. Wagging school, smoking in the toilets and for swearing, and other more serious misdemeanors got you six of the best.
One incident that really shook the foundations of the school was due to both teachers being very short of the Afrikaans lingo because of being Irish, but they had to teach Afrikaans as part of the curriculum. We at times would take liberty of that by throwing in a few choice Afrikaans skollie words as retaliation when getting the strap for some unknown reason…or so we thought. What we didn’t know was that these two Ballies had in their office an Afrikaans/English Dictionary that they would flip through looking for that word, which luckily were never there in print. But unfortunately one scholar had the misfortune to add a word amongst his choice words, which Ou Ballie understood, when he was reprimanded for some infringement by given the two hand smack simultaneously to the face. These were the words used, “Gaan naai jou ma in jou moerin, ek is gatvol van jou kak, jou lelik aap.” (Go fuck your mother in your mothers’ womb, I’m fed up of your shit, you ugly monkey.) Excuse the French, and aap was the defining word. Never ever saw a strap drawn like a six-shooter with lightning speed from Ou Ballie’s habit pocket, which he always carried with him, and he laid into the then crouching pupil to all parts of his body, and continued doing this while beating him out through the classroom door. Of course the whole school was in an uproar with the commotion, and Jong Ballie with his habit flapping was in a real state in trying to settle Ou Ballie down because he looked like he was having apoplexy. So what about the student you ask. Well he ran home, which was in Klipfontein Rd, Athlone, to his family that had a Barber Shop there with 4 burly brothers who ran it, and they came back with him after he related the beating. It was then the two Ballies who quaked in their shoes because they were given a dose of verbal diarrhoea with unheard of skollie choice words. Apologies abounded when the whole story came to light, and the brothers confessed that he was given a beating that he deserved because he was an onbeskofte laatie. (rude youngster). Needless to say he was expelled and that was the only pupil that I know of who came to that, and we pupils after that episode wouldn’t even say boo to a goose. Except when they did their nana and we would say under our breath, “Ballies is befok, want hulle dra ‘n rok.” (“Ballies is mad, because they wear a dress.”) referring to the habit they wore. Now according to Mark Meyer, sometime between 1947 and 1966 uniforms (blazers, badge and ties) were introduced, and the reason being that some guys were dressing up like Al Capone, and the Ballie decided that no pupil’s casual wear was going to compete with their Prada habit. Good one Mark!
We though when at Ballies in the early stages had no uniforms but had to be smartly dressed, shoes had to be polished and fingernails cut and clean for inspection every day. Seeing my school mates and I in the pic posted ‘Ballies’ class ’47, it can be seen how we were brainwashed by the Ballies from a bunch of scruffs into well-dressed gentlemen that did the school proud. Severo Pastor, Vincent Kolbe, Clifford Jansen, Herbert Ross and Leonard Felix in the pic posted, who traveled by train from Cape Town to Athlone, brings back many good memories about Ballies and after school escapades. One was that when the five of them missed the train, or when they wanted to get out of the rain when it poured down on the way to the station, they would spend that time at my home by coming through the backyard where we lived opposite the station. There they would dry off and sit in front of the coal stove while having coffee, which my mum always had in a large coffee pot on the constant burning hot coal stove, and also have pumpkin fritters with cinnamon sugar or baked bread sandwiches all done by my mum, and at times receive handfuls of fudge to munch on the train. There were also times when they missed 2 or 3 trains because there was also the attraction of my two sisters.
Ou Ballie and Jong Ballie where my teachers from 1944 with Ou Ballie teaching 5 & 6 in one classroom, and Jong Ballie 7 & 8 in the other classroom. Dividing the two classrooms was the front office-cum-lunch room and washroom-cum strap room used by the Ballies. Our one block of toilets were in front and to the left of the school where we use to go trek a skuif, (go have a smoke) or show cut-out pics from women’s magazines of scantily clad women…Ballies Boys will be Ballies Boys. But all in all mathematics was Jong Ballies forte, and because I had a liking for calculating figures I soaked up his teaching of geometry, arithmetic, algebra, calculus and trigonometry. He also had an excellent grasp of the Afrikaans language for an Irishman, except for certain pronunciations. His most difficult one was pronouncing the Afrikaans ge, which sounds like the soft clearing of the throat when you know an insect has flown into your mouth and feels like it’s in your throat. He would always without fail pronounce it as ga as in garage. A simple example would be the word water that is spelt the same in Afrikaans as English although pronounced with a v as vater. In English the word water as a noun would become watered as a verb, and in Afrikaans it would be gevater. Afrikaans verbs begin with a ge and the spelling of the word remains the same, which makes it simple and easy to remember and spell. Be that as it may, it was one of the reasons we always received a double smack on the face from Jong Ballie. We that were steeped in the Afrikaans language and its proper pronunciations would at times be unable to keep our mirth silent for the ga that we knew was coming instead of the ge. Sport though was encouraged at Ballies by the Ballies with cricket and soccer been the thing. It would see classes competing against each other and we even had a soccer team that competed in a school league. Jong Ballie who was the coach would put the team through their paces twice a week during school hours and have a school friendly warm-up before a match. The soccer field were the matches took place was in Sunnyside where a group of us locals use to go and cheer them on. They were pretty good, especially our goalie Severo Pastor who made some spectacular saves by throwing his body with great dexterity to all corners of the goal post, as taught to him by Jong Ballie. I wonder if the finals trophy we won one year was still kept with pride at Ballies.
And then there was Saint Patrick’s Day, which I’ve learned from a Ballies Boy that the tradition of Saint Paddy’s day continued through the years in one form or the other, but I prefer to think that ours was the better. The owner of a fleet of trawling boats in Kalk Bay were the Williams who resided in sighting and walking distance up on the mountain slopes. Their son and I attended Ballies together and at times it saw me visiting their son Pedro there, and through our ongoing friendship his father made available to our school one of his trawlers for outings. Because of the dominant Irish influence in our Catholic establishments, Saint Patrick’s Day always became an unofficial school holiday that eventuated in those that who could make the journey to Kalk Bay be entertained by his family. What was exciting to those who had not had the pleasure of a trip around the bay was an extension of the usual day-trip. Putting out to sea was always stirring to me because of the preparation, casting off and the motion of the boat that made you find your sea legs, but to some of the first timers it was a change to their balance as landlubbers and a few would get sea sick. When in calmer waters though and an extra bonus of throwing a line over the side and in hooking a fish, all of that was soon forgotten. Seal Island although only a small granite island in the bay, which is one of the main breeding sites for the Cape Fur Seal, was a sight to see as they crowded the rocks with their honking. Their glide diving into the water would see them frolicking about, but that would attract the Great White Sharks that abounded there and we spotted a few that day. Splashing around on Kalk Bay beach was another good way to spend Saint Patrick’s Day after the trip, and then off to lunch, which part of was the fish we had caught straight off the trawler. The mountain environs that lead off their home was an adventure that was appreciated too because of the walking, scrambling and climbing into, through and over nooks and crannies that abounded in the area. Although our school shoes were scuffed because of those excursions we didn’t heed that until arriving home where we had to not only polish it to our parents satisfaction but also to the Ballies strict inspection the next school day. The only downfall or so we thought, was that we had to do a composition assignment of our outing on the information gained of the flora and fauna that had been pointed out and instructed on by Jong Ballie.
There was also method in his madness when teaching English by having us at times write essays on places that we had been to in Cape Town areas. He called it educational field trips when we were informed of designated places that he had picked for us that we hadn’t even written about in our essays. We thought it more that it was places that he hadn’t seen and wanted to on the cheap…wrong! It was different to what we had been to and the first one was Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch, who he must have had a connection with, and it was an eye-opener how the other half, schooled lived. Cape Town University was also on his list for us to experience in all its glory, which worked because there are Ballies Boys who furthered there education there. I know one such Ballies Boy, Charles Haupt of Athlone, who since last I heard from his brother Eric is now a Professor Haupt in an American College. Another place was Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Constantia Valley with its natural botanical garden set on the mountains with kilometers of woodlands, lush vale and forested hills with leafy lanes, which again we were educated in the flora and fauna there by Jong Ballie. One of the other places we visited that was very close to my heart was the African Township of Langa, organized by no other than Father Jerome, who was still the Parish Priest of Saint Joseph’s Church there, and of course Jong Ballie who was on friendly terms with him. It was a real eye-opener for the rest of the Ballies Boys to see how the other half lived. Yes the method in his madness came to the fore when we were given assignments to do compositions on the places we had been to. Now I know you’ll can and would have in this day and age in you’ll high-tech upmarket cars have zoomed around and visited these places, or on your state of the art satellite connected computers surfed the net to have been able to check all of these places out, but bear in mind, in my day our feet had to do the walking and our fingers had to do the talking…exactly as I’m doing now. Peace Ballies Boys.
Now it wasn’t only Ballies Boys that my mother fed so well, there was also the two Ballies themselves. My mum when making a cut school lunch for me would also place the same in my school-bag for the two of them…did I mention that my mum was a giving person with a heart of gold who always did good deeds. Well this was lapped up or should I say wolfed up by the two of them for the culinary delights packed. There was also times that when either of the Ballies had to go over a weekend to the school to attend to school business that they would pop in to say hello to my parents as a thank you. Now that would at times end in them being invited and staying for lunch, and because of that they became friends of my parents, especially Jong Ballie who they called by his first name of John. Of course we children stayed out of their company after the meal, but we could hear that they always seemed to be enjoying each other’s company because of the laughter that emitted from the dining room. What they had in common it seemed was the Irish thing. With my mum being of Irish descent and her mother’s second husband being an Irish O’Connor, and us kids hearing Irish songs been sang by family and learned, we were all in like Flynn. Now I don’t know about other Irish Ballies, after, but this Ballie liked a wee dram of Irish whiskey that he had with my father usually after lunch, and after a few more would sometimes lead to the rousing rendition of Irish ballads such as Danny Boy, My wild Irish rose, When Irish eyes are smiling, Molly Malone and others that he sung, with my parents and us at times joining in.
We got to know Brother O’Farrell; yes I switched to his name because of the respect gained for him as a person in comparison to him as a teacher, and found him to be a caring man because of learning of unknown kind deeds that he performed for past pupils and pupils alike in the form of gaining employment for those that he found required some type of paid work to assist in paying for school incurred bills. Because he was well liked and knew many influential business people, my first after school place of employment was at Braude’s Chemist top of Lawrence Road, Athlone. There I delivered medicine, by bicycle, to outlaying customers who had brought in their doctors prescriptions but found it inconvenient for the waiting time for it to be dispersed. The delivery surrounding suburbs included Crawford, Belgravia, Gleemoor, Alicedale, Bridge Town, Hazendale and Black River that was one helluva area to contend with if you still had to get home and do school homework. The other duties if not doing that was to break up heaps of accumulated discarded cardboard boxes…there was no recycling then, sweep and mop the floors and clean the front windows, phew! Then when the owner hired an ex-Ballies Boy as a shop assistant through the courtesy of Brother O’Farrell, it was time to hit the road Jack. The other day just for the hell of it when going onto ISpaceStation live link, which I posted on ‘Ballies’ site, to check out if there were any of the buildings of my time in the 40’s still there, low and behold in all its glory there was Braude’s Chemist shop still standing there with the same façade like time had stood still. My next place of employment through the good Brother O’Farrell was in Cape Town at a dental mechanic’s workshop. There I learned how to prepare plaster of Paris for the putty hardened gum-moulds of customers that were set in it for an impression in the plaster cast. A second impression was then made with wax for the artificial teeth to be added, and if a customer wanted a gold tooth or gold slit as an addition, my job was to bicycle into town to a gold bullion place to pick up gold sheeting. This was cut up into tiny pieces and placed in a mould to the required shape, and I then had to fire up the Bunsen burner to melt it. However, because the pittance I was been paid didn’t leave me much after my train traveling expenses to and fro from Athlone to Cape Town, so I gave it the arse. And then there was more in the form of working at a millinery factory owned by a French friend of my now seeming hero Brother O’Farrell, who I was slowly coming to the conclusion that he wanted to either kill me with kindness or get me to work my fingers to the bone. This was an end of the year school holiday job that really stuffed up my holiday plans big time but the money was good. There I learned the intricacies of making all types of hats. Machine steam blocking crown shaped wool felt on head shaped wooden-blocks, hot sand-bagging that in hat size moulds, trimming brims to size and then finish polish complete the hat by hand with fine-glass sandpaper on a spinning hat mould machine, From there it went to the seamstress for the inside cloth cover, inside leather band, correct size sticker and outside ribbon band, Voila! Now I have a reason for all this boring stuff because we also made Panama hats. Brother O’Farrell was a hat man, and wanting to show my appreciation for this job that I really liked out of all the other crap ones he had placed me in, I obtained his hat size and presented him with a Panama hat that I had personally completely made for him. Wow was he pleased as Punch, and he wore it with pride at all times. Now if you’ll think I’m shooting the breeze or talking kak (shit), check out the pic I posted of Brother John O’Farrell aka Jong Ballie in ‘teachers back in the old days’, in Saint Columbas “Ballies” High School site, where you will see him holding that Panama hat in the pic taken in our garden…SO THERE!!!
A footnote: The translations isn’t because I know that Ballies Boys can be thick and stupid…sometimes, but because I’ve taken this post directly verbatim off the blogs that I do on Facebook under hgwlorenzo blog, which can be googled. And secondly because I have many international friends on Facebook who are not that educated as we South Africans are in been bi-lingual, Afrikaans to them would be the same as speaking in Swahili, as I’m sure there are you’ll Ballies Boys that can…but you call it KAK! Cheers Ballies Boys.
All of the above are Ballies Boys that went from Saint Raphael’s School to Ballies, except for the one dressed as a nun, Sister Gertrude, and the one reclining in the front as a male model, James Smith.
Cord Bearers of Saint Francis 10-6-1943
Saint Mary of the Angels RC Parish
Front: James Smith
Front Row: George O’Connor. Leslie Davandos. Clifford Janson. Ronald van der Byl. Patrick Walsh. Dennis Scott. Vernon Ferdinando. Ronald Arrow.
2nd Row: Fredrick Ova. Stanley August. Harold Lorenzo. Patrick Jutzen. Robert Johnson.
Back Row: Chocky. Owen Williams. Wallace van der Byl. Sister Gertrude. John van der Byl. ? Leslie Jutzen.