33. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 6)

Another ship, which was the SS South African Trader because I had transferred from the other one, another crew to tag along with to teach me a thing or two, especially the older sea-dogs. Dar es Salaam, Beira, Lourenço Marques, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Walvis Bay were their stomping grounds, and the older woman no matter what the nationality or colour just adored them.  Dar es Salaam in Tanzania further north up the east African coast was a magnificent harbour straight off the Indian Ocean, and to me Tanzania was the ‘Garden of Eden’ when experiencing what it had to offer. Where else would one find the highest singular mountain in the world and highest in Africa like Mount Kilimanjaro with its top always covered with snow. The Great Riff Valley that ran along the eastern part of Africa from Ethiopia to Mozambique, and that formed in its centre the Maasai Steppe that was home to the great herds of wild animals that roamed freely over the vast area of open grassland. The open plains were home to about 2 million wild animals that migrated from the south to the north and then back again to feed on the new grass and vegetation after the rains. The gnu (wildebeest), Cape buffalo, gazelles, impalas, elands, topis and other antelope, zebras, elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards, hyenas, ostriches and hundreds of bird species were part of that wildlife scene. It also had Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, with the former the largest lake in Africa and the latter the longest freshwater lake in the world. And then there was the Serengeti National Park where there were areas only for wildlife, and others where they and people were allowed, which were the Maasai with their livestock. To not only see the Maasai warriors who were distinctive in appearance dressed in their traditional garb of long orange caftan type coverings, capes, beaded jewellery and ochre colored hair, but also their straight up and down jumping dancing while holding spears at their sides was the most thrilling and exciting to behold. That took nothing away from their womenfolk and children who were serene in their bearing too, and in dress. Their beaded jewellery, which they also made for their menfolk, that was worn around ankles, arms, fingers, head, in the earlobes and in ever widening circles around the neck that when dancing would spread out in a colourful glittering bouncing circle. The city of Dar es Salaam on the other hand was the other side of the coin, and although predominantly Muslim, was no barrier for those booze swilling seaman. For there our fantasies of the Arabian Nights were realized with dancing veiled women, black thick Arabian coffee laced with our liquor, hookah’s smoked with the good stuff mixed in it, and where the women eventually lost more than their veils.

Beira (now Maputo) was still its intoxicating mix of African and Portuguese, along with French, Arab and Oriental influences. It reminded me of a Little Havana with its raffish charm of faded but glorious buildings and really old done up cars that trundled along. Got to go to the Railway Station Club again, and from there to the red-light district for a bit of ‘sightseeing’ that hadn’t changed much, and imbibed some more. With  the Prawn Gods still ruling in Lourenco Marques with their specialty, prawn piripiri; a dish of juicy succulent prawns chilli spiced, I required the recipe and five kilos of the largest prawns I had ever seen. It was for the soul purpose to instruct the mother of Joan ‘vrot arm’ in Durban on its preparation when having a family dinner at their home when returning there. The prawns were received with a kiss on the cheek by her and she did us proud with the prawn dish, except for adding a bit too much piripiri that saw us blowing steam out of our ears when having to cool it off with cold water. With a new ships crew who had a different lease on life and which made for adjustment all around, wasn’t too difficult with another added shipmate, George, and Bazil, who had also been on a sabbatical and also changed ships, and me. George was the Captains Tiger, Bazil still the Chippy and I was again the Saloon Steward. George brought a musical theme into our group because although Bazil and I could trill the tonsils at times when on board or ashore when nice and tipsy, George took it to a higher level. There used to be talent shows held at a Durban Hotel that we frequented, and George in his wisdom entered the three of us as a singing trio, don’t laugh we did quite well. He was the lead singer and we were his backup to numbers that we would practice while at sea with the backing of our motley sea crew musicians, and don’t laugh again because they would at times, while in ports, entertain impromptu at hotels and clubs and receive free drinks for their efforts.

So there the three of us were at our first full house audience performance with no butterflies because of the Dutch courage drinks consumed beforehand.  I Googled the song done by Tex Ritter who was  the singing cowboy star of movies then, and here it is in all its glory as narrated by George and  harmonized by Bazil and I, and the band as back-up to the song of ‘Deck of Cards’: “During the North African Campagne, a bunch of soldier boys had been on a long hike, and they arrived in a little town called Casino.
The next morning, being Sunday, several of the boys went to church.
A Sargent commanded the boys in church, and after the chaplain had read the prayer, the text was taken up next. Those of the boys who had prayer books took them out, but, this one boy had only a deck of cards, and so he spread them out.
The Sargent saw the cards and said, “Soldier, put away those cards”.
After the services were over, the soldier was taken prisoner, and brought before the Provost Marshall. The Marshall said “Sergeant, why have you brought this man here?”
“For playing cards in church Sir.”
“And what have you to say for yourself Son?”
“Much, Sir,” replied the soldier.
The Marshall said, “I hope so, for if not, I shall punish you more than any man was ever punished.”
The soldier said, “Sir, I have been on the march for about six days, I have neither Bible nor prayer book, but I hope to satisfy you, Sir, with the purity of my intentions.”
And with that, the boy started his story. “You see sir, when I look at the Ace, it reminds me that there is but one God, and the deuce, reminds me that the bible is divided into two parts, the old and the New Testament. When I see the trey, I think of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. And when I see the four, I think of the four Evangelists who preached the Gospel, there was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And when I see the five, it reminds me of the five wise virgins who trimmed their lamps, there were ten of them, five were wise and were saved, five were foolish, and were shut out. When I see the six, it reminds me that in six days, God made this great Heaven and Earth. When I see the seven, it reminds me that on the seventh day, God rested from His great work. And when I see the eight, I think of the eight righteous persons God saved when he destroyed this Earth. There was Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives. And when I see the nine, I think of the lepers our Saviour cleansed, and, nine out of the ten didn’t even thank him. When I see the ten, I think of the ten commandments God handed down to Moses on a table of stone. When I see the king, it reminds me that there is but one King of Heaven, God Almighty. And when I see the Queen, I think of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is Queen of Heaven, and the Jack of Knaves is the Devil. When I count the number of spots in a deck of cards, I find 365, the number of days in a year. There are 52 cards, the number of weeks in a year. There are four suits, the number of weeks in a month. There are twelve picture cards, the number of months in a year. There are thirteen tricks, the number of weeks in a quarter. So, you see Sir, my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an Almanac, and a prayer book.” Yip, we took the first prize of thirty pounds with that one, and there were others, and also received rounds of free drinks; so who’s laughing now.

Thanks heaven I was then in Cape Town safely away from those lustful females who seemed at times like depraved women. Now those are the women that I never told Joan about because she didn’t seem to have a bad bone in her body, except about Joan ‘vrot arm’, which she ever so occasionally still makes mention of when I annoy her. Bloody women never let go do they. Walvis Bay in South West Africa, now Namibia, was home to the Ovumbo and Germans. Steins of German beer could be had there in the restricted White Only bars through the curtsy of the South African National Party’s apartheid laws, even though they were only administrating the country under the League of Nations. With a special pass though you could consume African beer in the African compounds that we preferred because the beer was cheaper, more potent, and the natives were the friendliest in the land. If black is beautiful then those voluptuous provocative women proved the point, and their buoyant nature extended to the buoyancy of their breast and buttocks as it seemed to float along as they jiggled. Many a seaman’s hands were warmed on those on cold nights, and a raging fire could be lit if the equipment was properly handled and appropriately stoked. Even the white men became black men at night to liaison with those black beauties.

From there to England where we were looking forward to the serenity of that country for a bit of peace and quiet without any incidents occurring. One unexpected incident though did occur on our ship before reaching our destination. It was common knowledge, by those who had sailed previously on her, that whenever voyages on that ship neared the United Kingdom, the captain, officers on watch and able seaman that steered the ship at night would observe a figure in work overalls walk the ship. It would make its way from the anchor chain locker to amidships along the deck, disappear aft, reappear and make its way back again, and searching and questioning on various trips had never brought any results to that mystery. Crew members on that trip when coming off the ghost watch, which was the midnight to four watches, asked me the next day about seeing me wandering to and fro in my dark cabin that early in the morning. They were under the impression that I was searching for something, but when they called out I ignored them and then blended with the darkness. Puzzled, intrigued and further inquiries led me to wait for the bewitching hour to see if anything would eventuate again as I had never walked in my sleep. Lying in the darkness with just the dim bunk light on, I first smelt the sweet smell of a presence and then perceived a distinct figure of a man in overalls enter the cabin. Beckoning to me he turned and I followed. The apparition led me all the way to the anchor chain locker and pointed down at its interior. An immediate thought came to mind that he had died and somehow his remains were entombed down there. Unbeknown to me an officer on the ghost watch who had seen one figure go aft and two return to the fore of the ship came to investigate, but all he found was me with a bizarre explanation. Needless to say,  inquires and further investigation by shipbuilding authorities did discover that a shipbuilder had gone missing while the ship was been built, and on removing the steel panels between the hull and interior, they found his skeletal remains wedged right at the bottom. The ghost watch never saw any ghost after that, and again I was used to deliver a message.

Then up the River Thames to London that was an experience in itself because on the way everything that spelt England could be seen. Docking where we did in Docklands in the East End spelt disaster if you didn’t know your way around, especially in the slums where crime was rife and if stupid enough to wander around was an invitation to be set upon. The population consisted of a mixture of English, Irish, Jews and extensively larger Bengali communities that made for interesting racial confrontations to be viewed from a safe distance. It wasn’t also a place for sightseeing, but the memory of Hitler’s bombing was still visible by buildings that bore the destruction by it. A bit of brightness that livened up that area though was the Sunday Markets, and the one that I heard about and seen portrayed in the movies was Petticoat Lane. London itself was a combination of a blast from the past and nothing absent from the present, and entertainment, drink or food could be partaken of at either of those. When there I also loved to just sit and soak up not only the atmosphere of the older style inns with its oak beams, polished brass fittings and open fires but also tankards of draught beer. Those brass fittings of pubs visited by some crewman was an invitation for them to bring along Brasso and clothes to really police them up until shining like gold, as we all did when doing all of the brass fittings on board ship. There was method in their madness because of them receiving free drinks at those pubs, and it didn’t stop there, because when there wasn’t any brass to do they would go ashore with their musical instruments to give impromptu music gigs. Their musical instruments consisted of guitar, banjo, tambourine,  maracas and a tom-tom drum that when playing South African music, especially Klopse numbers, the pub crowds would not only dance to it but would encourage more to be played by the encouragement of them been plied with free drinks. The night time life also offered a bewildering range of diverse enjoyment that extended to opera and theatre, which not only made my day but also my night, with clubbing also that never seemed to stop. The traditional sights of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, the Changing of the Guard and the rest of it always blew me away no matter how many times I saw it, for it seemed that there was always something that was missed the last time, and in comparison to what was seen as pictures and in the movies, didn’t do it justice.

What though almost saw Bazil, George and I facing the British justice system was just because of a bottle of whiskey. Before leaving London there had been an affiliated company party on board ship that they had done all the catering for. Bazil who had been making his rounds as Chippy to check the ships secure lines, happened to pass a porthole on the passenger deck where he saw the Second Steward and two junior Engineers having drinks together. That wouldn’t have been a problem for them, but it was been done in a passenger cabin that was restricted to passengers and on that trip we didn’t have any. Without been observed and peering further into the cabin, he saw boxes of liquor there that they were helping themselves from and drinking it, which he calculated must have been leftover from the party. So he thought if they could so would he, and came to George and my cabin, which we shared, to hatch his plan to get us a drink from there. While we waited in the shadows on the main deck, he went to see if they had left and that the coast was clear. With it been so, George was the lookout on the passenger-deck, I acted as the lookout on the main-deck, and Bazil slipped into the passenger cabin, grabbed a bottle of whiskey and hightailed it out of there. However, as he exited the alleyway door that lead from the cabin onto the passenger-deck, the Second Steward and his two companions maybe wanting to have a few more drinks saw him leaving from the passenger-deck without him been aware of it. The three of us got stuck into the whiskey and didn’t think any more about it until the next day when Bazil was put on the red-carpet by the Chief Steward. It seemed that when the Second Steward saw Bazil in that vicinity, he had cooked up a story that when checking the passenger-cabin to see that it was secured, he had found three bottles of liquor missing.  Bazil putting two and two together knew at once that they had taken a bottle each and was passing the buck onto him.  Always been one to think quickly on his feet, he just denied it with a convincing story that he was doing his rounds that also took in the passenger-deck and that he had been seen by the gangway watchman doing that, which he had but it was the first time around.  The Captain, after it had been reported to him by the Chief Steward, asked George, his Captain’s Tiger, if he had observed any excessive strong  drink been consumed aft in the crew’s quarters the previous night. George, and I, knowing the whole story lied through his teeth, but when the wily Captain, which suited him because his name was Tricky, told George that it had been reported to the Company and they were sending around someone from Scotland Yard to investigate, George crumbled like a deck of cards and blurted out the story of our involvement. Then it was my turn on the red carpet followed by having Bazil and George joining me in the Captain Cabin for further interrogation because he smelled a rat with all of the conflicting stories, especially from the Second Steward. When the true story emerged, all six of us were given our marching orders to be signed off in Cape Town, and the story told to George about Scotland Yard was a made-up one by Captain Tricky.

Sailing down the coast to Southampton we first passed the maritime base of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight before entering into Southampton Waters. If it wasn’t that I was on the ship’s bridge at that time serving the captain and the ship’s pilot with mugs of hot brewed coffee to warm the cockles of their hearts and their bodies in that chilling cold weather, I wouldn’t have known of the phenomenon of ‘double tides’. It consisted of a prolonged period of high water up the westerly side that backed up two hours later, and made for exceptionally large vessels to berth at Southampton’s two docks, which was no exception to the maiden voyages of the Queen Mary and the Titanic. A bomb-ruined church, which was another souvenir of Hitler, stood as a monument to the merchant navy seaman killed in that war, and it also had a memorial fountain to the crew of the Titanic that had many who had come from Southampton. From the English Channel to the Atlantic Ocean into the Bay of Biscay, which laid between France and Spain, on our way to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, was the sea route on our way to Cape Town. So thinking that our share of mishaps was over and that it would be smooth sailing to home-port, we got the ship shipshape. Unfortunately, we forgot momentarily about the occasional bad weather in the Bay of Biscay. It was notorious for rough seas and exceptional high tides that made for mountainous seas and for a ship to simultaneously roll and pitch continuously for a long period had been known to cause serious damage. We lost deck cargo; lifeboats were damaged, ripped off storm doors, flooded passenger cabins and a captain who got seasick for the first time. We counted ourselves lucky though, for on the ship’s radio it was reported that the gale storms had claimed 27 lives when two ships sunk. Now this was where Bazil as Chippy really did his thing. He not only in his duties had to operate the anchor windlass for heaving it up, securing the hatch covers, take the bilge soundings for water flooding of holds, inspection of boom derricks; a machine for hoisting and moving heavy objects, life-boat releasing gear maintenance and the taking on of bunkers (ships fuel) and ballast water, but also be a rigger to scale up to the crow’s nest for other maintenance.  He came into his own then by having to supervise all of the crew that weren’t on watch and on standby to move and secure the shifted cargo by lashing it down. What also helped was the thoughtful Chief Steward that kept us going with mugs of coffee laced with rum.

As soon as we were shipshape at Las Palmas, the crew received shore leave to recuperate. Because of always going there just for bunkers, the crew never had the opportunity to see what it had to offer. While it oozed the kind of sunny languor associated with the Mediterranean, it also had distinctive features at the Casa/Museo de Colón that was a superb example of Canarian architecture, built around two balconied patios, complete with fountains, palm trees and parrots. Columbus’ House (it’s possible he stopped here to present his credentials to the governor in 1492), and the museum’s four sections included fascinating accounts of Columbus’ voyages. The city’s brooding, grey Catedral de Santa Ana with its neoclassical facade contrasted with the interior, and I did what was done by me at Saint Mary of the Angels in Athlone by going up in the cathedral’s tower to view the stunning and wide-ranging view of the surrounds from the city to the coast. And then I came across the Covered Markets that had everything there but the kitchen-sink.  Bought my darling wife a twelve box of Tabu Perfume that only cost two pounds sterling South African, which was 400 Spanish pesetas then, and now the same single 45ml bottle cost $21 Australian. With the South African Rand now 10 to 1$Australian, it would now cost 210 Rand.  I also saw the most amazing fully dressed porcelain life-like doll that when holding its hand and moving forward, it would walk with you, and I bought it for my daughter Gina. I bought my boys who were into train-sets a complete one that emitted sparks and whistled when running on the tracks, with station platforms, overhead bridges and a model town. While there, some of the standby crew who couldn’t go ashore for their R and R made use of the hearse type limousines with closed drawn black curtains, which always drove slowly up and down the wharf where a newly arrived ship berthed. Those crew-members were aware that those vehicles weren’t for the use of dead persons for funerals but for very alive prostitutes who used it as brothels on wheels.

Bazil, George and I as soon as we were underway and sailing, got together to discuss what we were going to tell our spouses of our sudden leaving of the ship. George was alright because it was his third trip on the Victory and about due for shore leave. With Bazil and I it had to be credible, so we concocted up the story that we found the officers too difficult to sail with, which was a half-truth. Then because of the deceptive lies and manner in which we were to be signed off and wanting to do something gainfully constructive, we discussed the ways and means in doing it. We three had observantly seen and pointed out to one another, when working in the cargo hold to secure it, about some of the cargo that had split slightly open. Three packing cases had contained a consignment of men’s clothing from London, which was top market range. Knowing also that insurance covered all damaged or lost goods while in transport at sea, we came to the conclusion that nothing ventured nothing gained if we didn’t have a further inspection of it. Bazil been the Chippy had accessibility to anywhere on the ship, especially to the cargo-hold where we headed for. Within torch-lights we helped ourselves to two suits each, plus two sets of sports-wear, an overcoat, duffel-coat windbreaker and a variety of shirts. We must have been seen ashore as real spiffy when wearing those dressed to kill cloths.

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The type of London Pub where ship-crew would go and Brasso the brass for free drinks and the ship-crew band played for their liquid supper.

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32. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 5)

My ship then was the SS South African Victory  to Mobile Alabama that didn’t throw up any surprises that time, except  that mobs of angry whites in Alabama, including Ku Klux Klan members, attacked a busload of black and white ‘freedom fighters’ and Martin Luther King. The name Alabama though throws up a bit of interesting history affiliated to the Cape Colony of South Africa. On 29 July 1863, The Alabama, an American raider belonging to the Southern States during the American Civil War, arrived in Saldana Bay on the west coast of South Africa, to resupply. During the course of the American Civil War, the Southern States realized that they could not match the Northern American States with regard to their navy, and instead adopted the strategy of sinking and capturing ships belonging to the Northern Union states. The vessels that preyed on civilian shipping were called raiders and often described as being state sanctioned pirates. By the time the Alabama sailed into Cape Town she had sunk more than fifty Union trading vessels and had built up a reputation for being one of the most famous raiders in history. In August 1863, The Alabama created great excitement as it sank a Union ship, The Sea Bride, within sight of Cape Town harbour.  It then berthed in Cape Town for provisions and repairs again. This gave rise to the song “Daar kom die Alabama” (Here comes the Alabama), a folk song still sung in Cape Town today, and  one of the Alabama’s flags presented to a Capetonian still hangs in the South African Museum,

‘What’s up?’ and ‘Where y’at’ meant that we were back in New Orleans. When all was shipshape, my feet couldn’t carry me fast enough to the Afro-Creole Club that my Creole friend owned. The first thing I received from him after our manly hug and back slapping was a Kentucky Bourbon straight up. Were we ever glad to see each other, and while relating both our past events since last meeting, the bourbon flowed the same as the Bourbon Street jazz around us. He was actually all excited when telling me that I had arrived at an opportune time because of the Mardi Gras that was happening, and of his new mistress that he wanted me to meet. So that night I accompanied him to his second home deep in the swamplands where he had his mistress. I also accompanied both of them to a dance function there of which I was smilingly told had a strange dance custom only in that area, but wasn’t told how strange. The women attending were very attractive and attentive, particularly the ones I was introduced to, and not knowing then why they were smiling and giggling while chatting to my friend, got embarrassingly revealed to me towards the end after their customary eating, singing and dancing. Tables were moved backwards and the chairs were placed forward to form a wide circle on which some sat and others just stood around. Their shuffle dance done then was a combination of flirting and teasing, and it was up to the women to see if she could arouse the man while dancing with him through titillation by using their hands, thighs, buttocks and breast. Although it wasn’t achieved all of the time, the menfolk saw it as a sexual game and tried hard not to get a hard on, and if they did, the obvious bulging pants was taken in hand by the man, and his partner would twirl him around and around with the other hand amidst laughter and applause.

Married, single, elderly and young women all did it, and my constant refusal the first time got me some disdainful looks. My friend’s advice didn’t help matters either because of what he did before joining their dancing escapades, and that was to have sex with his mistress. He also told me that if an unspoken for woman felt or saw that my protrusion was large enough I might get lucky, for it seemed their menfolk were not that well-endowed. I saw no problem with that, the only problem I had was the embarrassment of having to be twirled while having my hand on my tented pants in company, and it was very difficult to come to terms with. Not also having the pleasure or convenience of a mistress as my friend, saw my only hope in trying to rely on my self-control. They changed the rules though at my first attempt so as to get their own back on me for always refusing, and two young women ganged up on me. Self-restraint worked at first, but those women were after my blood, so while sandwiched between them they played dirty by working me over from the front and back. My only thought then was that with two women twirling me around how was I going to hold and hid my then slowly elevating bulge. They solved that for me by doing something either out of consideration for my obvious embarrassment or to keep the jutting out knowledge to themselves. There was another side to their dance if a man didn’t get an erection. The woman would then dance him off the floor, seat him down, sit on his lap, put her arms around his neck and give him a thank you kiss. Those two would have felt what was occurring to me when moving close up against and slowly around me, so they danced my off the floor sandwiched in between them. Seating me down they both took turns to sit directly on my tented trousers that they were very aware of, and kissed me.

So to top that all off, the fantastic floats and parade of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, which was the best seen until experiencing the Carnervala in Rio de Janeiro. As that one also, there was not the slightest distinction between the cultures. It was full-blown lively and spicy and saucy displays when carnival fever made them all kick up their heels and let it all hang out. There wasn’t just one humongous party parade but events of them that included the best of the best in the Rex, Zulu and Mardi Gras Indians who all had different themes. Rex, which was the original Mardi Gras parade, featured the King of Carnival with all his entourage, established ornate floats and elaborately costumed walkers who not only did that but also drunk and danced to bands that accompanied them. Zulu was the liveliest parade with its float riders masquerading in woolly wigs and black-faces to depict the African American’s mockery of racial stereotypes, and they carried and threw to eager onlookers gold and black painted coconuts that was the most prized of Mardi Gras souvenirs in comparison to the bead strands, medallion and painted bangles of others that were thrown too. I too was in the thick of it screaming, jumping and pleading for those souvenirs as the thousands of other seeming crazy onlookers were doing, and there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have the satisfaction of receiving arm loads of bead strands whose colours and glitter swirled through the air around the floats. The Mardi Gras Indians took my thoughts all the way back to Athlone and my childhood days when non-whites masquerading as American Indians paraded through our streets. There was so much similarity, except that their customs were more elaborate in its beading and outrageous in feathered headdress that flowed and trailed. That’s where it ended though because the ‘tribes’ of New Orleans were also ‘Coloureds’ but American ones made up of small communities of African Americans and Creoles who had American Indians as ancestors. What was really thrilling and spectacular was when any of the tribes crossed paths they would stage a mock confrontation with all the whooping, drumming, prancing and brandishing of weapons that was an expected ritual. After all that I found there was nothing more relaxing than to kick back, listen to the jazz that flowed around me in Bourbon Street and indulgently imbibe in that known drink. Having been a jazz fan from way back saw my soul be rekindled with New Orleans Soul and Jazz, live. Fats Domino, singer piano man belting out ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. Little Richard, ‘Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom’ of pseudo-gibberish but what a performer. The essence of New Orleans ‘When the Saints go marching in’ by Satchmo, and his ‘Basin Street Blues’ as the supreme master of his instrument and singing.

Left New Orleans with a heavy heart again but didn’t know what was in store for our ship and its contingent. Havana in Cuba where cargo vessels loaded sugar and iron ore to deliver en route, had just become a Fidel Castro strong hold, and because of the situation there, South Africa that was not pro-communist was held in contempt. The Suppression of Communism Act introduced by the Afrikaner National Party outlawed the Communist Party of South Africa with a maximum ten years imprisonment, which didn’t sit well with Castro, so been in the wrong place at the wrong time meant that ships flying a South African flag were in jeopardy. Kept in Cuba, as a political protest, wasn’t pleasant if you were a white South African because they weren’t allowed shore leave, and Cuban soldiers armed to the hilt saw to that. If you were a dark skinned crew-member you were picked up at the gangway by army jeep and taken into town, but shore leave for the crew was eventually cancelled because of jealous officers. Nevertheless, their lives were almost cancelled when the army stormed the ship with guns bristling, herded them together and demanded our shore leave be restored with threats if it ever occurred again. The Cubans not only fêted the crew but also gave them the opportunity to claim political asylum, of which only two accepted though, one to get married and the other to join the army. Seaman always seemed to attract women in droves, either because of the fascination they found in your traveling around the world to exotic places or the fact that most seamen worth their salt had women in most ports and they want to be added to the list. Havana was no exception to the rule, and the constant hand rolled Cuban cigars supplied to us by the women was to facilitate having a crewman’s cigar in exchange. Those Latin women were lusty, hot, and insatiable and fiery, to the point of younger army women having confrontations with each other over crewman that at times when it got out of hand with cat-fights, they were kept in the army lockup to cool down. We were disappointed when the embargo was lifted and we had to sail from there back to Mobile with a load of sugar because of been under contract by the USA to ship it for them. However, because of our success there, which the American ships were restricted from, we were back in Havana quick smart. There was one time though when we were glad that we weren’t in Cuba. We were at sea in the Caribbean off the south coast of Florida when the ship received a priority message from American naval authorities. It had a warning attached to it to not venture within a certain specified sea area for a given duration or face the consequences. What we learned later was that there was a blockade of United States naval ships due to the ‘Cuban Missile Crises’ to deter the Soviet Union of shipping machinery and materials to Cuba for further installation of nuclear missile bases. One more trip to Mobile, then back to Havana to load iron ore, and with plenty of Cuban rum and cigars on board, which meant party time, we headed for Cape Town.

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Jazz in Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

31. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 4)

Not the best news to hear from the Captain when arriving in Cape Town that the ship would be going for a survey in Durban, and that all repairs related to it would be carried out in the Dry Dock there, with a layover of an estimated time of six weeks. Fuck, we Capetonians crew said, not thought, and began making plans to sign off the ship because we would be having only had two days stay in Cape Town. Not me though, been the forward one with hair on my teeth, I approach the Captain to test the waters for me at Safmarine office to see what the possibility was for Joan and Neil, who had been born while I was at sea, to be booked a berth on that ship to Durban. To be sure, to be sure it was frowned on, and was told very politely that only the officers were allowed that privilege. So my only other alternative was to book Joan and our baby son Neil a passage at the Union Castle Lines to Durban, which had passenger ships that cruised between England and South Africa. I also booked it so that I would be in Durban by the time they got there and had organized for their stay. Now you know how it’s said that you get to know who your friends really are when you’re in a bind, well without even asking, my real friends in Durban threw their doors and hearts open to my family without even knowing them. Yes the Lord does work in mysterious ways, and maybe this was another one those. On one of the ships stays there, Sam, an Indian, who on seeing me weave my way back to the ship on the dockland streets, stopped his car to pick me up in my drunken state, drove to the ship, got me to my cabin with the aid of the gangway watchman and left. We didn’t even know each other; he though had done that out of concern and sheer kindness. Two days later he came back to inquire from the gangway watchman about my well-being, which saw him been brought on board and to my cabin. It was his first time on an ocean going ship and it showed, however, after showing him around and introducing him to crew with the story, we made up a collection that saw him leave with cartons of cigarettes and a case of beer as a thank you gift. He must have been that impressed because he put his car at my disposal whenever required as a pickup and drop. He had a casual day job, and for the duration of my stay and other trips he drove me anywhere to my destinations at night, and as re-compensation, I encouraged the crew to use his car as a pirate taxi that earned him an extra income. So guess for my family’s stay in Durban who our driver was.

We were getting nicely settled in, when unfortunately Neil fell ill and we had to take him to hospital where he was diagnosed with gastroenteritis and kept there for three weeks.  I had intended to have them both stay on board ship with me at some convenient time; nevertheless, by only having Joan there with me, eventuated into us having our first honeymoon, and on a ship no less. That was also the first time ever that a non-white crewman had the balls to use a ship’s facilities for a gratis honeymoon, and the crew were amused and taken up with Joan and my audacity in the breaching of ship’s policy. Joan bloomed on board ship from all the attention received from the crew and the admiring glances from the officers because she oozed sex appeal. We were both happy, contented, so much in love and both absolutely sexually gratified. We also spent a weekend at my aunt Violet and Uncle Bill, who lived in Durban, to catch up on family gossip and reminisce about the families in Cape Town. Guess where else I took Joan to, no, not the ‘Chocolate Box’, but to my friends Club House. There was another addition then to our sea mates group of Bazil, Bill and Martin and that was Lionel, who was the new Pantry-man. Surprise, surprise when we walked in there, but not for Ann that knew that I was bringing Joan because she wanted to meet her, but the rest were pretty  impressed with Joan’s acceptance and my honesty. The two of them never got on like a house on fire but mutual respect was obvious and pleasantries abounded though. Nevertheless, I did have some worrying moments when observing the two of them chattering away like two magpies with occasional glances my way and giggling. Never asked because of not been brave enough for what the outcome might be, and what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.  Again we had a braai at her brother’s friend’s sugarcane plantation, but in addition, we even did a tour of the sugar-mill to see the process of the cane into sugar. Yes, Joan also met the other Joan that was a bit awkward, at first.  She knew that I was in Durban and wanted to meet her, but not wanting to be blatant about our relationship, which could have occurred because we were best buddies, we waited for the optimum time. We didn’t actually have long to wait, because fortuitously at a dance that Joan, I and my ship-mates were invited to attend, there she was. She wasn’t brazen in her approach but rather demure, as I knew her to be, but so was my Joan, and her smiling greetings was genuine. On the other hand, the introduction of Joan meet Joan wasn’t what the gods had ordered. It must have been womanly intuition, because for a moment I saw Zeus lightning bolts flash in my Joan’s eyes, and if she had Cyclops eye, daggers would have emerged, especially as she was been towered over as Hercules by the other Joan. In any case, when push comes to shove my Joan was in the master class. When the necessity arose she could ooze charm with a decorum that would charm the rattle off a rattle snake. So with butter that wouldn’t melt in her mouth she made the comment that it was a pleasure in meeting the Joan who took such good care of her husband when he was in Durban. Now knowing my wife that wasn’t a compliment that Joan thought she was paying her, and adding insult to injury, when we were alone, she called her ‘Joan vrot arm’ (rotten arm). Now the reason for that was that her arm was bandaged that night from a burn received, and Joan received gut satisfaction through belittling her that way. Ah the mind and emotions of women.

Another thing that Joan and I really liked and appreciated when I was working during the day on the ship, crew-members would ask my permission to take Joan ashore either for lunch or to see the sights that really made her day, which also made theirs for the two of us been so gracious. Another thing done by my three shipmates, with both our permission, was to keep her company either in my cabin or theirs while I was busy working and they were not. Joan had a melodious singing voice then, and she found immense pleasure in entertaining the troops as it were, when in a get together with crew who played musical instruments on board ship. On the other hand, on my days off I took her to places that they hadn’t. Some of which included the Indian Market for Indian spices, chutney, incense sticks, saris, which I purchased one for her that she liked, face veils, fez, hot curried meals and all other Indian paraphernalia that combined in pungent aromas that penetrated the senses. We rode in the rickshaws of spectacular dressed Zulus adorned out in ostrich feathers and wild animal skins who plied their trade there with high jumps while been conveyed, but it wasn’t a mode of travel recommended if intoxicated. We also did the Golden Mile, which now reminds me so much of the Gold Coast beaches here. Tala wildlife sanctuary blew her away with its big game that included rhino, kudu, hippo, giraffe and antelope, which was her first time of sighting and been so close up to those magnificent animals. And then the rides of her life on  the ‘Green Mamba Bus’, so called council busses because of its green colour as it snaked its way through the countryside to unknown destinations. We went to places like Umhlanga Rocks, which was a peaceful relaxing beachside place to be. ‘The Bluff’, derived from the long bluff of two ancient sand dunes, and is one of the main enclosing elements of Durban Harbour from the Indian Ocean and formed the southern quayside of the Port of Durban, which too reminds me now of ‘The Bluff’ of Sydney here. Not forgetting the lively Cato Manor of small market gardens, African beer halls where the only brew served was skofaan (sogram beer) in the usual tin cans, and the vast African population that Durban relied upon for cheap labour.

With Joan feeling relieved of the cure of Neil’s ailment and out of the hospital, she moved with him back to my friend’s home for the last week of her stay. We crammed in every last spare moment together to make the most of it because for one thing it was going to be her twenty-first birthday while I was at sea, and, wait for it, Joan was pregnant again. When biding Joan bon voyage as she left Durban on a Union Castle Liner again, my thoughts that I would be doing the same to Durban on my ship the next day, didn’t, due to our ship not receiving an all clear for a sea worthy certificate, so we were stuck in port for another week. Thinking to pass that time in Ann’s safe company because of her making Joan’s acquaintance, I somehow got in touch with her to relate our further hold up. She though sounded down in the mouth, unhappy and made lame excuses, so I told her to leave it for another time when getting back from the trip. During that week while I had been hanging out with the crew, they had kept close tabs on me concerning other women. They had seen how in love Joan and I were, and if any other woman just had a slight sniff at me I was steered away, which was the quietest shore leave time of my seafaring days. On the Saturday night though before sailing, the ship’s crew gave a party as a farewell gesture at a seaman’s house ashore. While the party was in full swing with plenty of booze and women, a group arrived with Ann amongst them. We were both surprised at seeing each there; she though had sadness about her. On inquiring discreetly from her friends about the cause, they related that she was still at loggerheads with her parents. No persuasion from me either could eke out what was troubling her, and even drawing on our close friendship in relation to confidentiality couldn’t get an answer. Not wanting to provoke her I tried to make the evening as pleasant as possible by just dancing the night away with her. I sensed and felt though while dancing reciprocation from her to the silent comforting I was trying to instil by her also cuddling closer and squeezing my hand as how before when she was in a happier disposition then. It belied her former actions also when she led me quietly outside to a secluded porch out of sight of her watchful friends and then burst into tears. Her emotions really required me physically then, and even holding her close didn’t seem enough to pacify and comfort her. I waited for her to settle down thinking that she would then confide in me. She instead then held me even tighter and then kissed me long and hard. I was disconcerted for she had never done that before, and my returned kiss was of a tender caring friendly nature. She though must have misconstrued its meaning, for she then began to kiss me with a fervent passion followed by a babbling rush of loving words. I had known that she was found of me, but never expected that display and outburst.  So I countered it while holding her tightly so that it would sink in by telling her that our sort of friendship could have evolved into something more if I wasn’t married, but that my married life meant everything to me. She wasn’t in a party mood after that, and one of the crew when we sailed, approached me about her emotional outburst. It seemed that he had been in earshot when all that had transpired and he accused me of being a bastard for breaking her heart like that because he had heard that she loved me. My following letter to her via a friend was never answered, and her friend on my return to Durban conveyed that her parents had packed her off to family in England, and to an unknown address.

Without telling Joan because of wanting to surprise her I signed off the ship at Cape Town. Was she ever surprised and emotionally overwhelmed when telling her that I was going to take a sabbatical, I had really thought about it in Durban, and had come to the conclusion that the sea voyages had been fraught with too many misadventures and a hectic life style that had become deferential to Joan. The children and she also needed me at home, especially Joan who had the role of mother and father, tried hard to cope with my family, and desperately needed the assurance of my love and passion. Then as life would have it Joan’s parents moved in with her sister and we moved into their home to have peace and harmony away from my mother. It seemed that Safmarine had their staff’s best interest at heart or they wanted to keep them on standby until signing up again for other voyages, because other casual employment in shipping was offered. I worked off and on American and British naval ships that were in port so as to give their crew R and R while in port, and the same also went for passenger liners and other Safmarine ships in port. With the furniture trade still in the doldrums, I also worked in catering with my dad and at other barman duties around the traps to keep the wolf from the door, even though I found that it wasn’t as lucrative or fulfilling as a Merchant Mariner. In preference to that when it became difficult with more mouths to feed; my only solution was to sign on again.

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Me, Joan, Bill and Lionel on the Poop Deck of the SS South African Merchant in Durban.

30. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 3)

Every time the ship approached Cape Town I would stand at the railing of the ship in the misty half-dark of predawn, scanning the horizon for the first sign of landfall.  As the sky lightened slightly, a shape very slowly would emerge in the distance, at first so small and indistinct that I wasn’t sure that it was really there.  But as the mist dispersed and the sky brightened even more, the shape grew gradually larger until I could make out the distinctive contours of Table Mountain and eventually, Devil’s Peak and Lions Head. The panorama before me was soon that of a blue sky with wispy white clouds, the magnificent backdrop of the mountains illuminated from behind by the rising sun, with the red roofs of the city nestled at its base and the sea stretching out toward it like a giant blue-green welcome mat.  I was home. Even to this day, I still get choked up when I recall that iconic image of extraordinary beauty. That time I had two days off with Joan and the kids in which I was husband and daddy to the fullest extent that we could fit in. We went to early morning mass, I cooked breakfast with heaps of pancakes, maple syrup and strawberries that they liked, and we went to a matinee movie at the Empire Theater in Athlone to watch cartoons. Hula hoops was the in thing then and we had great fun with that, and we went to a children’s party that they had been invited to and to top that all off we went to Kalk Bay beach by train. Joan been one not to let her pregnancy bother her was right in there with us. Parting was such sweet sorrow for Joan and me that she not only waved me off but also followed the ship all along the next quay for a final wave and blown kiss.

I didn’t go ashore in East London and Port Elizabeth again but did in Durban, much to my chagrin. Ann had come down to the ship, which was due to the ship-to-shore line not been connected yet, to invite me around for dinner, by her mother. It seemed that her married cousin who was also a seaman had arrived in port, and he and his wife were invited for a welcome home dinner. All went well until having after dinner drinks and the conversation turned to how his wife coped while he was away at sea. Ann’s mother who really liked me became interested, which was for her daughter’s benefit, and that’s when her cousin dropped the bombshell. His asking of me how my wife and children coped while I was away caused three results. Ann who had not made her parents aware of my married status although I had told her to but she had thought differently, looked like she had wished the ground would open up and swallow her, the parents couldn’t believe their ears and were flabbergasted, and her cousin and his wife had a smug look on their faces that said gotcha. It seemed, when hearing the full story why afterwards from a crew-member, that it all stemmed from him relating to his wife what he had heard about my overseas escapades, and with her getting to know that Ann and I were friends but not knowing what my intentions were or if I was married, had taken a stab to gauge my reaction, and if so to make Ann and her parents aware of it. Having always had the ability of a quick rhetorical question to counter a question when in a difficult situation, which was one of those times before all hell broke loose; I first jokingly laughed it off so as to get my thoughts together. My questioning him about which wife he was alluding to because like himself we seaman had wives all around the world and countless children wasn’t well received first by himself due to his splattering denial, and secondly by his wife who demanded to know from him how long that had been going on. My thinking of what arseholes both of them were by spoiling our evening and for not minding their own business and for making it difficult for Ann caused me to continue my further questioning. My very casual matter of fact inquiry of if he had as many girlfriends in every port as all seamen had and if his wife was aware of it changed the atmosphere completely to one of a pending storm for him when he couldn’t lie his way out of that one neither. His wife though wasn’t letting go, so with her looking daggers at him I thought it was a good time for me to leave before it became more awkward. Inquiring about him back on board ship also brought to light why he had asked that spiteful intentional revealing question. It seemed that when he was overseas he had to pay for sex by going with prostitutes because of not having any luck with other women, so a jealous element about me had also crept in. Ann phoned me the next day and we met in a secluded park during her lunch break because I didn’t want to get her into further trouble with her parents. She conveyed that after my departure her cousin and his wife had a huge argument, and her parent’s confrontation about our relationship resulted with them forbidding it to continue after telling them that she liked me as a friend only. That unfortunate or fortunate incident saw the end of our relationship as far as her parents were concerned, but not ours, for we decided to cool it for the duration of my stay in port, which was for a week.

Making the acquaintance of Joan, no, not my wife but another Joan, was due to me deciding not going ashore while berthed there for the rest of the two weeks to catch up on well-deserved sleep,  which was very unusual for me. On the other hand, with kept busy to the catering of the captain all up the coast because of bad weather, ship pilots and shore official’s needs, it got me way behind with my sleep. Oh I forgot to mention that I had received another promotion to Captain’s Tiger. During that time my cabin mate had not told me that his girlfriend was coming aboard for a visit and I had fallen fast asleep on my bunk only in my boxer shorts, as was seaman’s custom. It wasn’t the chatter and laughter that awoke me to find that he had brought two women with him into the cabin that through it had caused me to be embarrassed, but my lying there in those boxer shorts only. After having introduced his girlfriend and Joan her friend, he whispered to me that he was taking his girlfriend to a cabin next door, which was not occupied as the seaman had gone ashore, and while they were making out would I keep his girlfriend’s friend company. Our cabins consisted of a double bunk on one bulkhead with a single-space wardrobe on each side, the opposite bulkhead had a built in draw cabinet with hung toiletry cabinets on each side, and the space in between the double bunks and the draw cabinet allowed only one in passing. Also, a narrow bench, curved shaped to the bow ran along the porthole bulkhead (wall) in between the two bulkheads to the side of the starboard wardrobe that combined all together was built for sleeping in but not for entertaining in.

Before he left with his girlfriend he first winked at me in Joan’s direction and then closed the door. Although it was one of those situations where you are thrown in the deep end and had to work your way out of a difficult situation I was qualified enough for that one to slowly but surely work my way through it. I excused my undressed condition because she too seemed a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable, and then I offered her to recline on my bottom bunk with me taking the top one while she waited for her friend. My explanation to her for that was due to the bench that she was sitting on was narrow, hard and uncomfortable, but I though received an unexpected but gracious reply that she would accept the offer of my bunk with the proviso to share my single bunk so as not to inconvenience me. My somewhat taking aback asking if it didn’t bother her to be lying beside a strange man in his boxer shorts, received her answer that was a straightforward, honest and a believable one to the effect that she had an older brother who did exactly that at times when confiding in her, and he also had strange habits. When telling her that I didn’t make it a habit of letting women lay on my bunk while I was semi naked, and that the only one who would have that privilege would be my wife Joan, made her smiling quick witted remark that it should be alright then seeing that her name was also Joan, but that I shouldn’t expect the same favours from her, made her an instant hit with me.

The single bunk had a fixed, cutaway recessed wooden frame along the side for securing reasons when the ship rolled and pitched in storms at sea, so for two to lay comfortable you either laid side on or partly overlapping. Showing some respect I laid face to face while chatting. Although our heads were inclined back our bodies weren’t, and although our backs were hard up against the bunk sides so that there was no room to separate further, parts of our anatomy would continuously touch due to our breathing and adjustment for comfort. Because we were that continuously close and enclosed within the bunks framework it became uncomfortable and awkward for both of us to lay that way.  So when I suggested that we try with one lying slightly on their back squeezed up against the bunk bulkhead and the other slightly overlapping, she proposed for me to be cramped up on my back. The only foreseen, which was due to save me from a manly embarrassment, and unforeseen matter due to while moving across the bunk and turning into that position was that my elbow jammed up against her breast and my hip pressed against her pubic mound, and I was only half turned. To assist me she laughingly stretched herself up over me in a push up position for me to succeed. With both of us smiling because of the comprising position her manoeuvrings had caused, she surprisingly lowered herself slowly with a naughty look on her face so that we just touched. Still in a push up position above me she then also touched my lips with hers, which gave me the thought that she was either teasing or for real. She was for real because she lowered herself slowly down onto me and began kissing me with a passion.

I didn’t know then and I still don’t know now how far we would have gone, for our passionate kissing was interrupted and stopped by the arrival of my cabin mate and his girlfriend because of the return of the crewman to his cabin. Fast adjustments of positions only made them smile knowingly. Joan was flushed, breathing heavily and embarrassed for having been caught out by our two unexpected returnees, but my emotions ran higher than that though because of what had unexpectedly occurred with another woman. When they saw that the two of us were sharing my bunk it made them do the same on his, and soon after, their frantic movements and sounds brought us the realization that they had thought that we must have had sex, and that it was all right for them to do it in our company. Joan’s further embarrassment brought blushes, so after placing my hands over her ears to drown out their sexual noises we just laid looking at each other while grinning. The bunks had drawn curtains that were seldom used, and on drawing them close to help deaden the sounds and to alleviate the shame she felt for her friend, which had made Joan reluctant to continue further, gave us privacy though. Not wanting them to get the wrong idea again and to avoid further embarrassment we left the cabin and went on deck. There she asked if I wanted to go to a dance club the following night and to meet at her friend’s bedsitter unit, which made for another embarrassing moment for her.

When arriving there and finding her waiting for her friend to change and get dressed, we reclined on her bed to wait. The bedsitter was a single room with a shared bathroom that was in use, so her impatient friend stripped right in front of the two of us, powdered in strategic places, slipped on her panties and dressed. Joan had flung herself over me on seeing what she was doing, and then proceeded to kiss me hard and long so as for me not to watch her friend’s unashamed behaviour that I had been ogling, and when dressed, her friend made the comment that I had seen more than that before. Joan was a pretty good dancer, conversationalist, loved flirting with me, liked long walks, thought it a buzz to go into coffee shops and lace our coffee secretly with whiskey from a hip flask that I always carried, enjoyed night clubbing and had a passion for strong curries. We became real buddies, and she was the only one I associated with except for her friend who loved a good time, and when allowed by Joan, accompanied us to nightclubs. She liked the two of us to do things alone, for when we were in the company of others she felt we were restricted in our free flowing enjoyment of our idiosyncrasies. We thought nothing of going Dutch when either of us was broke, shared taxi fares at times, allowed each other time out space and never interfered with or questioned each other’s private life. Her friend though when Jill was out of earshot would want to know what our intentions were because she was under the impression that Joan was more than found of me as a friend. It seemed that all she talked about was about what a difference her life had become since meeting me because of the manner in which I respected her. But I drew the line and rectified her with her assumption that it was due to fulfilling sex because Joan glowed and was full of life when I was around. I also knew that Joan’s mother was fond of me because she would always welcome me with a cuppa and a chat when I visited there.  Joan found that strange though because the two of them hadn’t been on good terms for some time until I came along. We both had caught her mother at times watching us with a smile on her face as we mucked around, and the mother would insist that the couch be made up for me to stay over when bringing Joan very late home at night when missing the last bus back to the ship. She liked that, for she would sneak back to share the couch with me because it reminded her of the ship’s bunk. In any case we just cuddled, and because we valued our friendship and companionship, sex never came into the equation, and that’s how it remained until she married some other merchant seaman.

I told my Joan about that Joan been my companion, the same way she was also told of some of my other unavoidable companions, or what she had already assumed was happening. Her understanding nature, leniency and unconditional love to my behaviour at sea, which she understood was a work related hazard when in the Merchant Navy, wouldn’t have been condoned by many women. However, as all good things must come to an end, and bad, I had been slowly digging a hole for myself that saw me having to court Joan all over again to win back her unconditional love. Nonetheless, that’s another story, and because after been fully loaded in Durban and in taking bunkers there, we sailed.  The only heart rendering happening was that we were bypassing Cape Town. I really had a necessity to see and be with my wife Joan because it wasn’t only that I would have been there when she turned twenty one, which we had forward planned a surprise party for her, but also that I would miss the birth of our third child. If I had known that we were bypassing Cape Town, which was kept very secret by the Captain and other leading officers because of knowing that crew from Cape Town would have signed off in Durban due to always spending more time in Durban than in Cape Town with their loved ones, I too would have done the same. So I did the next best thing that I could by going to see the Sparky. Between the two of us we organized to send Joan on her twenty-first a bouquet of flowers and a loving birthday card via Artiflora.

Because of bypassing Cape Town we took bunkers in the seaport Port International de Port-Au-Prince the capital of Haiti, which occupied the western third of the island of Hispaniola situated in the Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico. From there direct to New Orleans in Louisiana the southern states of America with all its dark history of slavery, lynching, segregation and its Ku Klux Klan had made up for it to my way of thinking with the one bright shining light city in there them State of Louisiana. Even the sailing up the twisting murky fast moving Mississippi River that was navigated from the Gulf of Mexico as it meandered its way through that state had a feeling of expectancy. Around every bend something unusual would eventuate. Dead bloated floating horses or cows, fishermen on wooden rafts waving their catch of catfish, barges stacked high with cotton bales, intersection controlled lights for across crossing river traffic for entering water ways, and the stern paddle steamers that plied the river. That feeling of expectation increased when nearing the river port of New Orleans, and I experienced a good feeling when tied up alongside by the docking officials when securing the ships hawsers to the moorings with their greeting of ‘What’s up?’  And I soon learned that the reply of ‘Where y’at’, was what was expected, which was the greeting of all the populace in that friendliest of cities.

I had seen cities all over the world where the old architecture had been mingled in with the new or overtaken the old, but there they had kept the French Quarter as the best-preserved historical area that looked exactly as it always did. They didn’t even have traffic lights there and the streetlights were of the old gaslight style.  You knew you were in the French Quarter when hearing the sounds of a trumpet or the wailing of the saxophone anytime of the day or night from the solo street players or jazz bands. The first thing that caught your eye was the picturesque wrought iron balcony on the buildings, and then your feet seemed to turn automatically towards the restaurants and clubs. Cajun cuisine, bourbon straight up and Bourbon Street jazz was a heady combination, especially when I made the acquaintance of a Creole who owned an Afro-Creole club, which turned into a friendship of good standing. Bourbon Street spelled it out exactly what it signified as a place where not only booze but also music burst and oozed out for drinkers and party animals alike. Although Basin Street at one time meant that too plus its red-light district, it was the birthplace though of jazz where the mixture made for good bed companions to those who had gone to enjoy both. Canal Street that didn’t have a canal of any sort but did have a pedestrian free ferry from its base on the Mississippi from which I traveled on to cross over to Algiers Point, had in the time taken given me a great view of downtown New Orleans. Once on the other side it gave me not only a different skyline angle of it too, but also to discover late Victorian houses and Creole cottages also left in its preserved condition there. According to the way it was related to me, it seemed that the Creole people who escaped from the Caribbean slave trade and spoke French, and the Cajuns who were French migrants that were kicked out of Nova Scotia by the English during the same era, settled in the swamp country of Louisiana. Entwined by the same hardships, poverty and seen as underclass peoples, they blended their culture and music, and from it originated the separate styles of country and western swing music by the Cajuns, and urban blues and brass band music by the Creoles.

I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled when witnessing different brass bands operational in the capacity of a post funeral parade playing ‘When the Saints go marching in’, in street and club groups and sensationally in the Mardi Gras on another trip there. If jazz was their forte too with its rhythm and blues and gospel origins from African-Caribbean bloodlines, then the zydeco (chromatic washboard) percussion music, which both groups played, and the combination of the fiddle, accordion and guitar music arrangements of Cajun music was in a category of its own. So too was the dancing that went with it in my instructions of its almost complex jitterbug fashion when attending a get together with my friend at the home of a Cajun friend of his in the swamplands.  That jaunt in the bayous although alligators and moccasins thrived in the swamps was an exciting experience. Boating to meet those exciting but very unusual private people with their Cajun food, attire and music, was bewildering at first, and what really confused me was their language, all the same they were fun to be with if you had the stamina. That get together eventually turned into a jamming session  when other musician friends turned up to make it into an unforgettable experience, especially at times when it was accompanied by individual or group singing of their songs that were sung in their most unique language. What really surprised me though was when hearing my Creole friend singing along with them, and when questioning him on it, I was told that because his language was a compilation of African dialects and French, both Creoles like himself and Cajun could speak and understand both languages. Both the cooking of their food dishes was understandably French too, but at first it was difficult to distinguish between them due to it having a cross mixture of the two. Every living thing that came out of the water from the swamps, the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico into which it flowed was concocted into culinary delights. It was either raw, boiled, fried, grilled, barbequed, baked, stuffed or wrapped into other foodstuff. Craw-fish, lobsters, oysters, snapper, trout, crab, salmon, turtle, red-fish, catfish, shrimp, mussels, swordfish and alligator found its way into specialties of soup, stew, jambalaya, gumbo, omelets, all types of fishcakes and even cheesecakes. I was educated though to the slight distinction by both my Creole friend and a Cajun acquaintance and it seemed the latter was lively and spicy and the former was delicate and saucy, but I didn’t really care because of enjoying both. What I did care about though and enjoyed too was when asked by our Cajun host if I cared to see how he harvested his crawfish. Boating through the misty bayous that zigzagged in between overhanging gnarled cypress trees that dripped Spanish moss, and with only the bark of an occasional alligator breaking the silence or seen gliding through the water was an eerie feeling; nonetheless, the snapping crawfish and the delicious meal after of them was something that was enjoyed too.

I left a bit of myself there when sailing away, however, as a Merchant Mariner’s life is unpredictable; it found me there a few more times.  Back into the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Pensacola on the Gulf as Florida’s leading deep-water port with its eight deep-draft berths. Arriving there at night, a few of us thought we would explore the lay of the land to maybe drum up some excitement. After walking for a half hour aimlessly in the direction pointed out to us by a harbour attendant we came upon a bar in a small town. Although the town seemed like a sleepy hollow the bar was buzzing. We felt right at home because they were all Negros and they made us feel right at home too when discovering that we from South Africa.  We were even invited to the Negress proprietor’s home after the bar’s closing where the drinking continued; we stayed till dawn and then walked back to the ship. From there we cruised around Florida, up the Strait of Florida and pass the Bahamas into the Atlantic Ocean and to New York City once again.

New York, New York that I never could get enough of no matter how many times sighting ‘Dirty Gerty’ when sailing into the Hudson River Bay to dock again at Pier 10 New york City. Oh for the life of a Merchant Mariner to not only see but also experience the wonders of the world offered. The last time there I wanted to experience what Greenwich Village was all about, so it got me then to wander through its clubs and bars. Because of going on my own I was chatted up by a few gay men at one of their clubs, who were under the impression that I was cruising as they put it. Telling them that I was straight and not offended, caused them to apologize for their assumption because not many heterosexuals frequented that club. My explanation of why I was there and of my visits in other parts of the world to similar establishments to gauge the different lifestyles and that I enjoyed differential company, got them to ask if I had been to a lesbian club a block away. Answering in the negative found me hooked in and escorted there by two gay men. On the way I was told of a lesbian couple that were good friends of theirs, and the butch one as they called her, who was Pauline, was always adamant that she could pick out anybody who was straight without been told.  They didn’t pick it straight off with me, which I didn’t know when it occurred to take as a compliment or insult, and if I was game enough they wanted to see how good she really was. However, when telling me also that I portrayed slight feminine mannerisms, which again I didn’t know how to take, that may aid in fooling them, I thought what the hell, in for a penny in for a pound. To me it all boiled down to me being a gentlemanly type, liking and respecting women, enjoyed their company, and because of that I may have picked up some of their mannerisms in the process. Telling them that caused a gleeful display of their effeminate behaviour for me to copy. They also wanted to know if we fooled her and her bitch, which is what they called the other one and her name was Dawn, would I carry it a bit further so that they could get their own back on them. It seemed that the two of them had previously been set up as a prank by their lesbian friends with a straight male friend who had acted gay, and they had been kept dangling for two days before wising up.

The two young ladies they introduced me to must have thought me gay too, because I also got the same type of greeting they received of a wet fish handshake and a touching of cheek to cheek. My two gay mates noticing that winked at me and kept it going further by telling them I had just arrived after fleeing Cuba, couldn’t speak much English and had nowhere to spend the night. They sounded really convincing, especially with me all serious while just sitting there following suite; however, I thought that they were taking it a bit too far when requesting of them for me to stay the night at their home because they had someone staying with them already, and I couldn’t believe my ears when their two lesbian friends agreed. Those two gay blokes were the most mischievous and outrages ones I had ever come across, and when the two ladies took to the dance floor, they shook with silent laughter. Knowing that I would be a week in New York they planned further situations to fool their friends, but because they weren’t even considering what I thought about it, I called a halt to their devious schemes. On informing them that I had other commitments that would be more to my liking than fooling and embarrassing their friends, their quiet whispering to each other came up in asking me if I wouldn’t like the experience of spending my time in New York living with two women even if they were lesbians. That was one happening I hadn’t experienced yet. When asking how that would eventuate, they told me just to play along with whatever they told their two friends, so I just sat back and listened as their lies unfolded. Their undertaking was that they would look after me during the day, which was crafty knowing that I would be ship bound then, and that they would be then sorting out arrangements for me during that time. Their other offer was that they would pay for any expenses incurred while staying at their friends home, which they did and more, and that they would appreciate if during that time I would be allowed to have the freedom of Pauline and Dawn’s home. They were agreeable with that too, although I wasn’t quite agreeable when my new two gay friends took it in turns to steer me onto the dance floor.

Their intentions wasn’t a deviance towards me but so as to increase the impression that I was gay and to be out of ear shot of the other two so that I could be filled in about their idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, which the same could have been said about them. I had also never danced that way with a man before and that too was a new experience for me, on the other hand, it was a laugh for the three of us because I was given the eye and winked at by other dancing gay men. I always had a knack of fitting in with all sorts of people worldwide, and it could have been my attitude of accepting people not for what they are but for whom they were. Except for my young disastrous homosexual experiences, I had found that the more I accepted their sexual preferences as in comparison to straight persons, and as long as it wasn’t me they preferred, I had no revulsion and condemnation towards them. Dawn and Pauline’s apartment was in easy walking distance from the club, and it having only one bedroom I bunked on a fold out settee. Because of my two mates advising them that what I had on was all that I had, they had begun rummaging through their wardrobe for suitable night attire for me; however, on telling them that I slept au natural when it was hot, which it was then, they agreed that it was the best way because they did too. That was the beginning of a parade of womanly flesh from bathroom to bedroom continually because of my gay status that had been implanted by those two miscreants. With both working across town and leaving very early I was left to my own devices before making it back to the ship. My two mates though having their own contrivances and knowing that I would be alone came around. After filling them in to what had transpired in between their hilarious laughter they gave me a business card to where I was to meet them when coming into town that afternoon off the ship.

The address was of a clothing shop that I found in an upmarket part of town, and thinking that they were employed there proved me wrong because they owned the place, and they had smiles written all over their faces at my disbelief. What was more unbelievable was when insisting to outfit me in an assortment of clothing to suit my new persona because their friends had to believe that I was destitute. I drew the line though with some of the more flamboyant clothing apparel that they thought looked good and suited me. Inviting me out for the night created another problem because I was financially embarrassed, and when drawing that to their attention they laughingly commented that was what I was supposed to be under their made up circumstances, and that it would be money well spent to fool their two friends. It was like a conspiracy with those two on account of their two friends not latching onto the fact yet that I wasn’t gay, and they complimented me on being damn good at it too. When asking what they expected the end result to be, I was again laughingly told that they were only paying them back in their own coins, and because they were good sports they would get a laugh out of it too. To compensate and impress Dawn and Pauline I made dinner of provisions found, tidied the flat and gathered and put their soiled clothes in the wash just before their arrival. They were pretty impressed with my feminine touch, as they put it, what they didn’t know was that it was part of my daily duties on board ship, particularly as there were no women to do it. They were also enthused when seeing me dressed in my new gear, and were further impressed when told who was responsible for it.  On my gay mate’s arrival to take us all out for dinner and drinks, the two Judases first kissed me on the cheek, whirled me around to show me off, and then clapped their hands in glee. My forward thinking mates had organized dinner and drinks away from the gay clubs with the thought that we might just bump into others who had met me the previous night, knew I wasn’t gay and might have just given the game away.

We were nice and tipsy when getting back to our respective places, and with me tired from the two very late nights and wanting to retire wasn’t yet to be, for the two women were still in high spirits and wanted to keep it going. I had been sipping on my Jack Daniel bourbon, but those two were throwing back large drinks of Cointreau and Drum Buie with the thought in mind that it was a Friday night, they had the weekend off and wanted to party. The next thing on their agenda was dance music that resulted in them kicking off their shoes and dancing together. Although it didn’t seem unusual because of seeing them dancing together at the clubs, it was different close up when seeing them snuggled up and embrace, but I thought what the hell to each his own. The alcohol consumed must have relaxed me because I had nodded off, but that didn’t seem to have sit well with them because they pulled me up so that we became a dancing threesome, and also to partner me singularly as we had earlier that evening. If only they had kept the slow tempo music going; nonetheless, they upped it to rock and Latin that not only hotted up the dancing but also ourselves. With the only ventilation filtering through their bedroom window and with us dancing up a storm I had to remove my shirt that had begun to cling to me. If only they hadn’t also followed suit by removing their cocktail dresses to dance in their underwear, though when thinking about and having second thoughts, I was a bit thankful that it wasn’t then the eyeful received as before with their passage from bedroom to bathroom in the nude. Their dancing after consuming more drinks took on a more bump and grind style that was at first aimed at each other before turning on me. Not satisfied that they were in their underwear and I was not, they ganged up on me, debagged me and left me in my boxer shorts. I was never more grateful for the consideration of my gay mates in their gift of ‘Fruit of the loom’ boxer shorts than then. The girls laughing dancing exhibition while keeping me fenced in between them with me acting the shocked recipient, which was just a ploy to keep them at a distance away from me because of what was occurring in those boxer’s. It didn’t help much though due to them then introducing a slow striptease in their dance that was just the catalyst to blow my gay status out of their bedroom window.

Although the boxer shorts acted as a covering, it was all it was doing then because by then they were moving, bouncing and wiggling around naked parts that should never be done in a horny man’s presence. I thought myself lucky to still have the security of that covering, they though had other ideas and before I realized what their intentions were they had grabbed at it and pulled it right down. I had never been embarrassed by what I possessed than then, they though surprised me by showing neither of either. They instead were laughingly congratulating each other while hugging me, which threw me into complete confusion. Standing there with the boxer’s around my ankles, indicating like a sundial but wanting answers, I kicked off the boxer’s and smilingly demanded the naked truth, and that sent them into hysterics while collapsing on the settee. Sitting naked in between two naked women even if they were lesbians made my day, for not only were they attractive but also pretty well stacked, and because it was still causing me a permanency and a bit of embarrassment I crossed my legs, which set them off laughing again. According to them I had given the game away of not being gay when dancing with them the early evening, and it had been by the way I had held and lead them when dancing, which had become obvious to them because of having danced with other gay men before, and because of that they had become aware of my other heterosexual mannerisms slips. From then on they had kept up the pretense of otherwise while trying to device a way to teach their two homosexual friends and myself a lesson. While I had dozed off they had contrived a way to do that to me, and from then on it had been a whole charade to see for how long I would be able to hold out before showing my true colours of being straight, and their other comment when laughingly said that made me too, was that I sure showed it too. Although they admired the detail that their two friends had gone to in getting their own back on them, which they had figured out, they had already worked out revenge retaliation against my two mates, and I was told that I would be aiding them so as to teach them a lesson.

My thoughts of my two gay mates as mischievous and outrageous had nothing on those two who were diabolical in their scheming plans. Due to their two friends who were coming around late morning for us to have brunch together because of knowing we would be sleeping in, they wanted them to find the three of us together in their bed on their arrival. But that was not all; for after asking what that would achieve, they went on to explain that we would be in the buff so as to put their two friends into a shock mode. Telling them what effect that would have on me ,only received a grinning reply that they hoped that it did, which confused me even further, and continued with the request to just play along with everything they would say and do in the same manner that I had done so well for their two friends. Their ongoing nudity and with all the womanly flesh exposed before extinguishing the light and pulling the covers over,  had made it difficult for me to instantly fall asleep because of the recurring thoughts of not been able to come on to those two. Pauline had left the front door unlocked for their two friends easy access, and when the three of us were awoken by their entering, they both cuddled up to me. My two mates puzzled what’s going on here greeting was met by Dawn’s lying through her teeth serious reply that there was one detail that I couldn’t have told my two homosexual friends about, and what they had come to discover during the night was that I wasn’t completely gay but bisexual. With Pauline also chiming in by first thanking the two of them for the huge favour they had bestowed upon them by trying to fool them that I was completely gay, and like themselves they had to then confess that although everyone knew them as practicing lesbians, that they too were bisexual. If the expression of your jaw dropping to the floor with disbelief and astonishment was for real, then that was what would have occurred with my two gay mates. And the clincher was when Dawn thanked them too for letting them have the pleasure of a threesome with a real man.

Thinking that would be the end of it was not to be for Pauline and Dawn, for while lying there covered up to our chins and with the two of them in my arms, both then placed each of my hands on one each of their breasts. Thinking that they had done that to add extra shock value before pulling down the covers wasn’t all that was on their agenda. They must have relied on what that would have done to me, especially what my mind had already conjured up to what they had just conveyed, and the pleasurable satisfaction felt what my hands were then automatically massaging for my own denied pleasure, which didn’t seem for theirs. It must have been part of their modus operandi, for after they had a quick peek under the covers to see how my more than happy chappie was; they only then flipped off the covers. A stacked up pack of cards couldn’t have collapsed more easily and quickly as my two mates innards must have, for they had first grasped at the bed for support, and then bumped into each other in their haste and confusion to leave after Pauline suggested that they come back later because as they could see the three of us were ready for another round of sex. The outrageous laughter from the three of us and the calling back before they reached the front door still seemed to have left them in doubt, but because of the girls saying that they were one up on them in pranks, they slowly returned. We couldn’t stop our mirth because of their frowning and serious faces, and in between Dawn and Pauline thanking and hugging me for my participation, which was what I was enjoying more, they indicated for my two mates to join us and enjoy the moment as they were. It seemed though that Pauline wasn’t through with me yet for fooling her so completely, for when scrambling out of the bed and signalling to Dawn to do the same, she laughingly encouraged their two friends to get me for assisting in turning the tables on them. Those two needed no second bidding, especially as they had been eyeing my naked body, and they both went gleefully and jokingly for what the other two had blatantly exposed of mine. I was too quick off the mark for them and succeeding in grabbing the covers to cover up, and made for the bathroom with them laughingly in pursuit. They really were good sports and took it all laughingly in their stride, and there was no animosity between them only more celebrating that night when nightclubbing, and for the rest of my stay in New York we partied. Of course I returned the clothes, but then the four of them insisted on taking me shopping for them to purchase clothing for Joan and the kids, and when getting back to Cape Town, they were the snazziest dressed wife and kids around.

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Our two kids dressed in their snazzy American cloths, with Joan looking as snazzy as ever and my two youngest snazzy sisters Rita and Gertrude.

29. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 2)

My promotion to Saloon Steward after only one trip was not only an ego booster but it also saw a boost in remuneration, which was handy for Joan and the children. The duties involved then, although a complete different kettle of fish than Pantry-man, were right up my alley for having learned all the intricacies of catering and Silver-service from my dad. Silver-service is a learned art form of serving at tables and which requires much practice and dexterity. The steward holds the serving-fork above the serving-spoon both in the hand, and uses the fingers to manipulate the two as a pincer for picking up, holding and transferring the food to the plate, and also all type of plates is also placed on the table in the Silver-service manner; very hygienic but crap when the ship is rolling. The same goes for keeping cutlery and plates from slipping and crashing on the deck (floor), but when been forewarned about rough weather eventuating, flipped-up table-top edges are secured, table underlay table-clothed on tables are wet down and all chairs are hook secured to the deck. I felt crashed and crushed once when I slipped up when pouring wine from the wrong side, yes there are even rules for that. According to a Safmarine Director, who was an extra passenger on that trip, and  had checked out not only my settings, serving but also my pouring of wines, which was the only thing he found a disservice with because of me serving it from the wrong side. I had did it from the left, and at that moment when checking me about it in company, I felt like that ships steersman  who had for a split second forgotten his port-side from his starboard side (port is left and starboard is right) and crashed into seaway standards.

I didn’t go ashore in East London and Port Elizabeth because of having been there and done that and I found it more enjoyable writing to Joan. She was pregnant again, naturally, and because we missed each other terribly and writing was the only means then for us to communicate, we wrote heaps of letters to each other. In letters to her, I wrote about my traveling experiences as visually as possible so that we could experience it together, even about female acquaintances met because of wanting to be as honest as possible in our relationship. What I had also learned while as a Merchant Mariner was that the reason why it was said that ‘a seaman has a woman in every port’ was because of the necessity of it at times. To be in the company of all men for three months or more, confined together in micro spaces and to be subjugated  to all type of egos, which some had as large as elephants,  and characters, which some would be like Walt Disney ones, isn’t really very good for one’s complexion at all, if you get my drift.  The opposite sex was then a great distraction from at times seeming to go either berserk or signing off the ship. Now the thing is that female company to the majority of seaman when in other ports wasn’t for sex but for their company so as to keep their sanity. Yes I know women in general can drive a man crazy at times, but hey, what would we do without them. I have had women friends while at sea and ashore now, which for me works both ways and for Joan, if done with integrity.

But that’s by the by because we hit Durban running, that is my sea mate Bazil and I. We befriended Joseph, who was Zulu, at a busy city street corner while he was selling newspapers in a torrential down pour. He was trying to sell his papers while also trying to keep them dry. It reminded me of my newspaper days; so with both Bazil and I grabbing half of his paper load and running in between the traffic selling them, and with him following suit, got his not so wet papers sold in quick time. While the three of us stood in a shop doorway laughingly drying ourselves with one not so dry newspaper we couldn’t sell, he invited us to his humble abode for a smoke of the good stuff. We were never short of a good smoke on board ship after that and on other ships too, and the Zulu ladies he introduced to the crew to do their laundry while in port, were more than obliging to look after any other needs too. Actually we were on our way to a place called the ‘The Chocolate Box’ by other seaman, which intrigued us to find out why. It turned out to be a brown painted, city council high-rise residential building. Those flat dwellers loved seaman around because of the boisterous booze parties that always seemed to end at dawn. The women folk at those individual flat parties at times consisted of single mothers, married mothers whose husbands were away and divorced women, and they all seemed to have adolescent children, which was another reason it was called ‘The Chocolate Box’ because of the variety, a bit of seaman humour. The crew-members that always hung out there were of the old sea-dogs who were there for the older women, which left the younger ones at a loose end. My other two shipmates Bill and Martin who had arrived earlier though were having a good chat with them, so Bazil and I joined them seeing how we four were the youngest there. But been younger didn’t stop the younger single mothers and young girls from flirting outrageously with us, but with their mothers watching their frivolousness they would be often reprimanded. That didn’t deter them though, and it seemed like an enticement game they were playing amongst themselves. They were also very brazen in their approach because you had to be wary of them when going to the toilet. The toilets in those flats were communal, so if going, they would sneak out while their mothers were occupied elsewhere with one of the older seaman, and follow you in. The cubicle toilets were used by both sexes, and without any embarrassment they would use the one next door to one with the door open. What was also disconcerting was the sighting of the way seated haunch up on the seat, which was at times necessary because of the toilets filthy conditions, but you would also be given a cheeky grin. There also seemed no shame for some of them to flash discreetly when back in the flat sitting down. The mothers as role models were no better, because as neighbours when attending those parties would slip out with a seaman partner to their neighbours flat to have sex, or use the flat owners bedroom if they had young children at their own. Those women and young girls were not prostitutes, what it was due to was their humdrum existence and they took whatever pleasures came along to spice up their lives. Those older seaman always frequented the Chocolate Box when in port because they knew what was available, sexually safe, and they could pick and choose their sex partner without any conditions, a hold on them, and conflict amongst them.

The four of us having enough of that ‘eye opening’ experience rather made for the safer haven of our more sedate friend’s at their clubhouse. They knew that we were coming around because of me phoning Ann from the ship to shore telephone; yes we had all the mod cons of telecommunications and didn’t have to use semaphore flags to send messages. Knowing of the good time had the previous trip with us; they had invited more of their friends around and also laid on a variety of drinks. Been in good spirits, yes that too, got everyone been really sociable to the extent that Ann’s brother suggested that we go the next day and have a braai (barbeque) at a friend of his sugarcane plantation. No sooner said than done because we were picked up from the ship the next day.  What we had told them was that we would supply all of the meat, but what we didn’t tell them was where we would get it from. Ships have the biggest walk-in larders, fridges and freezers I’ve ever seen, and with the help of the chef and aid of the Gangway Master (Able-seaman on gangway watch) we just walked off with the best meat cuts and boerewors (traditional South African sausage).  Now because it was a well-known fact that the best dagga (marijuana) was grown amongst Durban’s sugarcane, didn’t come as a surprise when it was offered to us in emptied out cigarettes refilled with the good stuff,  and  Durbanites it seemed would rather have a smoke than a drink, but when in Rome do as the Romans do.  I was actually surprised to see that the women weren’t lazy in doing the same, even Ann. Now for those that don’t know how a South African braai functions let me lay out the etiquette of it. The braaier (the bloke that barbeques) has the honour of been the only one allowed to do that while the other blokes only partake in fireside conversation and to keep him supplied with beers and themselves too. The meat is very important on these occasions; not like in Oz where just ordinary sausage, chops and steak seems to always be the go here. Boerewors is a must and sausages of different flavours and thickness, lamb and pork chops, only the best steak, marinated chicken, kebabs and even a rack or two of spareribs; making my mouth water already. A braai is also known as ‘dop ‘n chop’ for the reason that ‘dop’ is Afrikaans slang for an alcoholic drink, which goes with the meat, that always also has to flow. As it is strictly a man’s domain, women are allowed to do salads, rolls and other stuff that they are good at doing, and to also keep the kids from out under the men’s feet. I’m going to be shot for that but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Maybe it was the jovial atmosphere combined with drinks and the smoke that got Ann sidling up to me and been affectionate, which she hadn’t done before. Having no such intentions towards her because of seeing her only as a companion when in Durban caused me to shy away from her, but she though must have felt slighted because of approaching me about it. It wasn’t that I hid it from anyone that I was married, but in the short time making the acquaintance of many people then, it had never come up in conversation. It did then when telling her that I was happily married with two children and another one on the way, which just for the moment seemed to throw her. Ann then threw me by putting her arms around me, hugged me, gave me a kiss and then told me that was why she liked me because of my honesty and that she only wanted to be my friend.

Before knowing it we were back in Lourenco Marques again, but this time we didn’t do the jungle thing but the city thing. With its golden coastline, cosmopolitan mix and great food and nightlife, it was like no other African city. It was what it was of a really burgeoning capital; crumpled colonial charm and all. Restaurants, bars and a thriving artistic community made for a lively meeting place in the city’s centre, which was where we made for. Seaman having a habit of bars hopping when it’s in close proximity to each other because in that way they can not only make the acquaintance of many interesting locals, but also see more of the surrounds instead of staying in one location. We worked our way to a very interesting nightclub situated at the railway station barely functional but with stunning early twentieth-century architecture with long platforms and wrought-iron lattice work. It was one of the hippest nightclubs with live music and jazz that we were quite content just to kick back and chill out to, or so we thought. A few of our old-salts who had also wandered in and joined us but finding it boring,  encouraged us to go to a strip club in the red-light district that they had heard about, and haven’t yet been to one we made our way there. Horas in Portuguese are hours, but there it meant whores that were plastered with ‘horas’ signs all over the place. You could do an eni, meni, mini mo there and still find them all pretty similar, so we went into the first one we came across. There sure were plenty of real horas there who if allowed to would grope men’s crotches unashamedly and expectantly join them at the bar, demanding drinks be bought for them. That strip club  had  mirrors plastered on every possible surface, which the locals danced in front of in hypnotic reverie, and it had a full-on naked lap dance strip on the stage, which we thought more than sufficient for been first-timers there. All of that had worked up a growling appetite, so we strolled to the Costa do Sol beaches that stretched for miles along the Indian Ocean coast line with offshore carol reefs that teemed with exotic fish. At the beachfront restaurants and snack bars they served spicy dishes of seafood straight out of the ocean, with the specialty, prawn piripiri; a dish of juicy succulent prawns chilli spiced, which we had by the bucket load.

Beira our next port of call that was also in Mozambique was of real interest to me for the simple reason that I had heard of the Gorongosa Game Reserve there.  Because of the entrance to the harbour been shallow it had to be navigated through a long narrow channel, but once we were alongside and made secure, my first interest when receiving permission from the Chief Steward to go ashore early in the morning was to head straight there. Seeing the great herds of buffaloes, kudus, hippos, elephants and lions that roamed the Beira Wildlife Park, which only had a long fence that separated it from the adjacent Kruger National Park in South Africa, was the highlight of that trip. The night-time’s though was spent gallivanting with those shipmates of mine that knew every nook and cranny in which they could wallow almost like the wildlife in their pleasurable pursuits. Then it was down the coast to load cargo, take in bunkers at Cape Town, be with Joan for only one day in port, damn, and head for England.

Thinking that the voyage there would be uneventful was wishful thinking for the entire ships contingent. In the seaport of Dakar in Senegal (Western Africa) all on the ship almost didn’t continue the voyage through their stupidity. My pantry man, who was a Muslim, fell down the flight of stairs leading from the galley to the saloon when the ship rolled in high seas. He was carrying a large platter of an assortment of sliced meat cuts for the captain, chief officer and chief engineer’s lunch when that occurred, and on hearing the crash of the platter and his screams, my rushing out of the saloon found him at the bottom of the stairs with his body all twisted. He was a young fellow and on his first sea voyage, so all thoughts that he had was to get back home and his request for me to fetch his Koran. We were on our way to England and almost halfway there, so there was no way of turning back for medical treatment that he required and that was not available aboard the ship either. The nearest port of call was Dakar, and after the Sparky (wireless operator) relayed the situation, the captain was advised to lie at anchor within the seaport and not to berth the ship. That caused annoyance to the captain and officers who wanted to be underway as soon as possible because of the delay caused through having to change the ship’s course. What they didn’t seem to realize was that the country was a Socialist Democratic Republic and Muslim, and then again maybe they knew but thought that seeing that the crewman was also a Muslim that they would receive preferential consideration for bringing him there. On the other hand, because of the apartheid policies that affected South African Muslims they didn’t want any South African ship to come alongside in their port. The port authority sent a water police craft alongside the ship to achieve disembarkation of the injured seaman, but because of feeling snubbed and not getting their South African white mentality way, they wouldn’t assist. We as crew-members assisted where we could, but it was very obvious to the Senegalese that the white officers were making it difficult. As the police craft moved away with the injured seaman, other police craft, speed boats and dingy outboard powered boats could be seen speeding and making for the ship with shouting and gesturing Senegalese on board, and with some brandishing weapons. While the ships anchor was frantically hoisted, with the ships officers barking orders that were been very slowly and haphazardly obeyed by the crew, the small craft were circling the ship, and abuse from its occupants were hurled at the officers. Although in French it was to the effect that not much sympathetic consideration was giving to the Muslim seaman for affecting his immediate and expeditious removal off the ship, of which they had been notified by the police craft that took him ashore, and that they were going to blockade the ship. Our anchor had just been weighed when they began throwing grappling hooks aboard, and what got us out of harm’s way there was when the officers assisted by disgruntled crew-members manned the water hoses. The high pressure force of the water hoses were used for washing down the exterior of the ship of the salty seawater that accumulated and caused rust, but it was then used on the small sea craft and Senegalese. That was not the first time that the white South African officers thought they could throw their weight around as in apartheid South Africa.

Due to the detour to Dakar we had to go alongside for bunkers (fuel and water) at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria the co-capital of the Canary Islands of Spain off the northwest coast of Africa. Our first port of call was Glasgow in Scotland. We sailed into the North Channel towards the Firth of Clyde and up the River Clyde to Glasgow in Scotland. The city itself because of its sombre grimy appearance brought to mind that it looked like it required a good scrubbing, but all in all it was a lively and interesting place to wander around in, especially Sauchiehall Street where it was all happening. There were still groups of Teddy Boys with their supposed Edwardian style of dress of the 1950’s; however, pipe stove trousers, picker winkle shoes and dandy waistcoats seemed a bit poofish to us. Maybe that’s why we had many altercations with them that usually eventuated into verbal fights. We also learned the hard way that those of them that wore caps, had razor blades inserted in the peak brims that they used as a cowardly form of attack. Our retaliation because of receiving and having to bear the result wasn’t to their liking when as a form of defense we eventually bore switchblade knives when frequenting their dance halls. We never had to use it though because it was only a matter of producing and flicking it open, which was more effective than their caps, and when learning that South Africans had a thing about knives and were skilled in its use, they gave us a wide berth. The women who frequented those nightspots were friendlier than their counter parts, but we also learned that with them it was wise to inquire were they lived. If it was in the suburbs of terraced homes you were assured of a woman that was safe to be with and a safe passage back to the ship; however, if they lived in the city’s housing estate you took your life in your hands, both ways. It wasn’t also advisable to be in the vicinity of the rival soccer supporters of the Protestant Rangers and Catholic Celtic teams because bloody confrontation and running fights were the order of the day or night when games were in progress.

Then down the coast  of  Wales to sail up a fog swept River Mersey to Liverpool in England, which on that trip gave me no insight of what to expect once docked and ashore. I wouldn’t have also imagined in my wildest dreams that I would wander into a place called ‘The Cavern’ and listen to an unknown group that were eventually known worldwide as ‘The Beatles’ that were belting out their Mersey beat. The pubs and dance halls were also other venues to get the feel of the city from scouse (a native of Liverpool) characters that were always ready to talk. Because of the compactness of the city, transport was never a problem because we found it easy to get around on foot, and when incapable of getting back to the ship due to far much booze, buses that abounded and the suburban tube trains solved that problem. Whenever hearing the tune of ‘Ferry cross the Mersey’ it brings back nostalgic memories of the Pier Head landing stage where embarkation on the Mercy Ferries took you across the River Mercy to towns like Birkenhead for unforgettable nights of seaman’s fun. What I couldn’t believe though was when young boys on the streets would accost you to offer sex with their sisters for a packet of cigarettes. In cafes when having a meal, girls and women would approach to buy them a meal for the price of sex. In pubs, purchasing drinks for them or a couple bottles of plonk (cheap wine) to take to their place of residence would be assured a lay for the night. On buses, the tube, ferries or any mode of crowd transport they would chat you up at the drop of a hat to either invite you around for a cuppa or arrange for you to meet them at functions, which invariable resulted in having sex. The pram brigades as single mothers were known because of them pushing their babies in prams through the dockland areas were just as promiscuous. They wouldn’t bat an eyelid when approached, after negotiating not for money but scarce for them to obtain quantities of ship provisions, so as to sneak behind stacked wharf cargo and out of sight to discreetly have sex with the provider. Others would wear wharfie garb with their hair tucked under caps, sneak on board ship, and wander around the crew’s quarters and have sex with any who wanted to just so that they could stay, sleep and be fed for the ships duration in port. Many of them were promiscuous for a very good reason. England was a sea faring nation, so it wasn’t that their women weren’t acquainted with seamen who traveled the world as we did. What it was due to was that many of their men had been killed in action during World War 2 and on the home front as the still bombed out building sites attested to. And that meant that there were very much more women than men or the ones that were unattached were gay, which there were many of them. The young women who frequented the Flying Angel, a haven for seaman while in port, where there for companionship and entertainment, and the chaplain was there for succour for us. Under the watchful eyes of the chaplain they would be on their best behaviour as we moved on the floor to bodies out of reach type of dancing, and because of knowing the drill we played the real gentlemen. What occurred after when asked to see the young ladies home was another matter, and the way they sorted that out at the end of the evening was to ask that seaman for the last dance. At times there were up to twenty seamen from other ships there and only five of them. I, fortunately, always got asked, and my shipmates who missed out always wanted all the details on my return back to the ship, which wasn’t to their liking. They knew of the liking women had for me, and that was one of the reasons they vied to go ashore with me in case they got lucky, which they thought I always did. They also had the notion that my appearance was the attraction; I though thought my socialization skills the more appropriate, although people did comment on the distinctive look of my slightly greying temples, which was a family trait, my inherited olive skin and my muscular build. Good-looking to me never came in the equation but a passion for life did though, for to grasp life with both hands and to live the moment was always my philosophy.

There wasn’t much Welsh spoken in Swansea that was to be our last port of call before sailing back to Cape Town.  But there was the character and vigorous toughness of the coal miners met there with their tenacity that would have been due to their backbreaking audacious task of mining. Although finding Wales a grim grey country with its mining and quarries, it did make up for it with its superb coastal scenery when seen from aboard the ship in sailing in. Also, its magnificent medieval castles although in various states of ruination and a mile of pubs right along the harbour at Swansea that we seaman found to be the best pub-crawl in the whole of Britain. What was also found was that some of the women who frequented those pubs had the tendency in wanting to keep to one partner while in port. Seaman on the whole or the ones sailed with and were my shipmates were very particular who they chatted up, especially when berthed most times for up to a week in port. Because they were that selective, it always made it a safe bet that the women would be safe too, particularly if they took a fancy to a crewman and spent the duration of the stay in port aboard the ship in his cabin. It wasn’t allowed; however, because the gangway watchman was always one of the deck crew that did the same, and with the pubs in close proximity to the ship, it was a simple matter to go back to the ship and bring back ashore a change of seaman’s clothing for them to slip on as a disguise to fool the officer on watch who was most times in his cabin. With the crew’s quarters back aft away from the officers that were amidships, those women wouldn’t only indulge their sexual needs but also their human needs like their washing, ironing, and clothing running repairs and cleaning of the cabin. Cooks were the earliest rises in the morning of the crew for the daily baking, making of breakfast and the preparation of lunch and dinner for officers, crew and passengers at times, so their late night cajoling was limited when going ashore. Because of that, feeding those women was no problem because they also saw to their human needs in reciprocation for meals received. When partying in our cabins, which was most nights after going ashore and coming back, they were then entertained if not having women of their own to be in their company and to dance with them. There were also those of the crew though who either brought women not of that calibre aboard and who would wander around from cabin to cabin trying to sell their wares to ever who was so inclined. Or whom they couldn’t smuggle aboard and had sex with them in the many still standing though devastated oil refineries and numerous factories, which had been judged a worthy target by the Luftwaffe in the centre of Swansea during WW2, and came back aboard alone. They too would join in our partying that then extended out of the cabins and into the alleyways. That trip to me was a real education of how the other half of the world lived. However, having been fully cargo loaded we were then sailing back to Cape Town.

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S S South African Merchant. Aft (back) crews quarters. Poop Deck – Top of quarters. Amidships – Samson Post (vertical post), Rigging’s (boom-masts, ropes). Midships – Deck House. Deck – Officers Quarters and Mess room (eating saloon) starboard and port-side. Companion way (stairway to passenger deck). Passengers Quarters and Saloon. Boat Deck – Lifeboats. Pilot House – Steering and Navigation and Captains Quarters. Forehead – Storage and anchors.

28. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World. (Part 1)

At 25 years-of-age the whole spectacle of Nelson Mandela’s treason trial hit the airwaves and newspapers in South Africa from 1956 – 1960. However, my life was not a spectacle then but had become spectacular. I was the father of two children, and those different destinations around the world that I wanted to sail to on ocean-going ships when sighting them from the top of Table Mountain as a fantasy, became a reality. South African Marine Corporation ran a fleet of cargo-passengers ships out of Cape Town, and I was given the opportunity to be signed up on their flagship SS South African Merchant on its maiden voyage up the East African coast in 1958. Working with my father at Emdon’s Catering Services was what aided me with the chance meeting of an old acquaintance who was in the merchant navy. On informing me that there was a catering vacancy on a ship due into port, I saw an opportunity to try and apply for it, but further information that the qualifications required applied mostly to shipping of which I had none except for fishing trawlers, and that a reference was applicable, caused me to be a bit dubious. Knowing though what my father had taught me and his advice of stealing with the eyes when something unknown was observed made me determined to try, but because of not having a reference of any sort except my trade certificates, I forged one. Writing a glowing reference with the extra made up sea-going required qualifications was easy, but adding authenticity was a complete different matter because a business address stamp was required. To overcome that I bought a blank oval rubber stamp, rubber alphabet letters and rubber glue, and with a little bit of ingenuity and patience, I made up a business stamp that impressed an official looking imprint. Applying for the position was done direct at the docking berth on the quay, and although the chief steward, who was also the catering employment officer and purser, was surrounded by eager applicants waving paper work, I had no qualms about not being the one to be employed for that one vacancy, especially as having a backup by having gone to early morning mass to pray for assistance. I just knew then that as usual that whatever my mind told me to do and I followed it with a positive thought out input that I would succeed. It was just a matter of jumping and stretching my arm the highest to be noticed by the chief steward even though I was on the outer circle, my forged reference was taken over the heads of the others, read, and I got the position. See, the Lord does work in mysterious ways, and like I’ve always believed, ‘God only helps those who help themselves.’

Who was also a great help was the Saloon Steward who took the time to show me the ropes in the Pantry. The Pantry was situated beside the Main Saloon one flight down of stairs to the Galley (kitchen). My main duties there consisted of getting all of the meal requirements for breakfast, lunch and dinner direct from the Galley to the Pantry. There I would keep it warm enough in oven, bain marie and on stove hotplates, and all hot food plates to be used were also kept warm in ovens so that the food would stay at the same temperature when dished up by the Saloon Steward directly in the Main Saloon. After all meals, edible leftovers on platters and in dishes were returned to the Galley, of which which if it could be used, was recycled made up in salads by the Saloon Steward, and other titbits would be kept and set out for crewman that would be on night watch duty. Then I was shown how to dive, no not into the ocean but into double sinks to wash-up in and then into steam operated dish ovens for further hygienic cleansing and drying in. I didn’t also have to wonder why all the silver teapots, coffeepots and milk jugs, which dangled on hooks from the bulkhead (ceiling) above my head, and silver cutlery and all other saloon silver  paraphernalia were that sparkling clean and shiny because I was shown how. There was this rather large pot where when water and washing soda was simmering in it, a rolled up ball of silver foil was placed in it followed by the dipping in of any silver articles, and then rinsed in warm water and dried, voila! And I still use that nifty trick on our silver at home. The term ‘swabbing the decks’ when informed was also part of my duties wasn’t what I thought would only be mopping the pantry and keeping it in shipshape condition, it also consisted of scrubbing and mopping the alleyways (passages) that ran from the Pantry, past the Main Saloon and Passenger Lounge, and down the stairs. Those stairs for any Pantry-man could be at times the bane of his life. Picture this if ever been on a roller-coaster but standing up with platters of food in your hands as it goes up and down.  Now imagine the same thing but going from the Galley up stairs with platters or food dishes in your hands while the ship goes up on a giant wave and crashes down on the other side and then rolls from side to side just for the hell of it, it seems. Now any seaman worth his salt would be then have found his sea legs, except me even though having sailed on trawlers within and outside harbours. This though was my first experience of where the Cape Agulhas and Benguela currents meet off the Cape to cause turbulent seas of rock and roll. Now this is the procedure learned through trial and error and followed by all Pantry-man. After making it from the Galley by rolling with the ships movements to the bottom of the stairs, one waited for the movement of the ship to roll towards you, and then with great dexterity and going forward as the ship rolled the other way would find yourself going up the stairs safely and into the Pantry, and the reverse worked for going down too.

Now before narrating my seafaring adventures, explanations have to be forthcoming to how I’m able to accomplish writing my blogs after such a long period of time, as asked by so many. Well for one I’m fortunate to have a good memory and second I’m blessed too with a photographic one. When wanting to put pen to paper, I visualize my intention and scribble notes and drawings on a notepad right beside my computer that I then rewrite type via the computer. I also do the same for articles to magazines and newspapers and my poetry that I subscribe to. What a lifesaver and time-saver the computer is in my ‘older age’. So take this roller-coaster ride with me on my escapades that circumvented the world. In my capacity as a merchant seaman in the seven years that followed, saw me back to my adventures life of traveling. I was also reliving and seeing the changes that had occurred in the various provinces of South Africa in comparison to my former year’s excursions, wherever there was a seaport in those provinces. During those years my work entailed duties such as Pantry-man, Saloon Steward, Passenger Steward, Cook, Deck-hand, and best of all Captains’ Tiger. As a captain’s personal attendant it meant that one had to be on call twenty-four hours a day whether for his personal needs or for sustenance required by captain and ship’s pilot on sea, rivers or land locks. With the galley closed during after dinner right through to before breakfast the next morning, all meal requirements was prepared and cooked by me. A direct line that was connected from the bridge to my cabin was for those functional services. That would also eventuate with storms at sea, hurricanes, and a tornado that once occurred when the ship had to be moored and chained to a wharf until it blew itself out. I also had to be on standby in port to receive and attend to custom officers and company officials who came to confer with the captain or purser. The best part of the job was when the captain left the ship for the day or at times for days when we were laid up in port, for it gave me the extra time to explore and experience different life styles around the world. The other Petty Officers were the Bosun in charge of Able Seaman and deckhands, and the Donkey-man in charge of Engine-room hands. I sailed and served on six merchant ships that at different times took in the United States of America, South America, Mexico, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, Europe, the Caribbean, Cuba and Africa. A number of those ships had run aground, listed into port, and had engine failure on high seas, storms at sea, shifting cargo, collisions, attacked in the seaport of Dakar in Senegal because of South Africa’s apartheid policies and embargoed in Cuba for the same reason.

The Suez Canal during that time was closed to shipping because of the trouble in the Far East, and that made Cape Town Harbour a bustling ‘wait in line for a berth and get them out as quick as possible’ port. That never suited us Cape Town crewman because we spent weeks in other African ports, and at times we bypassed Cape Town on our way outward bound. The only compensation for that was the acquiring of ‘red poison’, which was the best marijuana found worldwide from African ports, which had a pocket money market overseas for some of the crew. In Durban where the most potent was grown amongst the sugar cane, which the locals freely smoked disguised as packet filtered cigarettes, induced euphoria and a sensation of weightlessness. All ships from South Africa on their first port of call anywhere in the world were meticulously searched first by custom officers who scoured from forward to aft of the ship with torch, angled mirrors and tapping devices, and then only the compulsory short arm inspection from ashore medical officers. We crewman were receiving minimum wages, and to supplement that for going ashore spending money, small quantities of dagga (marijuana) to sell became the answer. Hiding places were ingenious, who would think of looking in doctored hollowed out loaves of bread in the ships cold storage, the hollow bottoms of detachable coffee urns, toe end of work boots, resealed paint containers, any inconspicuous place, and not once did they find anything. When given the all clear by custom officers it was a simple matter of regaining your stash and going ashore at night to the dockyard bars where regular buyers who knew all South African shipping movements would be waiting. They never quibbled about price but always wanted more, we on the other hand never over did it because what they saw was what they got. The short arm inspection that was a precautionary measure given to all seamen was to see if they were infected with a venereal disease that wouldn’t be taken ashore to infect other women in that country. When an all clear was given after the penis was unsheathed and examined by the medical officers, a countries shore leave pass was issued as was also condoms to all seaman, just in case. We though would always jokingly make the comment that because they didn’t find any dagga on board the ship they thought they might find it hidden in the foreskin.

My first trip up the east coast of South Africa to Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, was a real eye opener of what to expect on further trips there. East London considered a sleepy hollow, woke up when our ship arrived in port, and there were women waiting on the quay when we docked. Thinking that they were the wives and girlfriends of the crew wasn’t, because the majority of them were there because of knowing that a good time could be had with the rest of the crew. Their homes were thrown open to cater for all the whims and pleasures of those horny sea dogs. Been encouraged by them to tag along as a first timer got me to know why they were welcomed with open arms and at times open something else. The seaman would supply all the food and booze for all night partying that saw us only going back to the ship at the crack of dawn. Port Elizabeth our next port of call, called p. e. by South Africans was named ‘Pussy Empire’ by those older salts, and the extensive groups of sexually frustrated females seemed too concurred with that. They used every seductive trick in the book as allurement and stuck like leeches to the seaman that succumbed to their wiliness. Some would even allow to be sneaked on board ship at night, and to stay for the duration of the ship’s stay in port and have sex with any crew-member who so desired. It seemed that the whole spectrum of that type of womanhood along the coast wanted a piece of the action.  Our next port of call was Durban, but before reaching there I made the acquaintance of two ship mates, Bill an able seaman and Martin a cook. We were cut from the same jib cloth, hit it off from the onset and became inseparable. Bill and Martin had shipped out together before, and on our first night there they invited me to a club they frequented while in port. It was where a group of young people gathered at weekends for social evenings in a large room they hired in a city building. Music, dancing, games and chatting whiled away a pleasant but sober evening in comparison the two last ports of call. Though of two minds to attend the following evening because of been asked by the older seaman to party with them, their persuasion of it going to be somebodies surprise birthday party there and a bit of booze up convinced me to go. We took our own booze to be on the safe side, which enhanced the party and participants entertainment, and there were nice sociable people that attended. Chubby Checker’s record ‘Let’s twist again’ had just hit the music market and they were unsuccessfully trying to do the twist with the music played. My shipmates on revealing that my dancing of the steps on board ship were identical to Chubby Checker, which the playing of musical instruments, singing and dancing we did for our own entertainment, got me pretty exhausted for having to demonstrate and dance with about every women. What also didn’t help was the subtropical climate, and even after removing my jacket the perspiration stilled poured off me. That’s when Ann came to my aid with serviettes, a cool drink and company. We had never met before, but her hand of friendship and consideration was enchanting and refreshing. The noisy exuberance of the party had quite down somewhat after all the twisting, and someone had put on a slow dance number called ‘You’re my everything’ to which she extended her hand to me for a dance. That begun a good friendly relationship that continued on other trips. She knew that I was married, and because we enjoyed each other’s company we attended functions together, even to the extent of having meals at her parent’s home.

By then I was thinking that sea life was a bit of all right where partying was concerned until sailing to our next port of call of Lourenco Marques (Now Maputo) in Mozambique. I had also made the acquaintance of another shipmate by then; Bazil (Junior) who was the ship’s chippy (ship’s carpenter), and he had invited me to go ashore with him and other crew to have a bit of fun as they called it. After making our way through jungle with haversacks of booze and foodstuff we arrived at huts in a clearing where those seafarers were welcomed with open arms. After the ‘natives’ traditional eating and the drinking of snake juice; a most potent burning down to the intestine feeling liquid that caused your rectum to tighten up, the native women and men oiled themselves and danced to their music within the firelight. Their musical instruments were self-made, with the drums made out of hollowed out tree trunks overstretched with animal skins, and wind instruments were made from animal horns. The men were then in hot pursuit as they tried hard to grasp the women’s slippery oily bodies. Those who succeeded, eventually, for they kept on oiling, carried them off into the huts amidst much squealing and laughter. What I found very interesting, particularly on the African coast, was that my ancestry countrymen the Portuguese had sailed to, explored, done battle and taken control of many east African countries in their voyages of discovery. That was also why Tsango and Portuguese were the main languages spoken in the south of Mozambique. On our way back out of the jungle and in passing the luxurious Polana Hotel, we afforded ourselves the luxury there by having a dip in its vast outdoor swimming pool in the dark before continuing our journey to the ship.

From there it was all the way down the coast to the same ports to load cargo for the Caribbean and the USA. The Caribbean where bum-boats did a roaring trade in those islands while ships in seaways waited for a berth, saw the islanders paddle out in their canoes, which was usually a canoe hollowed from a large tree trunk, and when coming alongside the ship they would trade rum, coconuts, bananas, cigars and women for cartons of cigarettes or any brass objects that wasn’t bolted down to the ship. The trading was done in baskets tied to rope ends thrown overboard; with the women it was a different matter though. The crew, aft of the ship and out of sight of the officers, would let down the Jacob’s ladder over the stern to get the women aboard. One woman lost her grip while climbing up the rope ladder, fell into the water, bobbed up, climbed drenched up the ladder again, came on deck, removed and wrung out her sarong, and then smilingly scampered naked below deck. Approaching the Caribbean was always a time of excitement for all on board even if having been there before, for not only of the known ever-present liveliness of the West Indians themselves but also when sighting on the horizon one of the islands coming into view. Even when readying the ship to lay at anchor or to come alongside, all eyes would still take in the splendor of the green mountains that towered above the ship and jungle slopped towards the waves that gently lapped the white shores with lines of waterfront homes set amongst the palm trees. When ashore there was always some sort of festival happening that without fail we would attend and participate in, and it didn’t matter if it poured down with a passing tropical shower and you got drenched, for the sun would dry you out just as quickly. What wouldn’t dry out quickly though if consuming to much of their national drink of rum was yourself, due to feeling quite parched the next day; nonetheless, it also gave you heaps of vigour as it did them when dancing. Most times that would occur when we would frequent the beach bars. When after a session of drinking we would pick up the many musical instruments scattered around and play our African music, and the locals when hearing our African beat would spontaneously party because that’s where their music derived from. We were able to make many friends that way in the Caribbean because of them joining in with their unusual drums made of half cut steel drums, and we were soon educated in the playing of them too.

Jamaica still in the Caribbean Sea had more of a leaning towards Africa than the other islands with their ganja (marijuana) like in South Africa, reggae with an African beat, and with theirs as rum ours was brandy. Our loading of bauxite, which was a long process, gave us time enough to explore, take in the sights and enjoy the Jamaican delights. Jamaicans met were part of that delight because of their happy-go-lucky, courteous and helpful attitude. With them we made friends easily, and it was partly due to our also lay-back happy disposition that saw us almost accepted as one of them when receiving a ‘Wa’up blood’ (What’s up blood) as a respectful greeting to indicated we were also from Africa, or ‘Respectas a farewell or greeting. What I found unusual was that the Rastafarian’s with their just starting natty (dreadlocks) of uncut uncombed hair grown into long sun bleached tangles, reminded me of African tribes who wore their hair in plastered ochre ringlets, and the memory of it and the relating the similarity to them caused an inundation of queries. What was weird too was that saw the smoking of ganja as a source of wisdom the same as the Cape Town skollies did their dagga too, but the difference was that they smoked it in the form of a zol (cigar size), whereas the Rasta’s burned (smoked) theirs the size of bazookas, and maybe that’s what gave them their blissful nirvana.

Kingston the capital of Jamaica was mind boggling due to the living conditions that had high-rises and hovels side by side, and those living in the tenements and ghettos dominated the nightlife. It did though make for a vibrant and more exciting relief from the other islands with its street vendors stalls, the blasting of reggae music from stores and the forever milling throngs that saturated the city. Those same populous ranks swelled at the carnival there when they took to the streets in droves as costumed revelers, which brought us right into our element when also participating. Reggae, calypso and soca was what set the atmosphere for outrageous dancing, but what really got me and my shipmates going was the dance style called dry shagging, and if I wasn’t dancing it myself, which made me as horny as hell, it would have seem that the agony (a having sex style of dancing) was as if the dancers were having work (sex) fully clothed. Their language too was as colourful as they were, and it wasn’t through only hearing it but actually being in their company when it was indicated verbalized for it to be understood. Their women’s erotic sensuous dancing made me think of my Langa African girlfriends, who would dance similarly, particularly at their beach parties as their perspiration glistening bodies writhed and gyrated in dance in the fire light to the music of Jamaican kettle drums. The intensity of the pulsating rhythm, the washing of the waves on the beach, the flickering fires illumination, the rum’s intoxication plus the dusky bare legs, midriff and shoulders as their suggestive bodies swayed was too much to bear, so we joined the dancing. We weren’t dancing in couples but went with the flow, and the girl dancing opposite me danced as if she was alone. With closed eyes and swaying body she slide her hands over her full firm breasts, down her taut stomach to her hips and thighs, rubbed her hands up and down them so that her short colourful skirt rose and fell to the steady rhythm. Calling on my dancing skills I shook my booty too that caught her attention, and mimicking my steps she danced closer. She improved on my dancing by bending her body backwards, gyrated her pelvis, lifted her skirt to flick it from side to side and moved her leg in between mine. Putting my hands on her waist and drawing her closer we wined (a sensuous groin-to-groin dance) in a controlled and steady rhythm to the rise and fall of the throb of the music until its acceleration caused ours to become frenzied too. Having abstained from sexual relations for wanting to be faithful was becoming difficult, but there were restraints there though. I didn’t know whose gyal (woman) she was, if she was a matey (girlfriend of several sexual partners) or a sketel (a beautiful promiscuous woman with many boyfriends), and there were large and fearsome looking Jamaican men watching, again something similar to what I had thought about the Langa African men when mucking around with my Langa girlfriend.

Our next port of call was Mobile in Alabama on the Mobile River that was in the Gulf of Mexico, but because of their racial problems and segregation laws it left a bad after taste. We had apartheid in South Africa, but I though had not experienced seeing blacks served last in stores although they were there ahead of whites, serving hatches at the back of food shops for blacks only, and they had to walk on the end of the kerb, street gutter or road side because the whites had priority of the street pavements. While in Alabama, Martin Luther King (African American) was arrested for loitering there by white police. We almost too got arrested for sitting in the back of a bus in Alabama just because of when taking it downtown the driver conductor insisted that we sit in front where it had a sign stating whites. We had politely told him to nick off and that’s exactly where he intended us to be because he stopped the bus at a police station. We had to produce our American shore leave passes and convincingly try to re-explain the reason why we hadn’t sat in the front of the bus when so requested. Our second tongue in cheek explanation was that we always sat at the back in buses and thought the white sign was for the locals because our first story didn’t go down well with the redneck cops. Our telling them at first that in South Africa white meant lily white and that our complexion was olive seemed to have irritated them, so we lied instead. So much for our protest, but it worked for white Americans and Australians though when they visited South Africa in the early stages of apartheid. European Only and Non-European Only signs were everywhere, with European meaning white and Non-European meaning any other colour. In silent and effective protest the overseas visitors made use of Non-European facilities in argument that they weren’t from Europe. That really gave the irrational South African National Party the shits, and the signs were soon changed to White Only and Non-White Only, and that kept many ignorant white South Africans out of the sun.

From there when sailing from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean via Florida, we experienced shades of the Bermuda Triangle. We were traveling at full speed following a set course when the ships steering for no apparent reason malfunctioned. We weren’t far offshore when the rudder swung starboard and veered the ship to port-side, shore side. Nothing could budge it, and even when the engine room was singled to stop, the propellers wouldn’t kick astern. The speed momentum carried the ship nearer towards the beach and we could see the bathers waving at us. The anchors when dropped seemed that it would never reach the bottom as the anchor chains just kept on clanking like forever, but it bit and held. What also held the whole ship’s attention when passing Miami in 1962 was observing the fiery Mercury capsule ‘Friendship’ lift off from Cape Canaveral, and on board it John Glenn who became the first astronaut to orbit the earth three times. When whatever repairs were eventually satisfactory completed we made for Charleston in South Carolina. When entering the harbour there were sea-islands that were navigated by the ships pilot that had narrow channels between sandbanks that had standards implanted on the sandbanks to carry electric wiring. Our steersman for a split second forgot his port-side from his starboard side and the ship’s bow not only clipped and pushed over some of the standards but also got stuck on the sandbank. After many attempts of kicking astern we continued our journey and the captain received a bill for replacement standards.  Our next stop over was Norfolk in Virginia with naval installations that would only be believed if seen. Rows upon rows of battle ships, destroyers, light and heavy cruisers, and light fleet and aircraft carriers all berthed like tightly packed sardines, and it made you wonder who America was prepared for war with.

Then New York City that I was dying to see for real after hearing so much about it. After sailing past Dirty Gerty, the name seaman called the Statue of Liberty because of its grimy appearance, we berthed at Pier 10 in New York City on the Hudson River in the State of New York that comprised of the five boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, which I was able to visit and explore due to the many trips to that state. The Bronx where the home venue of the Yankees; the Yankee Stadium of baseball fame ruled supreme, and so did the vibrant ethnic community of a Little Italy with its home style southern Italian cooking. Brooklyn with its Brooklyn Bridge that spanned the East River between there and Manhattan was one of the most exhilarating experiences when strolling across it at sunset, and the other was the vast amusement park at Coney Island. Manhattan from Times Square spread out to take in the United Nations Building, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Centre, Carnegie Hall, Empire State Building, Union Square, Herald Square, Washington Square, Greenwich Village, China Town, Little Italy, World Trade Centre, Wall Street, Central Park and Harlem. Queens with its National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows and Staten Island that when taking the thirty minute ferry ride from Manhattan’s Battery Park to there, was both breathe taking in its excitement and atmosphere, especially when I took in both and viewed New York’s magnificent skyline when cruising past the Statue of Liberty, which was an experience in itself when gazing from the top out over the city and its surrounds on another trip. And then there was Broadway that in my wildest dreams I would have never thought that I would be seeing a live show there. Many movies viewed too was seen before distributed to the rest of the world, and when back in South Africa and it was shown there for the first time I was envied because of saying that I had seen it already in New York. Carnegie Hall was also a cheap way to absorb New York’s musical culture of opera and ballet productions because of the low prices charged, and concerts were usually frequent and free. Both day and night life were no different where bars were concerned because at both times there was a happening if I was either in a Harlem jazz club, at a live drag show, a smoky Brooklyn joint or at a Greenwich dive. When mentioning the Catskills, which was in New York State, where the famed Woodstock rock festival took place and people don’t relate to it, I know that they were not of my era of hippies, flower power, psychedelic drugs and free love, or that they had not been into it to have that experience. Another experience in that same state that was not only one of the seven wonders of the world but also awesome in its spectacular beauty of never ending cascading sparkling water and rainbow featured mist was Niagara Falls, which caused me to compare it with the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in Africa. When berthed in Brooklyn I would either walk across the Brooklyn Bridge that spanned the East River to China Town in Lower Manhattan, and then make my way into the city, or take the subway from Flatbush to the city, which with that one subway token you could travel to all of the boroughs. And when berthed in Hoboken that was across the Hudson River in New Jersey, I would either travel through the Holland Tunnel that went under the Hudson River, which came out in Tribeca (triangle below Canal Street) and Soho in Lower Manhattan, or the Lincoln Tunnel that came out at Hell’s Kitchen and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which was one street away from Times Square and Broadway.

Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square on that trip was the most awesome, emotional and exhilarating New Year I had ever experienced. We took a cab up Broadway to Times Square for the countdown, and other traffic and pedestrians came each way along 45th Street; Seventh Avenue and Broadway to converge at Times Square. With vehicle radios blaring, horns honking and beeping, motors revving and people cheering, the motorcade crawled towards Times Square and the New Year. At 11.30 all traffic stopped, and sheer luck or perfect timing brought us three minutes away from Times Square, and like everybody else we left the cab where it was. With our champagne, bourbon, noisemakers and streamers we surged towards Times Square. With glasses at the ready and champagne corks ready to pop, talking, laughter and shouting hushed as the countdown began. I knew there would be cheering, shouting and wishing, what I didn’t expect to hear was what sounded like London’s Big Ben striking the hour, which I had experienced New Year’s Eve in London on a trip there, the peal of church bells, the haunting fog horn sounds of ships in the surrounding harbours, toots and hoots from pleasure craft and boats on the river, car horn sounds mixed up with the noisemakers, whistles, bells and gongs. The popping of champagne corks, streamers, confetti, balloons, handshakes and kissing went on everywhere as fireworks filled the sky. People poured out of restaurants, hotels and theaters in finery and costume to mingle, wish and join arms to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ accompanied by a Scottish regimental band. That was followed by an impromptu rendering of ‘We’re here because we’re here’ by a lone saxophonist. Other street musicians and accompanists who had emerged from entertainment venues also joined in, and it became a combined orchestra for a throng of revelers. Group parties occurred started through different groups of musicians. Jamaicans with steel drums, Germans with accordions, Africans with drums, Mexicans with guitars and trumpets, South Americans with percussion instruments, and all of them in traditional costumes. All good things came to an end and it was effectively done by the use of police, ambulance and fire brigade vehicles with wailing sirens and flashing lights clearing the streets of people and traffic congestion. It was also in the ‘Big Apple’ as New Yorker’s called their city, on another trip there, that I saw Bill Haley and the Comets in concert doing ‘Rock around the clock’ and others, and Elvis Presley perform live on stage doing his numbers of ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Love me tender’ and also others numbers. Then it was back down the coast after loading cargo in New York and twelve passengers, and more cargo in the other ports before sailing back to Cape Town via the Virgin Islands for bunkers (fuel and water).

Joan and I during that trip had been corresponding like crazy to each other. The thing that I soon learned when sailing to any part of the world was to send her forwarding addresses to destinations that the ship would dock in and that had a Safmarine office there, and if the letter arrived after the ship had sailed, they would forward it on to the next port of call that had an office there. Pretty clever and efficient, hey! Then I too had a woman waiting on the key when the ship pulled alongside in Cape Town Docks. A smile, wave and blown kiss was all we could do because I had my ship duties to perform as promoted Saloon Steward and I had to feed the passengers as it was lunch time. When in one’s home port, shore leave was given until the morning of the ships sailing, which unfortunately that time was for only two days. Be that as it may, Joan and I not only made hay while the sun shone but also whoopee.

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Pier 10, New York City, USA.

27. My Better-half.

The first two years of our married life was sheer bliss. Two months after our marriage Joan became pregnant, which was no surprise, and she had the foresight  to find a rented room in Parow, which was near where I worked, so that I could be close by in case anything occurred with her seeing how it was her first. Christopher though was born at her sister’s home in July the following year because she wanted her to be there. Then because Joan thought it more convenient to be near her sister so that she could advise her about babying, she found a rented room in Hazendale down the road from her sister. Then we ‘played’ some more and Regina was conceived. During that time, my parents from living that close to Saint Mary of the Angels church, being pillars of the church, their good works there and reputation all those years, then moved into another house that became a very unusual living environment. My dad whose good friend was Father Terence, parish priest of that parish, and whose well-off Irish parents had purchased property for him to do with what he pleased, saw him nominate my parents as care-takers there while he sorted out what he was going to do with it. Of course having taken the vow of poverty he couldn’t have any financial gain off it, so he signed it over to the Cape Town Catholic Archdiocese. The property was on Klipfontuin Road in Belgravia Estate, which consisted of a house and a disused factory, and the house and factory were to be renovated and refurbished, which was a slow process, with the house as a rectory and the factory renovated as a chapel come special school that was called Regina Coeli. The length of the factory extended in between two streets, with two front offices, a canteen and kitchen at the back, storerooms and changing rooms with showers and toilets, and extra toilets backing off the factory. Now here’s one for the books, our third child Neil attended that Regina Coeli special school due to him having had meningitis as a baby that affected his learning ability.

With Joan been pregnant and with my parents wanting to help out, we moved in with them. Yes, wonders shall never cease but Chris was my parent’s first grandchild and we know what effect that can have all-round with families. We had moved out of the acquired house that was being renovated for a rectory by then into the disused factory next door with my parents still as care takers. The front offices became bedrooms as did the storerooms and changing rooms, and with two showers, two indoor toilets and six outdoor toilets, our family of ten never had the problem of having to wait for a vacant one. The canteen and kitchen at the back because of its largeness became the family and friends hang out. The dining, rumpus, entertainment, table tennis, indoor soccer and cricket, and bicycle racing-track were the spacious factory proper. That unusual weird place of residence gave us an enormous amount of pleasure and enjoyment. Music, singing and shouting to draw each other’s attention as loud as you wanted to without having to consider neighbours for noise levels. A high wooden truss ceiling where thrown hand folded paper planes got lost in its rafters, or birds that flew in and out the large factory door to make their nests up there. Windows that high up that you couldn’t be given the job of cleaning them and with a long twig could draw designs on the dusty panes. Gusty south easterly winds, pelting rain and the hot scorching sun never deterred us from playing outdoor games in those conditions, and why would we when we could play them indoors, even to flying a kite, and our parents never had the problem of telling us to go play outside. Having a party there was a problem though because it looked like nobody had turned up. Now I don’t think anyone else would know the beginnings history of Regina Coeli as I’ve related it, and it would be surprising to most.

What we didn’t expect to turn up at the factory though just added to its weirdness. My father had a group of men friends that hung out together at one anothers homes, the pub or at church functions. Their camaraderie was well known, and they would help each other domestically and financially. There was my dad with his congeniality and jocularity, and his thing was to imitate a bass player and the sound by spit wetting his thumb so as to jab it continuously in a fast downward motion against a wooden door. My uncle John was the business type who was always looking for ways to make a quid (dollar). He was a spendthrift, generous and to kind-hearted, which left him at most times short of that. His ability to play musical instruments was renowned though, and with mouth organ, piano accordion or guitar that he always lugged around in his car, brightened up our lives tremendously. Mister Kolbe (Vincent Kolbe’s uncle) was the serious type, who always seemed to wear a tie no matter what, and that attitude always resulted in a heated debate; he though was pretty good at playing the spoons. Mister Griffith had a happy go lucky attitude and nothing seemed to bother him except where his love life was concerned and the playing of the bongos. Mister De Jongker was a reputable schoolteacher whose aloof airs belied his charming, polite and considerate manners, which impressed my sisters, and he fancied himself a singer. Then there was Mister Battle or ‘Platsie’ as known by everybody. He commanded attention, and his bearing, dress and clandestine company he associated with bore that out, he again sure could strum a banjo. Jam sessions were usually at his or our place, a few of which I attended and participated in the singing, and by pooling monies for drinks and snacks for the night they would play for their own amusement and entertainment.

Coming home to the factory by bicycle one late Friday night after finishing a shift at the Athlone Hotel, I saw when approaching the large factory doors, a person in a long fawn trench coat standing there. The only person known who wore a coat like that was Platsie who dressed in that manner as his trademark. Seeing that it was, my asking if he was coming or going only got me a glare, which was his usual manner of not answering small questions, however, seeing that he was blocking my way I proceeded to inquire if he had brought my dad home. It was the forlorn look on his face and the shaking of his head that first alarmed me, so dropping my bike and pushing past him that burst the doors wide open it wakened my family. On calling apprehensively and anxiously for my father, my mother assured me that he hadn’t come home from the jam session at Platsie’s home yet, but with me insisting that something was wrong because Platsie was standing outside looking dejected, we both went looking for him but he had gone. My mother then became worried and concerned, and just as I was going to bike it down to his place my father appeared at the door much to our relief. He didn’t portray that though, for he was ashen faced and terrible upset. On telling him that Platsie had just been around to see him but had left, I thought he was going to tear my head off. My poor mum had to jump in between us and pacify him, and we kids who had never seen him behave that way were scared shitless. After telling him what had occurred, he sat the whole wide awake family down to relate the night’s happenings and to explain his distraught outburst.

Platsie was involved in private investigation and because of that conferred and associated with the police, detectives and with the criminal element as well. The trench coat he wore was his way of emphasizing his position, but there was one exception to the movies private detectives he loved to portray, and that was because he was a non-white it was illegal to own a firearm, he though through connections kept one secretly to boost his ego. During a break in their drinking and jamming that night, the conversation and discussion had been on Russian roulette, and Platsie had made the comment that it was no big deal because his associates and he had tried it before. His bravado attitude brought forth the unloaded revolver for a demonstration of how it was done. They all had a go, and when it clicked on an empty chamber they acted as if shot in the head. He though under heavy protest produced a bullet, inserted it into one of the chambers in the revolver, spun the cylinder and placed the gun barrel to his temple. He brushed them off disdainfully when they attempted to disarm him, pulled the trigger and died in my father’s arms. We then realized that the feeling of apprehension that I had felt when confronting him at the factory doors had everything to do with him and not my dad, and it derived from the fact of the time of Platsie being at the factory door that coincided with the time that he had died in my father’s arms. My father then brought to my attention the deceased Mrs Schroeder incident we both experienced when living in Capuchin Street, and informed me that like him I was able to see apparitions of deceased people.

Needing respite from my family, Joan through her sister found us a rented room in Lincoln Estate with a friend of the van der Byl’s called ‘Spuddy’; Henry Messina. However, when push comes to shove, Regina was born ten months later after Chris in May at my parent’s home. My parent’s by then had moved from the factory because of it been renovated into the chapel come special school, and they were then living in Lascellas Street, Athlone. We were fortunate in Athlone to have the very best midwife in Nurse Ella Gow-Kleinschmidt on call at all times, and she delivered all of our five children. She was a bit late for Regina though due to Joan been one of those who just popped them out, but luckily good old dad was there because Regina came out with the biblical cord wrapped around her neck that he unwound, and all the nurse had to do was cut the biblical cord and do the rest. Then life began going pear-shaped due to there been a heavy downturn in the furniture industry and even ours been the largest furniture manufacture in the Cape closed down. When having responsible commitments and employment cannot be obtained through ones work skills, a man must do what a man must do, but what was on offer wouldn’t have kept the wolf from the door. My parents because they had ‘room in the inn’ and there was another additional grandchild, which made a significant difference to them, we shared house with them. It wasn’t the easiest or best of situations but we coped, especially Joan who amazed me even more with her good housekeeping and culinary skills that the rest of my family appreciated. My place of employment was then at Athlone Hotel in Lawrence Road with the propriety been no other than Mr Nick, who was the Jewish gentleman that owned a drapery store in Klipfontuin Road and that as a kid  I sold newspapers for. They say what goes around comes around and I sure struck it lucky, for he personally knew my worth. My dad then been employed by Emdon Catering, a Jewish business, as there head chef and caterer, saw me also working casually there.

 My off days from work saw Joan organizing for us to take the children away from the house, which was partly to keep the peace and also to instil a love of the outdoors in them. It wasn’t difficult because we had the mountainous terrain, two oceans lapping the shores, coastal bays and inlets, meandering rivers, the African animals and me as an adventurous father. The first sight that we observed close up together was Table Mountain, which had then become my third love with Joan and the children coming first and second, as it loomed out of a dawn mist when taking them all to Kloofnek. Its elongated flat top covered with a table-cloth of clouds ran in folds and poured down the sides to eddy and disappear in the foothills of the mountain that continued down to the sea with the city of Cape Town crouching along the bottom, and it was sightly for them as they observed and absorbed. To view other enchanting breath taking beauty I took them on the many roads and drives that zigzagged its way not only along the mountains with white sandy coves and beaches below, but also around and through the mountains that raised majestically in its splendor and canopied us in its green vegetation. When traveling with me along Marine Drive that took in Sea Point, Clifton and Camps Bay as it writhed between the mountain and the sea, they watched in wonderment as the blue flanks of the mountainous Twelve Apostles seen through a thin veil of silvery mist changed into a colouring of violet. Their eyes also lit up when seeing the inlets of the bays and coves below the drive shimmer and sparkle like African diamonds as the sun broke through the clouds that table clothed Table Mountain. Further along they spied the spun gold beaches lapped by curled crested waves, and the houses and bungalows that clung like limpets to the mountainous rocky ledges and crannies. Further down the coast the fishing village of Hout Bay in a blue bay ringed by rugged mountains set on a curvaceous ledge cut into the side of the mountain where it also nestled in the shadow of the almost vertical Sentinel on the steep slopes of Chapman’s Peak that graded down to a stretch of white sand and its fishing harbour. Here as a youth, and theirs then too, took our wanderings not only up into the mountains and along Chapman’s Peak Drive to view the spectacular bay, its surrounds and the Atlantic Ocean that swept to the horizon, but also in our roaming to come across perched on a rock a bronzed leopard as a reminder of some of the wild animals that had roamed in those parts and in the rest of Cape Town’s mountainous environs, which my children found fascinating. And my also strolling along Kalk Bay Harbour with them, as I had done years before with my uncle John when he purchased fish off the trawlers for his Johnny Rhode’s Fish Shop, which he was still operating, and he had acquainted me with them. This was good because we all together also had the pleasure of doing a trip around the bay because the same skippers still operated from that harbour. Cape Point was where they really got all excited because even though the foreboding storms lashed the coast at times that sent both visitors and wild animals such as zebra, elands, bonteboks and baboons scurrying for cover, it was truly an awesome place. Not only for its fauna, and flora in multicolour bloom but also for its fantastic walks, with a thrilling one amongst the rocks down to the lighthouses and deserted beaches. Our children were delighted when they saw the baboons that wandered, mingled and jumped from vehicle to vehicle as they scrounged for edibles from the occupants, and the antelope that nudged people for tit bits. Cape Town’s Zoo and Cecil John Rhodes Memorial that stood in the brooding hulk of the mountain, and looking down as far as the eye could see the southern suburbs and the Cape Flats was a sight for them to behold. I took them also to not any old neighbourhood park but to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with kilometres of woodlands, lush vale and forested hills with leafy lanes, which they trampled to their little hearts content and also to chase butterflies  there. After all that serenity it was an ear splitting experience when taking them to the top of Signal Hill, which was so called because cannon fire signaled twelve noon every day. However, the spiraling road that lead up to its summit with a lookout point held them spellbound when sighting the city night lights when taken there at night, and combined with the lighted ships in the harbour that laid clustered at anchor in the bay, it looked like thousands of ignited starlight’s (sparklers) to them.

We also visited their ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ Fisher frequently in Woodstock where we started our married life. That residence at number 9 on Albert Road was in a row of attached cottages where when stepping out of the front door landed you on the road kerb with the main road highway’s traffic flashing continuously past. Living there with my in-laws in that city environment in comparison to out in the sticks was a complete different environment. My father-in-law Jan worked at the Cape Times newspapers, and like everybody else painted the inside of his house at Christmas time. The only problem though was that he used printer’s colored ink to change the hue of the white paint he was going to use, and for the following weeks you had to be careful where you touched or leaned on. On weekends he traveled to a fishing village along the coast called Oudekraal (Dutch = Old enclosure), and for a few bottles of cheap fortified wine supplied to the fisherman he would come home either with a sack full of crawfish or snoek (Dutch = a pike fish). The crawfish he cooked in large tin containers, and the snoek he cut up, filleted, rolled, skewered, and then placed them in wooden kegs to pickle in brine flavoured with sliced onions and spices to make rolled fish mops his German Jewish way. He sold his sea produce at The Klip (Dutch = Rock), a notorious local pub where only the locals dare to frequent. It was the hangout of skollies and others who were in the rackets of fafee, gambling, money lending, shebeens and protection. I only drunk at that pub with Jan present, for not only were there those who respected him but also those who feared him. He was strong and tough with hands like hams that were actually registered at the police station as dangerous weapons, and he had to report if anyone confronted him with hostility. The reason was that he had previously sent many would be tough and aggressive opponents to hospital either with concussion, broken body parts or both. My mother-in-law Mary-Anne as he called her although her real name was Marion; spoiled me rotten as she did her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I couldn’t have wished for better as far as mother-in-laws go. Her sweet kind nature must have rubbed off on to Joan, plus her culinary skills and dimpled smile, but like it’s said, ‘Some marriages are made in heaven.’

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Our ‘Pigeon Pair’ – Christopher and Regina.