Saturday, June 2, 2007

Late 1950s - Early 1960s Apartheid Durban, Fire and Drama

< 1959. Rosie, Esslemont Brothers & Sandy, May Street, Durban.

Fraser and I burnt leaves behind our garage, causing garage eaves to burn. Rosie saw flames and called, "Maram! Cheeky rogues burning garage! Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaai!"

Mom bounding from our house: "Jesus Christ! What've you done? Fetch the hose and squirt the roof!" Mom tore the wooden garage door off its trolley rail, then heaved the door back on. Mom was strong for her five foot half an inch height. Mom always emphasized the half inch. Mom reversed her Morris into the street, wrenched the hose from my hands, and doused the fire.

Mom replaced the garage door with a Lazyman metal door, which opened from ground level. Concrete side-weights, on pulleys, pulled the door open. After a weight came off its pulley-wheel, Fraser held the weight from below. I levered the cable back on, but the cable slipped from the pulley-wheel, the weight smashing Fraser's big toe. Fraser stood shocked. I jumped off the ladder, easing the weight off Fraser's bloody toe. Fraser screamed his face purple. "Stay there!" I yelled, running on my Perthes hip leg, "Mom! Fraser's toe's squashed."

Mom bandaged Fraser's toe, then drove him to Addington, where a doctor put 25 stitches in Fraser's toe, saying, "Take him home, keep his leg up, see if it heals!" Fraser's toe healed, safe-like-a-skyf.

Our Methodist Sunday School teacher chastised Skelm and me for telling, "Knock-knock who's there?..." jokes, instead of praying. At Friday afternoon Church Club, after choruses and bible study, games included Open Gates, K-I-N-G and Catchers. Kids loved Rev. Bellis's ham-acting, "There was an old woman who swallowed a fly. I think she'll die..."

Rev. Boraine, succeeding Rev. Bellis, went into antiapartheid politics. After April 1996, Rev. Boraine was deputy at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Tutu.

Outside the Methodist church and Broadway shops, thousands of Indian mynahs roosted in umdoni trees. At dawn and dusk, we heard mynahs cackling in umdoni trees and purple-shatting on congregants' and shoppers' cars.

Durban North Methodists and Chelsea Drive Saint Martins' Anglicans were English-speakers, protected by apartheid. My ol' toppies' generation benefited most from apartheid. Some worked in colour-bar jobs their whole careers, not competing with non-whites, living bourgeois lives - in big houses, served by Indian or native domestics. Some Europeans had big swimming pools and drove big cars. Some were closet-Nationalists, indifferent to the plight of non-Europeans.

Once, we sat in Saint Martins, Europeans-only church, listening to a sermon. A drunken Zulu man stood at the back door, shouting and swearing. Congregants froze, ignoring the racket, until the minister said, "It's unrealistic for me to continue. Will someone sort out that man?" Only then did a sidesman rise from his pew, hushing him.

X-rays showed my hip improvement. I was allowed walking, but no running, as jarring would damage my Perthes hip, which prevented me playing ball-sports for five years. I was left with a right-legged-limp, which changed my spoor.

Skelm was Oliver in the musical Oliver at Lyric Theatre, Umbilo. I joined the Junior Methodist Choir, singing at morning services. At a choral service, I stood next to Skelm singing on stage. I
thought if I could out-sing Skelm I'd be noticed. "Jislaaik!" hissed Skelm. "Stop wysing! You're singing too loudly. Baba-baba-boo!" The congregation was amused. Mom was on-like-scone proud.

In addition to my recitations at Professor Sneddon's annual Speech and Drama Festivals at Little Theatre, Acutt Street, I acted in a Durban North Methodist show, Cafe Continental, my first play performance. I wore a rabbit suit and sang, "There's a worm at the bottom of the garden, and his name is Wiggley Woo..." Skelm sang, "I like to dance and tap my feet, but they wont keep in rhythm..." Adults sang The Lily of Laguna; Anything you can do I can do better...; Finiculi Finicula... Pretty ladies danced a cancan.

As marble partners, I horded Skelm's and my winnings in a cloth flour-bag. In playground red sand we set up stalls, calling boys to throw marbles: "Roll-up four allies!...Roll-up ten allies!... Roll-up a sixpenny!...Roll-up an ironey!..." We played Follows and Holey. Boys fought when we scragzzed our marbles.

Hula-hoops, yo-yos, scooby-doos, tops, charms, jacks and skipping-ropes were intermittently fashionable, the latter three girls-only, until teachers banned them. Boys loved Stingers with a tennis ball, Bok Bok and Open Gates. Swimming, cricket, netball, tennis, soccer were official school sports. Skelm was in the school soccer team, and had a habit of clutching his balls. "Rort!..." was the rallying cry for playground fights, when spectators gathered. Skelm once strangled a boy, until his face went blue. A duty teacher broke it up.

After school, by the Chelsea Drive school gate, a sweaty Zulu man sold Clover Dairies ice-creams from a cool-box attached above the front wheel of his bike. He rang his bell, while we Banana Boys searched through dry-ice for ice-creams. I paid for my Eskimo Pies with dosh stolen from mom.

See Saint Martins in the Fields, Chelsea Drive, Durban North website.

< Esslemont Brothers & Rosie's Granddaughter, illegally at 87 Reitz Straat, Bloemfontein.

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