Monday, June 4, 2007

1963 Apartheid Durban, Irish Friends

1959. Mark Esslemont, Durban. >

Divorced Siobahn, mom's Irish Methodist friend had nursed through the London Blitz, and in 1963 taught at a Berea girls' school. Boarding with us, Sally and Anne, Siobahn's teenage daughters, slept in my enclosed front porch, and I slept in the Wendy House. Siobahn and Shannon, youngest daughter my age, slept in mom's bedroom, while mom and Fraser slept in the other bedroom.

Domineering Siobahn, six foot tall, banished our dog Toby to sleep outside. Toby used to guard us inside our home. Siobahn chivvied us kids to do our homework before playing, and insisted we were in bed by 19:30. Fraser and I resented being ordered about. Siobahn cowed Rosie, who cackled to mom, "Maram! I 'ave allis extra Wed-nes-day washing an' cleaning. Terrible t'ing! Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaai!"

We swam in the Durban North Primary pool in black speedos. After a swim, Fraser and I padded into our lounge and saw nude Sally, who'd forgotten to close her porch curtain. Springbok Radio blared hits in our lounge, and Fraser and I gawped while Sally towelled her blonde hair, her white tits wobbling. Anne giggled. Sally shrieked, yanking her curtain closed.

The Immorality Act ruled that only white boykies could smaak white chicks. So pasop umfaans and Indian boys!

We grazed high teas, using mom's silver tea-service, under our cassia tree, while semen-scented pods hung from the tree. Siobahn invited Irish expat ladies to our home, and we played sweaty summer charades, cards, hide-an'-seek. Mom played the piano while we danced Hokey Pokey. And Fraser and I ogled bouncy-bosoms.

At parties chicks sang, "On top of Old Smokey..." and, "She'll be coming round the mountain..." Twisting in our lounge, Fraser and I tried not to look pathetic, while mom's wooden radiogram wailed Jailhouse Rock and Summer Holiday. Twisting chicks trilled, "Ooh that's spastic!...Ooh that's fab!...Ooh that's divine!...''

Our avocado tree overhung our garage and house. If we climbed to the top, we could see as far as Durban Bluff - about 10 miles away. (Durban definition: All Bluff till you come to the Point). Our avo tree grew huge pears, which broke roof-tiles when falling. We picked pears at the ends of our avo kingdom. One way of climbing onto our garage roof was to shin up a drainpipe. I held the pipe for Shannon, and while Shannon climbed I saw her freckled legs and white broekies.

Our avo tree trunk was hard to climb, and once when Sally got stuck, Shannon and I sang, "Oh the grand ol' duke of York..."

"Sally slide down!" ordered Siobahn, "Or I'll call the fire brigade!" Sally slid sown howling, as bark chafed her arms and thighs.

Once, Fraser fell from our tree-house, breaking a roof tile. Once, I fell from a branch onto the garage roof, hurting my ankle. Once, Shannon fell about 10 feet, but branches caught her, stopping her hitting the concrete driveway.

Mom bought a corrugated-iron swimming pool, which we rolled over our hedge into our garden. Shannon, Fraser and I filled it with water and swam round and round. Jumping up and down we made waves. When water slimed we siphoned it into our garden, scrubbed the pool and refilled. We dived from the Wendy House roof into our pool. During afternoons, we did homework in my Wendy House, and played and talked.

Sometimes at night, I listened to umfaans' hullabaloo, while they jogged past our hedge, returning from stick-fights in the valley off Old Mill Way. Sometimes, Zulu "boys" sang while strolling along Chelsea Drive. Sometimes, a "boy" played a concertina, or harmonica, or Jew's harp, or penny-whistle, or strummed a homemade guitar. "Boys'" music was repetitive, swelling and thinning down the road. After gardening each day, a grizzled Zulu man sat on the verge by our home, playing his piano accordion.

See Immorality Act 1950 and other apartheid laws.

< 1964. Durban beachfront. Mark Esslemont's first play-acting. "There's a worm at the bottom of the garden..."(Barett)

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