1967. Mark Esslemont playing the Fool in 'King Lear', Northlands Boys HS. >
Fraser, Charlie, Skelm and I played badminton at St. Martins hall. We wysed before chicks, who wysed before us. I didn't have money to spend on chicks, but psychedelic parties were common. I smaaked small-boobed Ursula, but at parties I French-kissed a slim chick. We danced and groped. Her father once found us lumbering on wet grass. Boomalakka!... Oooompa!...Music taped from LPs or radio hit-parades was played in a lounge. The Beetles; Rolling Stones; Silence is Golden, Here Comes the Sun; Jeremy Taylor's Ag Pleeze Daddy; Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence were groovy. Another chick had big boobs, but she didn't allow boob fondling. House of the Rising Sun was tit-hot though.
Gatecrashers roamed streets, looking for rorts. Booze was available at Montfleury Hotel for boys who looked 18, the booze age restriction. I looked too young. Siblings or older friends also supplied booze. Band sessions, or discos were held at the Kensington Drive, Journeys End MOTH Hall. Boys whispered about zolls, illegally sold at the Indian Market. Boys lay paralytic in flower beds, or passed out in chairs. Pissed youths rorted till cops came.
The ol' lady's ol' flame Eddie invited us for a holiday at his Bathurst farm, after his wife died. With Eddie's two grandsons, Fraser and I shot pellets at turtles in a dam. We shot birds. Eddie shot a pied crow through the eyes from 25m away. We donned gloves and boxed Eddie's grandsons. Using a hand-line from a boat, I caught a grunter in the Kowie River. The ol' lady declined Eddie's marriage proposal, but later Eddie's son boarded with us. The ol' lady said, "A man keeps kaffir burglars away!"
Canadian Bernadette, tired of Forest Sanctuary, prevailed upon the ol' lady's generosity, by staying with us. Aunt Dorothy was aggrieved. Bernadette's body wobbled when she waddled. Her jowls wriggled, while she ate like a moray eel. She praised the Lord, warbling hymns day and night, until neighbours complained. Rosie cackled to the ol' lady, "Maram! Dat fat lady sleeps while you work. She does no 'ouse work, an' sleeps an' eats all day. She doesn' bath an' stinks. I 'ave ta wash 'er close. Terrible T'ing! Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaaai!" Bernadette left for Montreal.
At Northlands, I bore a banner on stage in Macbeth, enjoying witches on the heath. I played King Lear's Fool, and Knight / Tempter in Murder in the Cathedral. While murderous "knights" of apartheid murdered, detained, banned, banished, and harassed troublesome anti-apartheid "priests," those "knights" would never, "clear the air, clean the sky, wash the wind, take stone from stone and wash them..." as Eliot's opening line cried. I was twice awarded half-colours for acting. In future I'd play many unknown parts.
Playing Toktokkie, Fraser and I knocked on neighbours' doors and ran away. Sometimes we put a piss-full bottle against a door, knocked and ran. We threw stones at street-lamps, needing many stones to break a street-lamp. One Guy Fawkes night, we wandered Durban North with Skelm, breaking letter-boxes, jumping over hedges, and chucking gates into swimming pools.
At Rosetta camp, I was polished by Trafalgar Sea Scouts. (The ol' lady was born on Trafalgar Day). Skelm caught a black and white, hooded rinkhals snake, and kept it in a tin. It spat at me, but missed. It could've blinded me. I hung hand-lines from willow branches and caught trout.
I did extra-maths lessons, threw away most of my matric history notes, and spotted questions. Afrikaans wasn't spoken in Durban North much. I wrote a "Terroris op die Grens" spot essay, and included it in "My Vakansie" matric exam opstel. I matriculated with A Stream university exemption. My Space Race school years had firm home and school boundaries, thanks to the ol' lady and teachers. School dux and most prefects were in my elite matric class. Skelm and others had accompanied me from class one to matric. Knowing I was fatherless, they'd protected me. A coloured school-mate had successfully "tried for white." Jewish school-mates had Jewish holidays, as well as Christian and school holidays. My rugby legacy was a broken nose - unfixed.
Fifteen white boys who'd begun standard 6 (year 8) with me, repeated a high school year or two, then matriculated after me. (Northlands journal The Knight 1969, 1970). I attributed that mainly to the A and O Streams, beginning in form 3 (year 9), which caused some bright boys to languish in O Stream, and some battlers to battle in A stream. The only escape from O Stream was to repeat a year. While I played chess with a matric mate, the tallest oke in the class, who'd repeated standard 9, willfully messed up our chess game. I thumped him. "I'll fuck you up!" he said. He never did. He later became a divorce lawyer.
Examples of white affirmative-actions during and after apartheid: In 1969, straight after matriculating, a Northlands mate of mine joined a Durban bank. In 2008, forty years later, he was still employed by the same Durban bank, and was still living in Durban North. He intended working for the bank for a few more years. Three matric classmates cheaply read engineering at Natal University Durban (no non-white competition), and four decades later were still living and engineering in Durban. A fellow actor cheaply read his MA at Natal University Durban (no non-white competition), then emigrated to England in the early 70s, to become a drama professor at London University.
By 2008, forty years after matriculation, of 28 boys in my class, 2 died young, most stayed in and around Durban, some scattered to Cape Town and Jo'burg regions, 7 emigrated: 1 to Canada; 3 to England (1 returned to Durbs after 2 decades); 1 sailed westwards to Brazil and beyond; 2 went east to NZ.
During my 12 years schooling in Durban North, I never heard of any "English" parents being detained, banned, banished, or harassed by apartheid "knights." I was at Northlands with the sons of influential, white, affirmative-action fathers with English, Scottish, Afrikaner, German, Norwegian, Jewish surnames, who were Durban City mayor, treasurer, engineer, and other influential professionals: all of whom played their parts in forcing Rosie to stay in her May Street black spot, and later forcing Rosie's eviction.
As the co-ed Afrikaanse Hoer Skool sucked pupils away from Northlands BH and Northlands GH, rolls decreased over the years, so in 1990 Northlands BH and Beachwood BH joined, becoming Northwood. Beachwood became a primary school.
The ol' lady opined, "We're not poor whites, we're not white kaffirs. You weren't brought up, you were dragged up. And we weren't murdered in our beds. If it wasn't for Rosie's help, you boys would've gone to Ethelbert Home."
In apartheid SA, servants were better off than unemployed non-whites. Rosie cackled, "I wanta work for Maram. I'm too ol' for udda work. Aai-yai-yai-yai-yaaai!" Rosie's pay was cash-in-hand - untaxed. She drew a state pension, supporting her drunken son Maharaj and many grandchildren.
The ol' lady ignored Rosie's stealing of groceries, and joked, "Rosie feeds half of May Street." Outcast Rosie mothered Fraser and me, cooking for us, making our beds, washing our clothes, ironing laundry, cleaning our house. Rosie and her extended Hindu family enriched our lives.
Most of our neighbours had little to do with us. One neighbour made his fortune manufacturing skin-lightening cream for blacks. One father had two daughters: we hardly saw them. One died of cancer. Once, while Fraser and I played tennis on Chelsea Drive, the father who hadn't spoken to us for years, rushed from his garden calling, "Stop playing in the street! This isn't a slum!..." His brother, former Durban City mayor, had embezzled council funds.
While Fraser and I grew up, the ol' lady had taught at Red Hill Primary, then for ten years, she'd arrived home exhausted, after teaching English and Afrikaans at Northlands GH. Before retiring, the ol' lady taught for years at Durban North Primary. Beginning with Paul and ending with the ol' lady, Esslemonts attended Durban North Primary for 21 consecutive years: 1952-1973.
I reckoned the ol' lady worked hard as a solo-parent. She had nervous breakdowns, and earned her own wealth, envied by many whiteys. Her pay was always less than white male teachers'. Apartheid guilt-bestowers, sometimes white expat journalists, begrudged the ol' lady her success, despite her being born in SA. Like many white immigrants, those privileged white journalists and their privileged white bosses benefitted from apartheid, and enhanced their careers by praising and adoring blacks, and criticizing and mocking whites, especially Afrikaners. I never heard of any privileged white journalists permanently living in black spots, locations or Bantustans. And they too had non-white servants.
As the ol' lady was going nerve-deaf, and had a forceful personality, Esslemonts entertained neighbours and any passing umfaan, nanny or Naidoo with shouted dialogue. Fraser and I told the ol' lady to move Paul's golden death-mask from the lounge to the top of Fraser's cupboard. "Only if you stop calling me 'the ol' lady!'" said mom. The mask looked down on us for several more years.
1968. Mark Esslemont playing Second Knight /Tempter in 'Murder in the Cathedral'. >