Saturday, July 7, 2007

1977 Apartheid Durban and Greece, Biology Teaching and Greece Trek

1977. Greece Tour. Prof. Geoff Chapman, Classics, Natal University, Durban, sitting on Palace of Knossos throne. Mark Esslemont on his right. Mom on his left.

Mr Wilkinson installed telephones in labs. While I was teaching a science prac, Mr. Wilkinson called me to his office asking, "Why haven't you completed your school-funds receipt book? It troubles school secretaries you know."

"I forgot to insert carbon paper. Why don't school secretaries collect school-funds? That's not a teacher's job. Why don't you promote a school secretary as bursar? You've forced me to leave boys with hazardous lab equipment and hazardous chemicals."

"You're remorseless!" I glared at Mr. Wilkinson, fumed back to the lab, and abandoned my science prac.

I lost respect for Mr. Wilkinson, when I asked him for a day's compassionate leave to attend Leah's maternal-granny's funeral. Mr. Wilkinson said, "I'll give you two hours leave! Funerals don't take long." In future I resolved to resist and retaliate abusive, white bosses. Enduring structural-violence in white high schools, I'd play many parts: Teacher: Sports Coach; Play Director; Railing Malcontent; Fool; Husband; Father.

While teaching form 4 biology, I observed a boy puffing out his cheeks, gazing into space, while sitting next to a fish-tank. "Bruce!" I asked, "Name the cytoplasmic organelle releasing ATP molecules from food?" Bruce started, puffing his cheeks, blushing. A boy slapped Bruce's back. Bruce swallowed: coughed.

Boys laughed. "What's so funny?" I asked.

"Bruce swallowed a guppy sir."

"Bruce, you'd better see a doctor."

I played juvenile lead in Fools Paradise at Atholton Primary, for school fund-raising. After performances, I kissed Leah backstage, then we jolled at an Umhlanga Rocks disco, and lumbered at the lighthouse... Petting outside Leah's home, in my powder-blue Mini, we heard owls hooting in mango trees, trains trundling through Hillary Station, heard Buggalugs, the next-door tenant, scraping open his porch window and hawking onto grass. Sies!

Later at night, while Leah and I smooched in the lounge, Leah's dad rattled cups an' stuff in the kitchen. If that didn't shoo me, he silently slouched past, in pyjama shorts, eyes glazed, grey hair awry, clutching paunch with one hand and testicles with the other. He closed windows, then slouched to bed, clutching body-bits.

Leah's dad had grown up during the Great Depression. His conservative generation benefitted from the colour-bar and job -reservation as affirmative-action whites. He was too young to fight in WW2, but his four older brothers went north, fighting Gerries and Eyeties: one ending the war in a POW camp. His whole working life was during apartheid. He was an electrician before becoming a teacher at George Campbell Tech. He was happiest when fixing things, like his old Morris Minors and Volksie Beetles. "Buggerit!" often blasted from his garage. We both loathed cadets and rugby coaching, but had little in common, except Leah. His generation voted for apartheid, and sent sons to die on the border, the price of apartheid. My conscript-trekker generation were also affirmative-action whites. As for mom, she was already hinting about sex and grand-children, which exasperated Leah.

Mom and I explored Crete with a Natal University tour group. We than cruised Santorini's broken caldera. Mom enjoyed donkey-riding from the harbour-wharf, up a steep path, to whitewashed Akrothira, perching on a pumice cliff. At sunset, we watched ships sailing into the caldera. We had candlelit meals, drinking retsina, on a pseudo -intellectual trip, while others angled Aegean romance.

< 1977. Valmai Esslemont donkey riding, Santorini, Greece.

Weepy Yurgo our bus driver sang bass to taped disco-hits while we toured. Mom got giggly on champagne - the first time I'd seen mom pissed. I enjoyed Classical Greek sites, which I'd studied at varsity. Mom opened her purse, saying to trinket-sellers, "I don't understand drachmas. Take what you want!" Merchants protested when I deflected grasping hands, but I bought a gold tortoise for Leah.

Paleokastritsa's Greek girls stretched topless on rowing boats, sprawled on booby rocks, swam in turquoise water, tanned topless on sand. Yurgo and I ogled, drank ouzo and scoffed souflaki. Later, we drank retsina and danced - breaking taverna plates.

See Crete in Pictures: Ian Swindale

1977. Mark Esslemont, Guys Chorus Line, 'Guys and Dolls', Westville Theatre Club, Durban. >


Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from a Northlands BH Old Boy living in USA:

"I have spent a considerable amount of time, very enjoyable time, reading your blog from cover to cover as it were... a gem to read.

As a former Northlands BH pupil I have very clear memories of you for some reason, although you never taught me and I only recalled your name once I saw a picture of you on your site. My intake year to Northlands was 1977 and saw it through to matriculation. Your descriptions of [principal, Afrikaans, science, PT masters] names I have not thought of for years are absolutely on the mark and as an adult with teenage children of my own, I am acutely aware of the arrogant stupidity displayed by a headmaster showing 'Gammon' like tendencies. I had the misfortune to be taught science by ... of whom my abiding memory is his frequent nodding off during lessons. Appears he bored himself to sleep so you can imagine what he did to us...

The slang, much of which I still use, and places: Rocket Hut, Blue Lagoon, North Beach and many more remain fundamental in my memories until I too joined the trek out of South Africa...

Thank you for putting all those memories online for all to share. Your observations are honest, incisive and witty and regardless of what life seems to throw at you, your sense of humour and justice shows through. Even though your formal teaching career was cut short, you still provide a lesson in courage and fortitude, a subject missing in most curricula..."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Received an August 2014, UK email, from Joanna Hoyle, telling me that Prof Geoff Chapman had died recently. He'd been Joanna's principal at Queen Margarets' College, York.