Thursday, July 12, 2007

1979 England Wedding and Umgeni Valley Reserve, Apartheid Natal

1979. Mark Esslemont playing Best Man at Charlie's Wedding, near Salisbury, England. >

In July 1979, Leah and I flew to London for me to be best-man at Charlie's rural wedding. "Long time no see," I said.

"Cut your hair!" said Charlie. "My bride's dad is a Pom soldier." I refused. Charlie and I wore Moss Brothers morning-suits and top hats. At a marquee reception, I made a speech, while the crowd chattered. Two vicars guzzled champagne, oblivious to what I said. When Charlie spoke, people hushed. Clever Charlie worked as an accountant in Malawi, then endured the rest of his accounting career commuting from Guildford to London, then Woking to London, then Saffron Walden to The City - one hour, fifteen minutes door-to-door train commutes. Charlie produced two daughters.

On a European Cosmos coach tour, Leah and I saw art-works, and ate horse-meat in France. Our tour-guide became irritated when few tourists listened to her jabbering. She sulked when few tourists brought "extra" side-trips, as she got "extra" commissions.

SADF posted me my clearing-out papers. I was on reserve, but could still be called-up in emergencies. I declined the volunteer option: doing more camps against commie onslaughts. Girlfriends saw troopie boyfriends vanish on border-duties. Some never returned. On SATV, we saw Groot Krokodil Botha licking his lips at troopies' funerals. We didn't see coffins with corpses inside, nor weeping white parents.

In 1980, I began a wildlife-conservation course. Technikon RSA posted me lecture notes. I posted assignments, and wrote wildlife -conservation exams. During weekends and holidays, I took Blikskottel and pupils camping at Wildlife Society's Umgeni Valley Reserve, below Howick Falls, where we interpreted ecosystems.

Strangler-fig-trees gripped valley cliffs below, and Natal bottlebrush trees hung above. We showed pupils wag-'n-bietjie thorn trees and paired-spines of common-hook-thorns. We watched dassies chewing cabbage-tree leaves, and watched a puff-adder rib-crawling on a loamy path, and disappearing down a hole. We strode through cycad and dragon-plant glades, where Shaka's impis had slunk through. When south winds blew, Durban-Jo'burg highway rumble echoed in the valley. We saw trumpeter-hornbills glide-flap-glide from treetop to treetop. Black-collared-barbets sang, "Toe-Botha-Toe-Botha -Toe-Botha-Toe..." Black eagles soared above, hunting cliff dassies.

We spoored wildebeest and zebra, and observed giraffe, blesbok, eland, vervet monkeys, and saw game-bones in the veld. We checked ourselves for ticks. We named wild plants, and swam in a tributary pool below a waterfall. Semi-naked, white schoolgirls tanned on black rocks. Fearing bilharzia, I forbade sepia Umgeni swimming. On night-walks, we shone torches, observing spotted-genet-cats and aardvarks. We climbed a rock and lay on our backs. I talked of Zulu ancestral spirits, of the Zulu creator Unkulunkulu, of ubuntu - African humanism embracing all. I joked that white pupils didn't have hlonipha respect which Zulu piccanins had. During the four years I took white pupils to Umgeni Valley Reserve, I never saw other national groups visiting.

For my successful production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Blikskottel's backstage crew painted Beardsley backdrops, and my cast was standard nine white pupils. Act 1 Algenon's words mocked our whitey situation: "Really, if the lower classes don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?..." Besides Blikskottel and an English teacher, I had no help from Mr. Hawkins, nor other teachers. I worked myself to a standstill, doing directing, design, props and costumes (hired from Natal Schools' Theatre Wardrobe and Edgewood), advertising, tickets, programme, and directing pupil teams doing FOH, sound and lighting. I also taught general-science and biology, and coached sport while directing. When the work was done, Mr. Hawkins offered a mother to organize interval teas. My mother-in-law did the teas. We drank champagne at a cast party in a German school-girl's home, and talked of overseas.

Wee Jean, dad's sister visited Durban, then bus-toured the Garden Route to Cape Town with mom. They squabbled over dad's stamp books and other things, and returned rigidly to Durbs. Fraser and mom then trekked Europe to see Oberammergau Passion Play, their last overseas trek.

Unrest: My old kindergarten teacher was murdered by tsotsis in Pinetown.

1980. Mark Esslemont's Cast & Backstage Crew, 'Importance of Being Earnest' Hillcrest High School >

No comments: