Monday, July 16, 2007

1981 George House, Courtfield Gardens, London

< 1981. Leah Esslemont & Rhodie Kleintjie, our bedsit, George House, Courtfield Gardens, London.

Leah and I would visit many parts of Britain, Europe and Israel, and my script included Labourer, Clerk, Soutie Trekker parts. In Brussels, we drank champagne while staring through our hotel window at wet cobbles and a city-square nativity-play...

In London, on New Year' s Eve we poured from dirty Charing Cross tube-station, dribbled along dirty Strand, past icy South Africa House, joining thousands of carousers in dirty Trafalgar Square. Drunks threw bottles and cavorted in fountains, while people jumped and swayed. At midnight, people hugged, kissed and danced. Afterwards, piles of broken glass littered dirty pavements.

Approaching Stockwell tube-station, whites disembarked at stations, while blacks entered our train."It's like KwaMashu," I said, while we walked along dirty Stockwell platform, only whites in the station, towards Stockwell Road multiracial YMCA, where we stayed for a month. Dirty Brixton, teeming with West Indians, had grimy buildings on the wrong side of the Thames. Searching for work near the Swan pub, I visited a dirty primary school, and asked the
headmistress, "What's the black-white ratio in your school?"

"Mister Esslemon', we 'ardly no'ice tha' sor'a fing 'ere!" It was the first hostility we got from Poms who labeled us "racist." Few bothered to ascertain our views, as media had demonized South Africans well. Months later, Brixton had race riots.

We read a job notice-board at SA House; and Earls Court job notice-boards; and London Australasian Magazine ads; and National Union of Teachers' gripes; and Times Educational Supplement, and applied for teaching posts. We signed-on at dirty Soho, Barons Court and Earls Court job agencies.

Unrest: Maputo, Mozambique. 13 ANC terrorists were killed by SADF. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Abacus, Little, Brown and Co., London 1996).

I'd been accepted to read drama MA at Leeds University. In SA, I'd applied to UK varsities, and had tried to get British Council funding, but I was the wrong colour. Some English varsities said I should write an English language test, before starting studies. Those varsities obviously hadn't read my CV, showing my English and English drama majors, and implied that because I was born in Africa, I needed bridging English. I abandoned MA studies, as we didn't have the money.

We moved to Pakistani-owned George House Hotel (GH), 51 Courtfield Gardens, a Victorian house, off Cromwell Road, where we saw London wildlife for a year. Sam, Fijian-Chinese, did reception and cleaning duties, had a black tonsure, Chinese eyes, black beard and Pacific rocker-jaw. "I recently left the British army," Sam said, "having served with the Gurkhas and Australian SAS in Borneo, and served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Canada. I'm in-between jobs. Firekin' 'ell! My ancestors were Fijian cannibals, and my grandmother had four strong men buried alive in foundation-post holes of her new house."

Sam invited us to the Fijian embassy, where I chatted to Sam's ambassador aunt on a chaise-longue, spilling champagne on her lap. We sat in an inebriated ring on her carpet. Leah and I quaffed kava, last, while Fijian guests clapped, mumbling...

Whenever we walked past Sam's office-flat, we saw chicks and blokes boozing on Sam's couches. "Firekin' 'ell mate?" Sam asked Duffy, an Irishman, "Can ya take Inyoni off me? I wanna chat up Aussie Xue. Inyoni's a nympho." Inyoni giggled.

"Och aye," said Duffy, "Yer 'ave Xue, an' oi'l chat up Inyoni."

Lingam, Fijian-Indian, chewed betel-nuts, while winking and nattering to anyone who'd listen. Duffy on the dole complained, "Jashush Sham! Moi floor'sh feckin' filthy. Oi ain't makin' moi bed no more, unlesh yoush dirty bashtard clean moi shower prop'ly!" Sam punched Duffy. "Jayshush! 'Ee 'it me!" Sam handed Duffy a tissue to wipe his nose.

While a squaddie, Sam had married his RSM's daughter, produced two daughters, then divorced. "Once," said Sam," I was pissed, and attacked a squaddie's car with an axe. MPs chucked me in chokey. I needed a piss. The warder ignored me, so I pissed on the floor. The warder gave me a towel to wipe up. Firekin' 'ell. I couldn't live in SA. I'd be a coloured."

"Yeah," hooted Xue. "I loathe Spics, Wops, Dagos, Fijians invading White Australia." (Two years later, Xue married Sam in Melbourne). When Sam and Xue pub-crawled Earls Court, Leah and I did their reception work.

Dronkgat Skate wore John Lennon glasses, guzzled Jack Daniels, and smoked marijuana. The more stoned Skate became, the more Skate sang Rolling Stones' songs. A British citizen, sprouting in Durban, Skate had shared a cell with Pinetown's scissor-murderer, before deportation. Skate had worked in a Watford Post Office, disappeared with a Friday's takings, stowed away on a Hamburg-bound ship, was deported back to England, then arrested by customs, for a stint in Her Majesty's prisons. Skate's sister-in-law Skint had run away from her SA spouse to doss with Skate on the dole.

Skate stole giro-cheques from post-boxes, and on Fridays mugged payroll couriers in cobbled alleys. Skate stole enough to support himself and Skint.

Our top floor neighbour, Kleintjie, expat Rhodie, recalled: "One moonless night, while tracking terrs during the Bush War, I hid behind a sweet-thorn tree, shitting myself, hearing branches crackling, then a bristly trunk fondled me..."

Through walls, we heard neighbour Mavis's dialogues with her mates: "Loondon's boring. North Coontry's mooch better than fookin' Loondon..." Mavis chittered with people in her own mind.

I banged on our wall, shouting: "Shoodoop!" when Mavis started, "Noorth Coontry..."

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

No comments: