Child Labour and Complicity In Betrayal.

Image

The one thing that I wanted more than anything was a bicycle, and I never stopped nagging my parents about getting one. Well eventually my father came up with a scheme that would allow me to get my wish. I was to work every Saturday at his office and if he was satisfied that I had not shirked my tasks I would be given a bicycle for Christmas. It was agreed that every Saturday morning I would leave with him and head for my day of work. There would be no pay, except for the bicycle at Christmas if in his opinion I had earned it. 

Back in the sixties it seems that Saturday was just another work day, so I can only deduce that the five day working week had not become law. My father’s shop in the concourse of Johannesburg station consisted of the front part being a show room, with the rear of the showroom being the administrative section. His desk was situated in the left-hand back corner of the showroom, the receptionist desk in the middle and the accounts desk where my mother sat in the right hand corner. 

There was a door leading off my mother’s work area into a passage that led to the back of the shop. Just off to the left of the passage as you entered it was the door to the storeroom, where all the stock was kept. The storeroom was filled with metal shelves with all types of stationery neatly placed on the various shelves. There was also a mezzanine level to the storeroom that had been built out of wood to double the area without expanding the floor area and therefore the rent. At the end of the passage was a door that led onto the service corridor of the station, where small diesel tugs pulled the wagons loaded with goods to the respective platforms to be loaded onto the trains. 

On the other side of the corridor was a set of double doors that opened up into the paper cutting room of my father’s business where flat reams of paper were cut to various sizes for the printing industry and office use. The room was dominated by a very large guillotine. Four or five natives worked in this factory cutting paper and wrapping the cut reams in brown paper and labelling the reams as to size and type. At the far end was another door that led outside to the area where the migrant workers congregated every weekend to catch their train home. 

It was an area that throbbed with life and was filled with the colours of the rainbow as everyone waiting wore a blanket of a different colour and design; I think these blankets were called Basotho Blankets. They were of the highest quality and very soft. Wares of all sorts were sold to the returning labourers, from metal mirrors to bicycles, cars been out of reach for the average native due to Apartheid’s policy of minimum wages for maximum work. 

When I worked there and had a break from work I would wonder around and they would give me sweets and portions of the food that they had. Not once did I ever feel that someone would hurt me. There was also a very large contingent of Railway police patrolling the area to stop the sale of illicit alcohol to the Natives, or so I was told by my father’s staff.

My first task was to assemble the steel shelving on the mezzanine floor of the storeroom. It was not a very difficult job, as there were four steel uprights pre-punched with holes and the shelving that had also been pre-punched, with the strengthening braces that were attached to stop the shelves collapsing. Two uprights were placed on the floor and the top and bottom shelves were loosely attached and then the structure was turned upside down and the other two uprights attached to the shelves. Once this was done the braces were screwed on to the back and sides which created a very stable structure. Then it was just a matter of inserting the other shelves with the correct spacing and bolting it all tightly together. 

So easy that a seven year old could do it alone, at the end of every shift John would help me to lift them into the upright position. We used to finish just after two in the afternoon and my father would always take me to the little cafeteria across the concourse to have a bite to eat, those were wonderful lunches, where we really had a chance to talk father to son, even though we were always interrupted by some woman, who would always arrive and sit on the opposite side of my father as we used to eat not at the tables but at the serving counter seated on those high chrome and brightly upholstered stools, that were anchored to the ground and the seats swivelled which lead to me being constantly chastised for acting like a child . 

It was not always the same woman that interrupted our meals and I thought my father was very nice talking to these strange women, people who must have worked in other shops in the concourse. It seemed strange then when he told me that I must not tell mother about them and I was proud that he trusted me with his secrets. I was too young to even think that it was anything more than innocent friendship, years later I understood the role that I had played in her betrayal.

Lots of Hugs and more

Peggy-Sven

Advertisements

Tie A Cape Around Your Neck And Become A Superhero

Image

Two Teeth’s next contract was to build a massive veranda, which was to stretch from my parents’ bedroom to the end of the lounge and to extend about nine meters into the front garden. The veranda’s deck was to be about two meters above the level of the grass of the front garden when finished. The walls were built out of pieces of slasto and the deck was paved with the same material. When finished it was almost kidney shaped and covered almost ninety square meters, it was huge. 

On the driveway side there was a flight of stairs about two meters wide with ten actual stairs. It was a substantial feat of engineering, especially considering that the only help Two Teeth had, was the assistant he employed to do the heavy work, digging, mixing of cement and concrete and work of that nature. It is not surprising then that his assistants were changed on a regular basis. Kirsten was now about three years old and was always under Karen’s and my feet wanting to join in the games that we played. Rather annoying as all elder children will tell you, so she was only tolerated and not really that welcome around us. Children can be very cruel and we were no exception to the rule. 

One day when Kirsten had been more annoying than usual, Karen and I came up with a game that we knew Kirsten was not big enough to join in. The gist of the game was to climb up the semi-finished veranda and jump off pretending to be Superman or some such comic hero. The two meter jump was not that dangerous as we landed on very soft ground with a very lush lawn. As Karen and I were big enough and strong enough to launch ourselves over the small slasto walkway we were in no danger at all. Kirsten on the other hand was another kettle of fish. 

Well, finally she managed to scramble up the half-finished stairway and stood where we had been jumping off, that is when her courage deserted her, it was a long way down for a three year old. I cannot remember if Karen joined me in trying to convince Kirsten to jump, but I know I finally did by telling her that with the towel tied around her neck, she would fly and if not I would catch her. She jumped I missed her and she landed head first onto the slasto path. There was blood everywhere and she would not wake up, Karen and I panicked as we thought we, or should I say I, was responsible for her death. Fortunately she had only been knocked out and after receiving a few stitches from the local doctor she was as right as rain. Just a small scar on her forehead to show how selfish and stupid I had been. 

For many years whenever she was cross with me, which was often, she would remind me that I had disfigured her for life. Punishment two days confined to bedroom, no food. The no food rule was never a problem as Hubby always sneaked food to me whenever she could, the confinement was the worst for an active seven year old.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Two-Teeth The Intrepid Builder

Image

In the New Year I returned to Limberlost and Karen was enrolled at the Convent of Mercy Parktown West to start her formal education. As Karen’s school was on the same route as our father’s, it was his duty to drop her at school if he was in the country, if not Granny passed by our house on those occasions and did the honours as it was impossible for my mother to do both as Limberlost was in the other direction.

That second year of school was not nearly as enjoyable as the first. I had lost my angel of a teacher and the new one was the school Headmistress and far colder and a lot stricter. I still had the occasional afternoon with my angel when mother was running late; thank the Lord for small mercies. Besides the fact that I had lost my grade one teacher, nothing of any note was really different at Limberlost, the only event that stands out in my memory was the distribution of a fake gold coin that was distributed by the government to commemorate five years as a Republic, whatever that meant, the reason it stands out is that the convent to which Karen attended was not on the list of recipient schools so she was very jealous that I had received one and she had not. 

The arrival of “Two Teeth” into our lives was a revelation to say the least. Two Teeth’s real name was Julius, and he was the native builder that my father employed to renovate our house. Julius received his nickname because he was missing his two front teeth, ironic in a way. Julius and Hubby were not what anyone could call the best of friends even though they were both black. My parents put it down to tribalism, I think it was more the fact that Hubby was clean, sophisticated, well-educated and most of all a snob. Julius on the other hand was dirty, smelly, prone to lying, illiterate, uneducated and an alcoholic. Julius was to spend the next five years building onto the house and surrounding buildings as well as demolishing his numerous mistakes. 

It was impossible for us children not to like Julius, he was always laughing and there was nothing he would not do for his young “master and miss’s”. Two Teeth’s first job was to remove the front hedge that bordered on the road and build a six foot wall as a replacement. We were the first family on Westmeath road to have a wall on the road frontage of our house, in years to come South African families were to surround there properties with high walls topped with electric fences turning their homes not into castles but into prisons that they could escape to instead of from, for protection. 

The wall that my father had built was not of that variety as he never continued the wall up the sides of the property, leaving the hedges in place to demarcate the boundaries of the property, so as a security measure it was totally inadequate. I think he had the wall built to make the house look more imposing from the street and to let the neighbours know that he was somehow better than them. 

The wall went up surprisingly quickly for Two Teeth, with the minimum of demolition for mistakes taking place. The front gate was an imposing iron structure with a cattle grid placed under the gate. What purpose the cattle grid served was never explained, but it was responsible for almost crushing my foot. 

The cattle grid was only about thirty centimetres wide, with bars fairly wide apart, so it was patently useless except for decoration. The only thing that it stopped from leaving the property was tennis sized balls. Not long after the grid had been installed, Karen dropped her favourite doll into the cavity below the grid, and as Two Teeth had already left for the day she begged me to get her doll out, as the doll would get sick if left out in the night air. 

Only a girl will understand this logic as dolls are objects, not living things, but she was crying and the one thing that I could not tolerate as a child was my sister crying. So as her strong big brother, also her knight in shining armour, I lifted the one end of the grate. It was very heavy for a seven year old and then I made the fatal mistake, instead of allowing Karen to retrieve her doll, I persuaded her to hold the grid while I rescued her doll. Big mistake!  

As soon as I transferred the weight to her, she dropped it, right onto my foot. I was reduced to serious tears, but we did retrieve the doll as I had to lift the grate off my foot and she did what I should have allowed in the first place. I was sent to my room for one day without food as punishment for damaging my foot, but it was worth it seeing the gratefulness in Karen’s face

Lots of Hugs and more

Peggy-Sven

A Burning Xmas Tree and Lessons Half Learned

Image

You may remember the bet that had been so solemnly taken on my birthday, way back on the 19th April, well I won and on the 19th December I was called into the lounge where I was handed the thirty Rand by my father. We then we went outside and ceremoniously burned the offending scrap of blanket. 

That was the only year that we went shopping before the twenty-fourth and also the only year that we did not have a live Christmas tree. My mother took Karen and I to OK Bazaars in Eloff Street so that I was able to do my own shopping for presents for my family. I cannot recall what I decided to buy each member, but I do remember that OK Bazaars had a sale on white artificial Xmas trees and I remember insisting that we have a “normal” tree for once. Normal, being like everyone else. 

So I bought the largest tree that they had, including flashing Xmas lights and was immensely pleased with myself until my father heard about it, of course. He erupted in a manner I believe Mount Vesuvius would have been impressed by. Somehow my mother managed a compromise with my father. The artificial tree would be used but the traditional decorations including wax candles would be used to dress the tree, and so it was. We were not taken that year to help choose the presents as we had already been shopping with my mother and I believe because I was being punished for buying the fake tree. 

The rest of Christmas was the usual ritual until the opening of the presents. We were gathered around the glittering tree as I was opening my first present of the evening, a Scalelectrix set that my parents had given to me. That is what happens when the youngest hands out the gifts the larger ones first and the smaller ones last, when the tree caught fire. 

I suppose my parents should have known what would happen if candles were brought into contact with a tree made of nylon strands, but the next thing, not only the tree was going up in smoke but the lounge curtains were also bedecked with tongues of flame. As we did not possess a fire extinguisher, and the nearest water was the garden hose attached to the tap just outside the front door, the garden hose was the weapon of choice against the flames. It was duly rushed into the lounge and the curtains and furniture were hosed down to prevent the spread of the fire. Once the fire was extinguished it seems strange that we carried on opening the presents as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. No recriminations at all. As they say “The band continued playing and the ship slowly slipped beneath the waves”. 

That wonderful present that I was busy opening was a scaled down version of racing cars with an electric track. I only played with it once and that was on Christmas day. After that my father sort of commandeered the set and he, with his friends, played with it non-stop on many an evening. 

I destroyed it about six months later. I am not sure if out of spite, or ignorance, you see as it had to be plugged into a mains socket I was not allowed to set it up, also I was not allowed into the lounge without adult supervision. As it was theoretically my present it was stored at the top of my bedroom closet. One bright sunny day I took it down and assembled it outside on the lawn and pushed my Matchbox cars along the black track. I must have eventually become bored and moved on to some other game, but nonetheless the heat of the sun warped the track that was designed to be used indoors. I was sent to my room for two days without food as punishment. 

I look back on that year with a feeling of disquiet. Obviously my parent’s marriage was in some sort of trouble, not that I realised it then, I had learned about hate and prejudice as well as that certain people are not to be trusted. I was fortunate though; my age of innocence had not as yet come to an end; that was to happen sooner than it should and to make it worse by a member of my family. It would seem that I had not learned the lesson of not trusting certain people well enough to save my sister and myself.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A Memorable Guest In More Ways Than One.

Image

Jürgen the German on the other hand was a loud bombastic, no good piece of work. Jürgen arrived in November of that year and I believe he was supposed to stay with us for the duration of his six month contract, as it turned out he was to stay only six weeks. Jürgen was what is today known as a party animal. All our other visitors returned home after work and seldom if ever went out until the early hours of the morning, Jürgen made up for all the others. 

From the moment he arrived he was in party mood and was never there for dinner in the dining room, he would arrive home change and leave immediately in his car, he was also the only visitor that had his own car, the others always relied on my father to chauffeur them around. So Jürgen was staying at the house when the great trek for Durban made its obligatory December arrival. 

Hubby had decided not to join us that year in view of the fact that she had a new born baby to take care off, so we ventured into the unknown with the idea that we would employ a local for the duration of our visit. So Hubby stayed home to look after Jürgen and the rest of the family set of for Durban in the time honoured way. Nothing really changed, except my mother and definitely us kids missed having Hubby along. As the Hilton Heights was and still is a self-catering and self-cleaning establishment, it was imperative that my mother got help, so as to enjoy her holiday. She was half successful as she was able to find someone to keep the place clean, but not someone who was willing to look after three children so it was left to her to keep us occupied at all times and to watch over us at the beach. A full time job I am sure.

During that holiday mother was always tired and for the first time in our lives rather abrupt with us kids, also there were many times that she would drift away, sort of gathering wool in her head, if you know what I mean. At the time I thought that it was because we kids tired her out every day with our constant demands and bickering. I now realise it was because she had started to suspect that my father was being unfaithful to her. I think that holiday was the beginning of the end of my parents’ marriage. 

As all good times have to come to an end, so did this holiday, and the day arrived that we said good-bye to the ocean, collected Hubby’s sea water and turned our attention to the long journey home. Our arrival home was a memorable one. We arrived at our usual hour to a house that looked as if it had been turned into a place of ill-repute. The kitchen was a clutter of dirty plates, pots, half filled with the ingredients for germ warfare, stood forlornly on the stove. The lounge and dining room area was strewn with discarded women’s undergarments and the tables were littered with the drained bodies of alcohol bottles and my mother’s best crystal glasses. 

The rest of the house had the forlorn attitude of an overworked bordello. The best was saved for last, hidden in the shower cubicle in the bathroom. Someone who had attended the party that Jürgen had thrown had obviously had far too much to drink, paralytic would be the condition that he had drunk himself into, I say, himself, as it seemed to me at that age that a lady would not have been capable of what was left in the shower. For in the middle of the shower floor was the vomit and excrement that somebody had left, blocking the drain. Hubby was sitting in the kitchen sobbing, trying to explain to my parents what had happened while we had been absent from the house, but as she was sobbing so violently she did not make any sense at all. 

Ultimately the story emerged, it seems that we had barely left the house when Jürgen took control, and ordered Hubby out of the house as he did not need to have a “Schwartz” to look after him nor spy on him. So Hubby took refuge in her room and avoided the house. The parties had started small, and Hubby had cleaned up after he had left for work. Progressively the parties had become wilder and wilder until the weekend that we had arrived back. The damage had taken two nights to accomplish starting on Friday night and ending at around lunch on the Sunday that we returned, so she had not had the time to clean in time for our arrival and that she was sorry and that my parents could fire her as she had not done her job as promised. 

After assuring her that there was no question of firing her, things sort of quietened down and Hubby and my mother started to put the house into some sort of shape. Hubby tackled the kitchen my mother the lounge and dining rooms, what happened to all the underwear is still a mystery. We never saw Jürgen again, we were sent to bed and I can only presume that my father had Jürgen’s things packed, who packed I also do not know, for certain it was not him. What happened when Jürgen returned I have never been able to discover, needless to say he was given his belongings and told in no uncertain terms to take a long walk of a very short pier. That ended the brief but memorable visit of Jürgen the German. 

It was my first lesson in human nature, all my life I had been told that white people were civilized, and that the natives were not, well here was the so called civilized European behaving far worse than the most primitive savage and all his so called civilized friends doing the same, compared to the dignity of Hubby, a native, who had tried so hard to hide the depravity of these reprobates.

Lots of Hugs and more

Peggy-Sven

A Dream Car and Dream Chocolate and Cake Maker

Image

Back in 1965 however the memory of the second visit to Robert was starting to fade in our minds. Father’s business was doing well and he had just opened a branch in Pretoria, meaning that he was now away from home more often as he had to make sure that the new branch became profitable as soon as possible. Mother was now to all intensive purposes running the Johannesburg office still with no pay, contributing to the good of the family. It was at this time that father bought his first Mercedes, the car of his dreams. Not bad for an emigrant who had arrived in South Africa with one suitcase filled with a spare shirt, change of underpants and a spare pair of socks. 

If I close my eyes I can still smell the new leather and walnut interior. I see the imitation ivory steering wheel and the tomb stone shaped instrument panel. The colour of the car was white and to my knowledge he has never bought a car in any other colour. He was so proud of that car and I remember the drive that we went on the night he brought home the car for the first time, we cruised through the suburb that we lived in and took a leisurely drive around Zoo Lake. The car was so quiet and the ride so smooth that it was hard to realise that we were still attached to the road. My father must have felt that he had “Arrived”. 

During that year my father was not only away looking after the Pretoria branch but was now travelling to Europe on business on a regular basis. So he became a visitor to our home and when he was home he always seemed to be entertaining either overseas visitors or clients, so even though he was home we saw him less and less. My mother was always the perfect hostess and because most of the foreign visitors were of German origin, she became an accomplished German cook. Also, as Granny’s room was now empty, most of the visitors tended to stay at our house for the duration of their visits. 

There were numerous visitors, but only two really stand out in my memory. Most of our visitors were typically German, polite, aloof and arrogant but there was one German and one Swiss that were not at all typical in any way. Let’s start with the Swiss national, I cannot remember his name, so let’s call him Swiss, just for identification, but he was probably the most fascinating of our visitors. I also think that he was not visiting my father for business reasons but I stand to be corrected. 

Swiss left every morning with my father and did something during the day, but I have never found out what. To be sure he was dressed in a suit and tie as were all businessmen of the day so presumably he was some sort of businessman. It was on weekends that he became so fascinating at least to us children. You see Swiss was a frustrated Chocolatier and pastry chef. So every weekend he would pull out all my mothers baking equipment and commandeer the kitchen, much to Hubby’s disgust and to our glee. Swiss created the most fascinating cakes, sweets and chocolates that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. 

Cakes shaped as ships, planes, cars, dolls houses in fact any shape that you could imagine, not only iced, but smothered in chocolate, marzipan and various other strange but delicious coverings. He also made chocolate creations that were so scrumptious that today I still yearn for those chocolates. He made pies with fruit fillings of all sorts, that if he had been in the Garden of Eden, Eve would not have been tempted by an apple, but would have spent eternity in exile as long as Swiss supplied his pies. 

He was that good, his command of the English language was not great but he was one of those grown-ups that had a natural affinity with children, to say we loved him was an understatement. Swiss was around on my sixth birthday and secretly baked a birthday cake for me to take to school to share with my classmates  It was designed in the shape of a passenger liner, the outside made of marzipan, resplendent with portholes made of sugar, ropes of chocolate, crew of marzipan and even smoke made of cotton candy. It was truly a work of art, so much so that my teacher, the angel refused to cut the cake so it was left to me to hack it to pieces. Unfortunately after about three months he departed the skies of South Africa and never returned.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Further Visits To A Deranged and Dangerous Man

Image

The second visit was a few weeks later, I presume Granny had lain down the law, as to whom she could or could not see in what was after all her home too. So once again we went visiting the newly wed Mr and Mrs Allan without my father, the heir to the Third Reich. This time we made it into the lounge of the Forest Town house, and there was Robert in his wheelchair with a small table next to him with an ice-bucket a bottle of whisky and a crystal glass filled with the golden nectar. 

We children were told to greet Robert and then were herded outside to sit on the veranda where a small table had been set up. The table was covered with all our favourite treats, various offerings of Granny’s baking and a forbidden treat, bottles of Coca-Cola. My mother did not allow us to imbibe any fizzy drinks, because she believed the high sugar content was bad for our teeth, not our bodies mind you, so was ahead of her time in condemning so called junk food. 

Karen and I enjoyed about two hours of sampling all the wares on the table and slowly sipped our forbidden nectar, inside Robert was imbibing his nectar a lot faster with explosive results. The next thing that I knew Robert was behind my chair and before I could even turn around to inquire what he wanted, he had grabbed me by the hair and had thrown me to the floor, unfortunately, for him, dislodging himself from his wheelchair at the same time. So there we were, me held by the hair on the floor and him with a shirt on and no trousers under his blanket struggling on the floor.

Robert screaming at the top of his voice a little slurred from whisky, spittle spraying everywhere, lending credence to the term “mad dogs and Englishmen”. He was calling me so many names and promising the wrath of God on my head that it was very difficult to neither understand nor isolate any one insult or threat. Next thing Granny was there and she managed to free me from Robert’s clutches, liberated me is the more appropriate word. This time we did not retreat, we fled in total panic, completely shell shocked with more than a touch of hysteria flitting around our emotions. 

It would be a year before we visited again, but I will describe it now so that Robert and his memory can be laid to rest and the consequences of that last visit will reveal themselves in time. So about a year later we were once again on our way to visit Robert, Granny in the intervening year had visited us and always brought cakes and things to us children, but each time she visited she seemed a little more unhappy. I being a year older, seven that is, had by that time discovered that Robert was not the only person on earth that hated Germans; I had discovered that there were others of the same ilk. 

One of my friends at school had invited me around to his house one afternoon after school in my second year of Limberlost, we had been friendly from my first year, and as children we had never inquired as to our respective nationalities nor religions, it was not as important as who supported what soccer team and who won the most marbles. As it turned out Michael was Jewish. His mother picked us up after school and we spent a very pleasant day playing in his garden, his mother being very kind and making sure that we were well fed and watered. That was until just before I was to be picked up by my mother, when she asked me what part of England my parents came from, when I replied that my father was from Germany and as far as I knew my mother was from South Africa she turned into the Ice-Queen. 

Michael the next day at school told me that he was forbidden to play with Nazis. So our friendship was summarily terminated. It was due to this that on this visit I had a better understanding of Robert’s strange behaviour. So, with a fair amount of caution I entered the lion’s den for the last time. It was as if the scene had been rewound, everything from where Robert was sitting with his whiskey to the table outside was dejé vu. 

Everything that day was a repeat of the last visit until the time Robert appeared, this time he did not appear behind me, but on the threshold of the front door, this time with his service revolver in his right hand. I can only surmise that there were only two possibilities that I did not die that day, the first being that at the last second some sort of sanity prevailed, or that the gun was not loaded. Personally I tend towards the second. This time he did not say a word just sat there with the gun pointed at me. How long we sat staring at each other I have no idea, what broke the spell was my mother’s scream. Once again we departed the battle field licking our wounds. 

That was the last time that I ever saw Robert. Granny divorced Robert and his sister had him moved to an Old Age Home in Durban next to Mitchell’s Park where he eventually died. 

Robert was not the only person in the world that never learnt to forgive and forget the wrongs, that real or imagined, had been perpetuated against him. What Robert was not able to understand is that in actual fact he was one of the lucky ones. He had not only survived a war that had obliterated millions of people, mostly civilians, but that he as a soldier was probably responsible for the death and maiming of enemy combatants. So there were probably families in Germany that were nursing men who had suffered far more devastating injuries than he had, who had carried on with their lives and contributed positively to their communities. 

I have had the privilege of meeting a few of his fellow comrades in arms with far more disabling injuries than he had suffered, who accepted the fact that in war death and disablement were inevitable. They also understood that the enemy soldiers were there because their respective governments had ordered them to the front and that like the Allied soldiers the German soldiers fought for what they believed in and that not all Germans had been Nazis. 

 At the age of seven I had not as yet heard of the Holocaust, but I understand Michael’s mother’s reaction to me today, I am not sure that I condone passing the guilt of one generation onto another. I will never be able to understand Robert’s irrational hatred of anything German including children who had nothing to do with his circumstances in life.

Lots of Hugs and more

Peggy-Sven