Rugby, Not a Sport, But a Religion.

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There were only three English speakers in the same standard as me in the hostel, so naturally we gravitated towards friendship as there was safety in numbers, it was unwise to be caught alone as a so called ‘Rooinek’ or “red neck”, the name that we were called because Englishman’s necks always burned red in the severe African sun.

We spent a lot of time sitting in the highest branches of the Marula tree that grew in the playground that the hostel provided for the exclusive use of the boys, the girls played elsewhere. When the tree had leaves on it we were invisible from the ground and therefore safe until dinner. On the days that we had sport practice we were not safe even if there was a teacher present.

There were two sports offered, rugby and athletics. Athletics was a summer sport and most importantly not a contact sport well mostly not a contact sport. There were things like long jump, high jump, discus and the sprints that were definitely non-contact. The five hundred, one thousand, and cross country were very much contact sports as you would be pushed, shoved and trampled on if the opportunity arose. So we rooineks stuck to the non-contact variety.

Rugby season was another story. Rugby was a compulsory sport, every able bodied male youngster had to participate in this almost religious passion.

Strangely I excelled at it, being as small as I was, it was almost impossible to tackle me around the chest or neck, as most of the opposition were prone to do, also being small I could not bring the huge opposition that I faced down if I tackled them around the waist, so I learned that no matter how huge the opposition, if tackled around the ankles they had no option but to come crashing down to ground level, inevitably spilling the ball forward. Also I was surprisingly fast for my size, so I was made a wing.

The position furthest from the brute force of the scrum or mincer, it suited me fine. My friends were not as lucky, as they were slower and larger than me, at the end of every practice or game they returned to the hostel sporting either a black eye, bleeding nose or rake marks somewhere on their bodies or all three.

The attitude of most of the Afrikaans teachers, which up to then had been very anti-me, changed when the second term started and they noticed my ability to play their sacred game so well.

My little under eleven A team went unbeaten that season and that may have played a large part in their change of attitude. It did not help me in any way with the Afrikaans students in the hostel.

Up until that time my dormitory was in the main hostel block, with the other younger children, this was changed by the hostel master, and I was moved to one of the outside prefabricated barrack like buildings with the older boys and the rugby elite. Believe me when I say I could have done without the honour, I was the only rooinek or “Soutpiel”, as I was called by the Afrikaans students, in the place, so I was totally vulnerable. Soutpiel means one leg in Africa and one leg in England with the middle leg in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A School With More Than A Little Dicipline.

The internal economy of Dotheboys Hall

Barberton hostel’s rules were definitely based on the Afrikaans culture, from the separation of the sexes, haircuts, choice of food to the attendance of church. After breakfast, that normally consisted of corn porridge (lumpy and normally undercooked) a slice of bread and a cup of tea, the separated sexes were lined up in two’s and then marched to the actual school, girls in front, boys following.

Once at the school, the different language groups immediately dispersed to find their respective friends of the appropriate language. The English and Afrikaans teachers also practiced a type of Apartheid, even though they shared a common staff room. The English teachers were also a lot more humane then their Afrikaans counterparts, so we English speakers would try and remain close to the English supervisor during breaks, as our chances of being punished if we strayed too close to the Afrikaans side of the playground was about a hundred times more likely than if we stayed on our side.

Actual lessons were not at all that bad, as all but one subject was taught in English by Englishmen, the exception being Afrikaans itself. It was a subject that we all learned to dread, I think most of us would have preferred being caned six of the best, than have to attend Afrikaans lessons. The Spanish inquisition would have been proud to have our Afrikaans teacher as one of their interrogators. He hated us English speaking kids and made no bones about it either. Afrikaans is a rather guttural language and most English speakers battle with the pronunciation. I was told once that to speak it properly, it helps if you have a throat disease.

As none of us had even a sore throat, let alone cancer of the throat, we battled with the correct pronunciation. Whenever we got it wrong, we were caned. The theory I suppose being that we would try harder to avoid pain or maybe it was just the theory that knowledge could be beaten into a child, both theories failed miserably.

At the end of lessons it was back into lines and the march back to the hostel. After lunch the primary school children had the afternoon off, the high school kids were marched off for the afternoon session.

The one thing that was extremely foreign to me was the fact that children were allowed to go to school barefoot, at all the other schools I had attended if you walked around barefoot you were punished. I was to find out that in general the Afrikaans population was poor and many could not afford to buy their children shoes, that did not stop them affording alcohol, just shoes and school uniforms were unaffordable.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Eating Habits and Other Surprises

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There were many differences in lifestyle between home life and boarding house rules that I had to adjust to, the hardest being the rules in relation to meals. In our household you were to eat everything that you had chosen to put on your plate, at Barberton there was no choice. The food was passed around and you were forced to take a portion of everything that had been prepared.

Now you will have to understand that I was used to a very different cooking style, to the Afrikaans way of cooking and there was certain things that I would not eat at all even when prepared by my mother, spinach being a definite no, no.

There was one memorable occasion at home where I left the spinach that had been put on my plate by my father, which I refused to eat. I was about seven at the time, he ranted and raved that I would not leave the table until the spinach was eaten, so I sat there staring at the spinach until one in the morning, before I was sent to bed. The spinach was given to me to eat for the next two days for breakfast, lunch and supper and no matter how hungry I was I steadfastly refused to eat it. That is where the rules at home changed, that we only had to eat what we ourselves put on our plate, even when our eyes were larger than our stomachs.

The hostel rules had no exceptions written into it, no one left the dinning  hall until all the food was gone, you were not even allowed to pass what you did not want onto someone who obviously could either eat some more or desired that particular food. Not only was your plate checked, but you had to open your mouth to show that you were not hiding food in it to spit out later.

Learning to half swallow the food I did not want to eat, it took a long time to perfect. The technique of getting the food to slide only half way down my throat and to hold it there before regurgitating the unwanted swine’s food into the nearest dustbin. I could only hold it like that for as long as I could hold my breath, once I had to breathe I was forced to swallow. So I always ate the food I liked first then waited for the hall to be dismissed and the crowds to exit, I was always the last out as waiting in the line to be inspected took longer than I could hold my breath.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Lack of Self Control

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All our house masters were Afrikaans except one, the English Gym teacher. If I had one really bad failing as a child, it was the inability to shut my mouth when some bully espoused some stupid comment about me being English.

The Afrikaans students in the hostel far outnumbered the English ones, the reason being that their fathers tended to be farmers and the farms were out of town. The townies tended to be English and their fathers owned most of the stores or businesses in the town of Barberton and lived within the town limits, so most of the English speaking students just walked to school.

We borders also walked to school as the hostel was about two kilometres from that sanctity of learning. The Afrikaans hated the English, still do I suppose, due to the concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war where some twenty-eight thousand Afrikaans speaking people had died, of which more than twenty-two thousand were children under the age of sixteen. Understandably  they had their reasons to hate the British, but to them all English speakers where British, which of course was not exactly correct.

I was of German extraction, my mother was brought up by my Granny who was Swedish, and I had no ties to the British. My father had decided to bring us up as English speaking as it was the only international language taught in South African schools. Shamefully whenever one of these ignorant oafs started with me, instead of agreeing with them, which would have been the safest thing to do, I proceeded to give them a piece of my mind and to remind them that they were a bunch of mongrels made up of Dutch, French, German and anything else that happened to be passing through South Africa at the time. To say that I was beaten on a regular basis would be like commenting that the sun rose every morning in the East, or that the Pope was catholic. So I had plenty of time to enjoy the bucket parade.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A Boarding Experience In Hell (TBH)

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In the New Year it was off, to John Orr’s, to buy all the things that I was required to have to attend Barberton Primary. The very first thing was a large steel trunk that could be locked, this should have been some sort of clue as to what I was going into, but my mother felt it was just so that it could be padlocked for transit on the train, I did not point out that most of the boys would be from surrounding farms and would have no need to use a train.

By the time that we had bought everything on the list, the trunk would hardly close, as it would be delivered to our home with the roll of name tags that my mother had ordered we were not unduly worried. Finally John Orr’s delivered all the things that we had bought, and Granny and mother spent hours labelling all my school requisites, including cricket bat and even my toothbrush had my name engraved on it, none of these precautions however proved adequate as will soon be seen.

Both my parents drove me down to Barberton and made sure that I was securely enrolled in the school. We said good-bye, with me sitting on my bed surrounded by all my belongings that had to be packed away into a steel upright cabinet that also had a place where a padlock could be used to secure the goods inside. I had a set of five padlocks that all opened with the same key and three spares that were handed into the hostel masters office, along with the recommended amount of pocket money that could be drawn in any amounts on a Friday afternoon, pocket money would also have to cover haircuts as I was to find out later to my cost.

 After I had packed away all my belongings, I went downstairs and started to wander about finding out where all the amenities were, when suddenly a bell started ringing, I had no idea what the bell meant so I hurried back to my dormitory. Before I had even reached the building a teacher started shouting in both English and Afrikaans that we must all report to him, so I headed in his direction.

Once all the boys were assembled in front of him he asked who had rung the bell, as I did not even know where the button to ring the bell was located, I knew I could not even be a suspect, so I was very relaxed as the silence drew out. Nobody owned up to the crime, the next thing I knew we were forming a line and every boy was given one stroke with a cane. Justice I was to find out at Barberton was swift, but by no means just, if someone was caught doing something wrong there was immediate punishment from one stroke of the cane for misdemeanours to six strokes for more serious ones, smoking for an example. If no one owned up the whole school was punished, there was no investigation, either you were caught red handed, someone owned up or the whole school was punished.

Not a single kid even thought of telling a teacher who the culprit was, being caned was one thing, being beaten to a pulp by one of these strapping farm boys was another. The punishment for being caught fighting, even if you were an innocent victim of a bully, was to stand holding buckets with just enough water that you could hold them up, arms horizontal to the ground where you were expected to stand in the blazing sun for an hour without lowering the buckets. If your arms dropped too far out of the horizontal, your shoulders would feel the bite of a cane, two wonderful punishments in one

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

P.S. TBH was the car registration plates of the town, which stood for To Bloody Hot.

A Last Christmas As A Family

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At the beginning of the year my father had set a challenge for my sister and I, if we finished in the top three of our respective classes we would receive a portable radio as a prize, the prize to take the form of our Christmas presents. Well Karen was top of her class, I managed only fifth. So when Christmas arrived Karen received her portable radio, I nothing as I had not fulfilled the terms of the challenge.

We were to have one more Christmas together years later, but it would never be the same as those Christmas’ that we shared during our youth. I was informed on Christmas that a school had been chosen for me for the new academic year as my inclusion in the convent was always until the end of standard two. I was to attend a school by the name of Barberton Primary, a co-ed and duel medium school in Barberton. Duel medium meaning the school taught in both English and Afrikaans. It was also a boarding school. My father thought this was a good idea as having attended a girls school I needed toughening up and Barberton was the perfect place to do just that.

The one good thing that happened near the end of the year was that my father had opened a new business by the name of Springbok Office Supplies (1968) and that he was sure he had learned from his mistakes and this new version would be bigger and far stronger than the last business, even though he was down to a single branch again, operating from the same premises.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Lost Keys, Friends Found

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The second was the loss of the Mercedes car keys. It happened just a few days before my parents returned from wherever they had gone to.

We had spent the morning on the beach, Granny sprawled on her deck chair under her umbrella, Hubby helping Kirsten and Kern to make sand castles and Karen and I playing with the friends we had made on the beach during our stay there, there was always some we were saying good-bye to as it was their last day and hello to others who had just started their holiday. We always left the beach at noon, as it was decided that the sun became far too fierce in the afternoon. Afternoons were reserved for visiting museums, parks or just walking around the harbour looking at all the foreign cargo vessels and if we were really lucky one of the mail ships that took the mail and passengers to England.

That afternoon it had been planned that we would visit a park by the name of Mitchell’s Park which also housed the local zoo. The reason that we went to Mitchell’s Park so often was to enjoy their afternoon teas, which served the greatest tasting scones smothered in homemade strawberry jam and thick clotted cream that I have ever tasted. Also Granny used to pop across the road and visit with Robert who was now one of the inmates of the old age home across the road from the park, while we were traipsing around the zoo.

When the time came for us to leave for the park, Granny could not find the keys, so we spent that afternoon searching the apartment. By the next morning and after Hubby had looked for them as well we decided that they must have fallen out of Granny’s bag the last time we were on the beach. Off to the beach we marched, first stop lost and found, they had seen neither hide nor hair of the darn things. Then to the plan of last resort, we found the place that we had spent the morning before, or at least the place we thought we had been and started to dig and sift through the sand.

Karen and I enlisted the help of our beach friends and before long there was a hole that rivalled the Great Hole of Kimberly. Our hole however did not give up any treasure mainly the car keys were nowhere to be found. For the next few days the mission was to be repeated over and over, we lost a few of our helpers, but the excavations always brought fresh recruits. When the day dawned that our parents were to return there was still no keys, so with some trepidation Granny hired a taxi and fetched them from the airport. Well the local locksmiths needed at least a spare to make a copy and Natal motors were not much help either. So Carl was contacted and had the spare key air freighted, at some considerable expense, to us.

Lots of hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven