Cemeteries,Asbestos Cableways and Other Dangerous Pursuits

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During that term things were to be a lot better with the change in the Afrikaans teachers attitude, so I was not punished by them that much and because of my move, I had made friends with one or two of the older English speaking students in one of the other prefab barracks. These new friends were of the rebellious mould and they showed me ways of bunking out of the school grounds at night and the dubious pleasures of Barberton after dark.

The only way to town at night and not to be spotted leaving the school was through the grave yard as it was the one place not many people visited after dark, once through it was easy to sneak along the less frequented side streets to reach the illicit and corruptible fish and chips shop.

One evening while bunking out, we entered the graveyard at the usual slow walk that always ended in a run at the exit. We had just broken into a very fast walk when the boy next to me disappeared, which meant the two that were left probably broke every record in the book for sprinting, we only slowed down once we had left the graveyard. It was then that we realised that we had to go back and save our fellow conspirator from whatever had befallen him.

With legs that were as heavy as lead we slowly crept back the way that we had come, to finally hear quiet whimpers from the ground just a few graves further in front of us. Where I summoned the courage to keep going I do not know, but I finally arrived at a newly dug grave and at the bottom was my friend curled up into a ball whimpering. We finally persuaded him to stand up and helped him out of the grave.

That was to be my last night time expedition into town, my friends carried on and were eventually caught and severely punished. There was to be one other dangerous escapade that I was to participate in with my intrepid friends and that was the ride in the “cocopans”, as we called the aerial cableway that stretched between Barberton and the asbestos mine in Swaziland.

One Saturday they decided it was boring to go to town as we had already seen the movie that was showing the previous Saturday and that they had a far better thing to do. So stupidly I followed their lead, we left the hostel as usual, but instead of going to town they headed towards the cableway. It was easy enough to climb the pylons that supported the cableway and it was not that difficult to jump into one of the empty returning buckets, it was getting out that was to prove dangerous and difficult.

It was not something we had considered, when we attempted the stunt. Also the cable moved very slowly, or so it seemed from the ground, but as a worker on an assembly line will tell you it moves a lot faster than it looks. So that Saturday we rode the cableway over into Swaziland and managed to jump onto one of the pylons just before it entered the mine compound. When I jumped out of the bucket I almost did not manage to catch onto the pylon I was aiming for, and even though I finally did, it was not before I had badly scrapped my hands and bruised my chest in the fall against the pylon. If I had not needed to return, there would have been no way I would have attempted the return trip, but as there was no option I did.

We were very fortunate that neither the people in the mines nor the Swaziland police spotted us or we would have landed in jail and I am sure would have been expelled from the school.

Lots of HUGS and more,

PEGGY-Sven

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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

Lord Of The Flies And Other Savagery In Our Neighbourhood

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I also made friends with a few others in the street and as David was not allowed to play with certain people in the street, for some reason or other, his father being a minister of the cloth after all, I played with these other friends on the days that David T was at sports practice at his school and only returned after dark. First there was John W, a boy of my own age and the Dennis the Menace of the neighbourhood. If there was trouble you would be sure to find John W in the middle of it.

I have already mentioned that plastic was the new miracle product and every conceivable object was suddenly produced of plastic, the most stupid being post boxes. John W had discovered that if you ‘posted a Big Bang firecracker’ the plastic post boxes were blown to smithereens. I must point out that Big Bangs were almost the size of dynamite sticks. He also discovered the same thing happened to Coke-a -Cola bottles when one of these firecrackers was placed inside one, a very dangerous thing to attempt as the wicks burned fast and you had to reattach the lid after the insertion of the firecracker, not the screw type lids of today, there was always the chance of the bottle exploding in your hands. With all that flying glass you would be lucky if you only lost your hands and not your eyesight as well.

Children all believe that they are immune to harm and invincible to boot, I am sure that all children believe that statement. I think you are getting the idea why Reverend T did not allow his son to mix with John W. My parents were fortunately not privy to the same information that the good Reverend probably had on his congregation. Also my mother was friendly with Mrs W, most of my mother’s friends were our friend’s mothers as she really had very little time to meet other women outside my father’s business associate’s wives.

Next door to John W lived John and Michael d.P. To differentiate the two Johns, John W was known as little John and Mike’s brother as big John. Big John’s father worked for Dunlop tyres, and his mother was Daphne, never Mrs d.P. As big John was thirteen and Michael eleven they were a lot older than us, as there was no one of their own age group in the street they allowed us to tag along.

One of the things that the d.P boys had that was very groovy ( the word used for cool in the sixties) was the fact that each possessed a pellet gun that they allowed little John and I to play with. Our main targets being the birds that flocked to the mulberry tree in the d.P’s back yard. Pigeons and doves being the most valuable, as you see there was a Native gentleman that would buy the birds as long as they were fresh, from us for ten cents each if the size of a dove or bigger, and five cents each for the smaller birds. He in turn sold them to the domestic workers in our area.

As a box of pellets cost twenty five cents, we were always able to shoot as often as we liked as the birds paid for the ammunition, there was five hundred pellets in a box. When we were bored with shooting birds, or there were a lack of them we devised other targets. One day being very bored we decided to play chicken with pellet guns, the idea being that a target was set up, a tin can as I recall, and someone ran in front of the target, as the person neared the target the shooter tried to hit the target. The real object was to shoot between the runners legs. A disaster waiting to happen and it did. Little John was shot in the back of his kneecap by one of the two shooters being Michael and myself.

Michael took the blame, but that did not stop all of us being punished by our respective parents in their unique ways, some harsher than others. That was the end of the pellet guns when we were around.

Today I understand what little savages we were, and how we needlessly shot the wild life that were needed to help not only our gardens to grow, but that brought joy and happiness to the whole area with their songs. It will be a very sad world when the songs of birds disappear. To indiscriminately kill, when there is no absolute need, is an abomination.

Little John had a sister that I was madly in love with, her name was Phyllis, she on the other hand was a little older than me and I do not think that she was even aware of my existence. There was an occasion that she gave me a hug and I was able to hug her back, the only highlight of my adoration for her. As I told Hubby “I hugged her so tight she shrank up”.

Big John and Michael were not always in the mood to play with little John and I and there was one occasion that they got little John to gang up with them and attack me. I was not seriously hurt at all, but they squashed mulberries in my ears and sent me home crying, as the neighbours were very aware of the trouble I had with my ears, one of them had rung ahead to tell my mother that my ears were streaming with blood and that she had better be prepared to take me to the nearest hospital.

There was nothing wrong with me, but the sight of mulberry juice pouring out of my ears almost drove my mother hysterical. I was banned from playing with the d.P’s for three months.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Tie A Cape Around Your Neck And Become A Superhero

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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

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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