Sing before breakfast

DUTOITSPAN MINE, KIMBERLEY, JUNE 1960.  When acting shiftboss Dennis Knox walked into the shiftbosses’ underground office that morning there was a strange glint in his eye; there was foam coming out of his mouth, and he was carrying a stick of dynamite.  The fuse protruding from the dynamite was ominously short, and it was burning fiercely – like a child’s Guy Fawkes sparkler.

Dennis saw that he had everyone’s undivided attention.

The shiftbosses’ eyes filled with fear as they did frantic mental arithmetic – they knew from their mine learners’ course that fuse burned at a rate of 90 to 110 seconds a yard.  This particular piece of fuse had a foot to go before a deafening and deadly explosion would tear limb from limb and splatter their flesh against the freshly painted rock and concrete walls.  But their minds were so numbed with dread that they failed to compute that there was a whole 30 seconds left to grab the lightly built Dennis, wrestle the dynamite away from him, and cut the fuse; or at least pull the fuse out and throw it into the tunnel outside where the detonator would explode harmlessly.

Dennis noted with satisfaction that Attie Carstens, the biggest windgat of the group, was attempting to escape by trying to crawl through the one-foot wide drainage channel at the back of the office.  The other bosses cowered under the wooden table while their half-eaten sausages and eggs reposed on thick china plates above their heads.

James, the tea-boy and first-aid attendant, who had cooked their breakfast, was singing to himself while washing up in the adjoining kitchenette.  He’d been in an especially good mood that day – singing almost non-stop since coming on duty at 6.10 am.  As he sang he looked up from time to time at his handiwork: models of oxen, full-breasted women, and gnarled old men with sticks and blankets – all reminding him of his village in the Transkei that he sent most of his wages back to every month.  The figurines were dotted around the kitchen – on shelves, and perched on indentations in the silver-painted rock wall.  They were sculpted from tamping, a substance just like clay that was made from mixing blueground dust and water and fed into the tamping machine which he operated when he wasn’t working in the kitchen.  The machine had been constructed in the De Beers workshops and was quite a clever thing: when he pressed the button it would exude a sausage of mud like a long piece of boerewors, and cut it into eight-inch lengths. (Once holes drilled in the rock had been filled with sticks of dynamite, tamping was squashed into place with a broomstick-like tamping rod – keeping the dynamite in place when nearby holes exploded.)

Dennis placed the smoking bomb on the table and called out to the tea-boy, “James, fika lapa.”

Then he turned on his heel, leaving James to use his considerable play-acting talents to feign alarm and terror at the scene in front of him; then pull the fuse out of the dynamite and show the cowering Boere that there was no detonator attached to it, and that the dynamite wasn’t really dynamite – just a stick of tamping wrapped in brown paper.  (He would refrain from telling them that it was the same stick that Dennis had asked him for much earlier, when Dennis had explained his plan in fluent Fanakalo.) As Dennis wiped the Kolynos toothpaste from his lips he thought to himself that next time these hairybacks would think twice before giving a soutpiel from Natal such a hard time.  He wondered if mine-captain Brittz, who was built like a brick shithouse, but had a wry sense of humour, would ever ask him to be acting shiftboss again.

He walked down the tunnel singing a little verse that an English miner had taught him – a verse that helped sustain him when the pressures from the unreasonable bosses he worked for got a bit too much: “Times are bad and wages are small – take your time and fuck them all.”

The above story is based on a 1960 incident in the mine where I first worked.

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PARTY PARTY

“Ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming to this review of our performance in parliament during the last session, and some thoughts for the future.  And a big welcome to the large media contingent: as you can see, we have provided a feast of medieval proportions for you, and we expect you to tuck in with gusto. Our caterers have excelled themselves this time, and I hope each of you will pick up one of their business cards (with an attached discount voucher) as you leave.

Our results show that the decision to form a political party with the catchy name of Party Party was a good one. Our motto of have fun, make money and puncture pomposity seems to have caught on, and our membership is growing in leaps and bounds.

Fate did play a part in our success. I have no idea how a crocodile got into the fire pool at Nkandla. But, as the world now knows, president Zuma sustained a fatal heart attack when it bit him as he floated by on his lilo. This brought about such an upheaval in the ANC that an early election was called; but there was enough time for us to launch our party.

As expected, the ANC achieved a much smaller majority than ever before, getting only 51 percent of the vote. But nobody expected our cheeky upstart party to do so well. Getting ten seats in our first election battle was amazing. Even we were surprised.

We also have no idea who put an inflatable crocodile into Mr Zuma’s coffin, and who suddenly inflated it as Mr Mugabe solemnly filed past while the body was lying in state. As you know, he also suffered a fatal heart attack. But, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. And in the subsequent Zimbabwean election the Crocodile Party did rather well. There is now a much greater spirit of levity and prosperity in Zimbabwe. Millions of men who were working in South Africa have now returned to Zimbabwe, thus making corresponding job opportunities available to local people. For the first time in years our unemployment rate is decreasing.

Some people have noticed a resemblance between our Party Party and the Crocodile Party. It is possible that we may have received a generous donation for our advice. We admit that we do earn commission on the inflatable crocodiles and their catchy slogans that are so popular in both countries now. Other countries have shown interest in our methods, and trademarks and franchising opportunities are being explored.

Regarding our performance in parliament, we admit that we were inspired by the antics of the EFF. But we decided to go a different route. We persuaded Edgars (with help from Errol Arendz) to sponsor the smart but funky outfits we wear to every session. I’m not sure who coined the phrase “one hand washes the other”, but it applies in this case, if you know what I mean. The fake rolled up umbrellas with concealed placards was my idea. You must admit that suddenly holding up placards saying YAWN or YADDA YADDA as some politician droned on, gave us lots of TV and newspaper coverage.

One of our younger members came up with the idea that instead of solemnly stalking up the red carpet at the opening of parliament we should skip, while scattering flower petals. Needless to say this went down well with the press.

Next year we will probably arrive en mass on bicycles, while wearing violently hued lycra, every day that it doesn’t rain. When it rains we might skate in while holding umbrellas. We’ll keep you guessing and surprised. But, we will show that the Party Party doesn’t just talk about saving energy and helping to prevent global warming. We take action!

Now, let’s live up to our name and PARTY. The drinks are on us! Strike up the band!”

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WHEN WE WERE YOUNG

Here’s Wineou and wife in April 1970 at the Alphen Hotel, Constantia near Cape TownIMG_0002

and at the Breede River Mouth near Cape Town in September 1970 in a pic taken by Dave Woods.

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(I didn’t need the gaff to land those little fish, but Dave thought it would add to the picture.)

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AN EMBARRASSING MOMENT

Part of a September 1965 Playboy interview with Peter O’Toole goes like this:
Playboy: After The Bible you made a comedy called What’s New Pussycat? with Peter Sellers. Everybody agrees that it’s fairly far out. Are they correct?
O’Toole: It depends what you mean by far out. Everyday life is far out. I first realized that many years ago, when I turned on the radio and someone was asking a man to describe his most embarrassing experience. I’ve never forgotten what he said, “I was sitting at home one night, washing my trombone, when I looked through the window, and there in the moonlight on the crazy paving I saw a hedgehog. Thinking it might be thirsty, I took it out a saucer of gin. The following morning I observed that the gin was untouched. Imagine my embarrassment when I found that it wasn’t a hedgehog at all; it was a lavatory brush”. I’m sorry, but if that isn’t far out I don’t know what is. What was he doing washing a trombone?

After that, anything I might say about my own embarrassing moment is bound to be an anticlimax. But the moment above was private and mine was not.

In 1976 I was transferred from The Argus Company to Allied Publishing and made the manager of “Claremont Complex” which looked after the distribution, sales and home deliveries of The Argus and Cape Times in Claremont and surrounding areas.

One day our publisher, a fairly new employee called Theo, disappeared. Then we got reports that he had been collecting money from café owners and not handing it in to us. Charges were laid, he was arrested and the prosecutor told me that the case against Theo was watertight, with a Portuguese café owner and his wife prepared to testify. I had to give evidence and was reprimanded for nodding my head instead of clearly saying yes or no. When my turn was over I had to leave the court while others gave evidence, but was allowed to return when it was Theo’s turn in the dock. The prosecutor grilled him but he stuck to his story that he was on leave and had not collected any money. The magistrate chimed in with, “How do you explain that Mr Rodriguez was able to pick you out as the one responsible from all the people sitting in the courtroom?” He replied, “Mr M pointed me out before proceedings began.” “Oh really?” said the magistrate sarcastically. I can see Mr M sitting over there and I can call him back to the witness stand.”

“Fine,” said Theo.

So I was called back and sworn in. in a confident voice the magistrate asked me if I had pointed out Theo to Mr Rodriguez. I had to admit that when I arrived that morning I was standing at the back of the full courtroom looking for a place to sit when I bumped into Mr and Mrs Rodriguez and got chatting to them. While chatting I spotted Theo sitting amongst all the other people and said, “Oh, there’s Theo over there.” Just then Theo turned round and spotted me pointing.

As I said this the prosecutor looked at me in a shocked way and mouthed the word, “Why?” while giving a hopeless pleading gesture.

With my tail between my legs I stood down while the magistrate addressed the court, saying, “I cannot convict a man on the evidence submitted.” He added something about green eyes and blue eyes. (Theo had distinctive green eyes and I presume the witness had called them blue while I was out of the room.)

Theo walked free mainly because of me, and went on to become a successful used car salesman.

I don't think this is the sort of car that Theo ended up selling

I don’t think this is the sort of car that Theo ended up selling

7 pages of Sept 1965 Peter O’Toole interview found here http://hame.ca/otoole/biopage.html
Once you have opened the above site scroll down until you get to The 1965 Playboy Interview and click on each page in succession.

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SAVING ELECTRICITY

Whilst going for a walk the other day I noticed that some people are particularly diligent about saving electricity. Even respectable Rondebosch matrons are refraining from using their indicators. This caused a little puzzlement and hesitation to oncoming traffic when one of the matrons was turning right. But she patiently waited till others made their move before she made hers. Sometimes one has to cause a little inconvenience in order to do the right thing. Perhaps the amount of electricity she saved was exceedingly small. But every little bit helps. Others are saving electricity by not using their headlights before dawn on a drizzly morn. Some are making a partial gesture by using only one headlight. Once again this might seem an exceedingly small – and even dangerous – contribution to the nation’s electricity crisis. But at least these people are doing something. Pedestrians are also doing their bit. They are refraining from pressing pedestrian buttons and thereby bringing traffic travelling in both directions to a halt. They are selflessly putting their lives at risk by watching the traffic and dashing across the road without needlessly causing red lights and little green men to be activated. Irate motorists need to acknowledge that pedestrian bravery and the occasional sacrifice of a life is for the greater good of all. They could also view the mowing down of a reckless pedestrian as a way of helping to reduce over-population, and the improvement of the gene pool at the same time.

The sort of car that Rondebosch matrons like to drive

The sort of car that Rondebosch matrons like to drive

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OF OSTRICHES AND US

I like taking tourists to the Cape Point Ostrich Farm. Ernst the owner is a retired orthopaedic surgeon who takes quite an interest in the anatomy and lifestyle of ostriches. He keeps his in paddocks with a breeding pair in each, and he says that ostriches and humans have a lot in common.

Like us, they run around on two legs – but a lot faster than we do. They live for 70 to 80 years. They mate for life; but just like human beings, if they can get a bit on the side they will. The males are always in the mood for love, and the girls are not – they sometimes have a headache. To give the girls a rest from being chased around the paddocks by the randy boys he separates the sexes for a couple of months in the winter.

Then, on the first day of spring he puts them together again. It seems that, even with ostriches, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, on that day they are all in the mood. “It’s like a whorehouse here” says Ernst.

Dad and kids at Cape of Good Hope

Dad and kids at Cape of Good Hope

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DRESSING FOR DINNER

When I cycled from Cape Town to Durban in May 1982 I carried a tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils and a few changes of clothing that I would need for a holiday in Natal and Sun City with the sexy girlfriend who was flying to meet me at the end  of the bicycle leg.

The camping gear came in handy at the caravan parks where I spent my nights in South Africa. But when I got to the independent state of Transkei there were no caravan parks. At my first hotel stop, in the one-horse town of Butterworth, I learnt that I had left a vital item behind. “We require gentlemen to wear jackets and ties for dinner,” I was informed by the severe-looking elderly female receptionist. My plea that I wasn’t really a gentleman was not accepted. She said that she could lend me a tie, but that I would have to find my own jacket.

Later that evening, as I tucked into the substantial hotel dinner, I looked around me to see if anyone was staring at me, because I was quite sure that I was the only person in the whole world wearing a tie and pyjama jacket. Fortunately the diners at such an upmarket venue were too polite to stare. Instead I stared at them; and reflected that, after dinner I would have a slight advantage over them: I merely had to change my trousers, but not my top when I got into bed.

My next stop, at the Holiday Inn in Umtata was unremarkable. But the clientele at this one was far more mixed than at any hotel in South Africa.

My final Transkei stop was at the New Carlton Hotel in Mount Frere.  A glance through the register revealed that I was the only paleface to have stayed there in yonks.  Nevertheless my bike and I were made very welcome by the locals.  Almost too welcome.  One fellow was most insistent about buying my bike for R100 and putting me on the bus to Durban: “Come, let us go to the bar and discuss this deal.”  Fortunately these negotiations were cut short when the pretty receptionist announced that my room was ready.

At dinner that evening nobody wore a tie. I watched the next table with interest as a hip fellow with a fuzzy-wuzzy hairdo sat down next to a large great-coated baldy from the Transkei.  After a while their talk drifted into silence, and the fuzzy-wuzzy announced loudly, “You know, I seem to be the only one making conversation around heah.”  Baldy muttered, “You people from Joburg make us nervous.”

After dinner I decided to absorb some more local colour in the TV lounge where I was joined by Baldy and Fuzzy.  Baldy thought we should go to the bar to get drinks, but Fuzzy (who turned out to be a lawyer from Soweto assisting in a local case) cut him short: “No – one of these boys will bring us a drink”

He dashed out into the passage and came back with the 70-year-old waiter who had earlier brought me afternoon tea in my room, and who had told me that he had worked at the Arthur’s Seat Hotel in Sea Point.  He courteously took our orders of a Carling for Baldy, a Castle for me, and a gin and tonic for Fuzzy.

The total bill for the drinks came to about R3 (things were a lot cheaper in 1982).  Fuzzy handed the waiter a R10 note and said grandly, “Keep the change.”  Need I add that the service remained top class after that?

There were a few subsequent shortcomings such as three power failures, a cessation of the water supply after my morning bath, and a few weevils in the breakfast Weet-Bix. But I wouldn’t have missed my stay there for anything. Incidentally, the lack of cold tap water when I needed to fill my three water bottles for the next leg of the journey caused some concern. But the clever 70-year-old solved the problem by getting water from the hot tap and mixing it with ice from the kitchen fridge.

When I hauled out a credit card to pay the bill (I think it came to R15) there was some consternation. Eventually a dust-covered credit-card machine was found, and a long-handled feather duster was used to clean it. The machine went flick flack and I was sent on my way with beaming smiles and enthusiastic waves.

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