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THE WAY WE LIVED.  11. Street of my destiny. [Part one] [7min read]  

Round-the-Cape-Peninsula Drive [3]

With some time on one’s hands, one first heads for the Table Mountain cable station.  The weather is excellent, but the queue – from my left around to the right and beyond – is too long even with the new multi-person cable car.  So you enjoy the view and head towards Signal Hill in the middle via Lions’ Head on the left.  Devils peak is on the right. Table Bay glimmers beyond with hazed out Helderberg [preferred PC name for “Hottentot’s Holland”] Mountains farther on.

11. Street of my destiny. [PART ONE]

I lived in 44 Dale Street, Lansdowne from the age of three till twenty-one.

It was a street where milk was delivered by a Black “milky” [aka the milkman in our household] with an overladen bike loaded front and rear with his bottles.  It could not have been easy for him with a full load at the start of the day.  Postmen still cycled in those days.  My older brother, while still at school, joined him over the Xmas holidays for some pocket money.

In our early years we had an outside bucket toilet for our “night soil”; well, in truth, “day soil” was part of it all.  The bucket was referred to as an aa-balie – a poo bucket. How I pitied the collectors who came by weekly in their stinking horse-drawn carts and later motorised trucks.  How we held our breath as we rushed past them.  Was there ever a more smelly or lowly job than this?  One never saw a White man do this kind of work; or, come to think of it, any kind of menial labour.

We were classy enough to have real toilet paper.  Many of our friends and family had strips of newspaper which were about fifteen centimetres across for cleaning oneself.  The paper hung on a folded over length of thick wire.  It was useful to have a bottle of water handy – it sort of softened the paper a bit.  Of course, you could not wet it too much!  The consequence was too unpleasant.  The newspaper’s only advantage was that one could catch up with some neglected news while on the loo.  Oh yes, and cheaper too! Our air freshener was the lingering smell of Jeyes fluid to mask the odour.

It was supposed to be a “fancy” neighbourhood; it probably didn’t even qualify as middle class.  At best it was mixed.  In my early days, there were shanties at the southern end of the road.  Opposite this shanty complex, there was a mix of old breeze block houses with corrugated iron roofs and well-built corrugated iron houses.  One of its occupants was Dorothy Fisher.  She was Chris Barnard’s fifth patient who showed the potential longevity after heart transplantation by surviving nearly thirteen years after her surgery.  That period was before the introduction of more efficient anti-rejection medication, but she was pivotal to the acceptance of the procedure.

<— Street of my destiny.  Now with many more houses.  Facing north, Dorothy Fisher’s home, at about number twenty-six ,and other demolished corrugated iron houses, used to be on the right. The van der Heydens [see part two] lived on the left side at about number twenty-five. I lived farther down at forty-four, past the barely visible Searle street corner on the right.

Our middle stretch of the road had a mixture of solid wood and iron structures, and breeze block homes with iron or asbestos sheet roofing.  I survived our asbestos roof and recall how we painted the roof one summer after my older brother and I brushed it down with wire brushes.  I have always asked myself how many inhaled asbestos fibres were needed to develop the dreaded, fatal mesothelioma.  I’m still counting!

The northern and southern ends of Dale Street had a few new brick and tile buildings.  That end of the street also had a couple of large shanty structures which ware stand-alone buildings occupied by some Muslim families.  They were the local koeksister makers who also made tameletjies during the pine kernel season when these delights were cooked on wood-fired stoves [see earlier food blog].

The koeksisters were a Sunday morning treat.  They were best eaten while still warm and enjoyed with coffee, usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk.  These Malay/Indonesian-origin treats were different to the rather plain Dutch style plaited koeksisters. The cinnamon-flavoured doughnut was coated with sugar syrup and smothered in coconut.   It set in motion my life-long sweet-toothed indulgences. [See later blog].

We were a street of people who, in the main, were classified as Coloured; we ranged from black through all shades of brown to white. Across the road from us was a row of metal terrace houses.  Some of the tenants were indigenous Africans who ran a shebeen.  Africans could not legally buy alcohol. The shebeen sold spirits and late-night revellers often swung by to pick up more stock. The illicit liquor shop was subjected to occasional police raids to seize their contraband booze.

The four, terraced structures were barely four metres wide with a narrow passageway that ran down one side from their front doors to the back doors. From the street, one could look all the way through to the yard and we could see the police dig up hidden containers of alcohol.  Apparently, the police were on the take, and  many of the raids were just symbolic.

Only years later I discovered that shebeens were an Irish institution which dated back to the days of prohibition.  In 1980 I drank at a shebeen in a London pub until the wee hours.  An Irishman took us to the pub after closing time which I think was just before midnight.   On that night I discovered the virtue of drinking Guinness which left me free of the dreaded after effects the next day!  I lost one contact lens that night and tore a shirt in a bush; but that’s another story, shared with Alec. There was a moral to that episode.  Don’ try to hop on one leg after one too many Guiness’. I also drank at a west and an east coast Irish pub called The Shebeen. Both were legal establishments, like the modern-day, post-democracy shebeens in South Africa.

[Part two will be in my next blog]


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