By Baker Street
Chapter One - Early years.
I was born in 1969 in Pretoria, South Africa.
I grew up in a small town (which is now a big city) in a small middleclass family. I only have one brother. My father was an auto mechanic, my mother a librarian. We used to go and fish at the river close to my house, when I was young. Or else we would just play and fool around on the banks.
My mother's family was large and fairly wealthy. My father's family was also quite large. They were English and stayed down in East London. We went to average schools like all the other kids in the neighborhood. We had average interests and led the lives of fairly ordinary boys. We played chess, soccer, rugby and did the athletics that we were good at. Before I turned sixteen, my father died in an accident. He had been a strict disciplinarian and when he was gone I had much more freedom.
In 1986, at the height of the unrest in the townships, a friend and I went with Zulu friends of ours, to Saulsville for a party one night, a dangerous place for two white boys at these times. We partied in a shack and were accosted by some young comrades. We told them to fuck off, they went for back up. We left in a great hurry, with us two white lads being covered by blankets. A close call, even though we laughed about it afterward. Our friends dropped us at my home, and even though we saw a bit of one another afterwards, we never made an excursion like that again.
On holidays I hiked quite far on several occasions. Once I hiked from Pretoria to Ellisras in the north, and back. A mean feat for one so young. A year later I hiked back from my grandmothers farm near Lydenburg in the eastern Transvaal, to Pretoria. On another occasion I hiked back from the south coast to Pretoria after my brother and I had had an argument. In my final school year I started smoking a lot of grass and hanging out on the streets. I had a nice girlfriend, and some friends who were pretty much like me. I listened to rock music most of the time like 'the doors', John Mellencamp, Alice Cooper and Bob Marley.
Towards the end of the year I was involved in a car accident in which a man died. I was driving home early one evening and was speeding and fiddling with the radio's knob when the accident happened. My love life and studies suffered. My girlfriend and I broke up, and I failed my final exams.
Of my final school year there are only a few stories worth briefly relating.
We roamed the streets on foot or by car, if we happened to have one available at the time.
We scored grass in and around Pretoria and Johannesburg at various places we knew about. I had an old blue and white kombi, which I had inherited. We had a lot of fun in it driving around going to party's, or driving to high vantage points around the city, to drink and smoke grass. From these elevated vantage points we would sit while high, and watch the beautiful city night lights and traffic. We contemplated the mysteries of the universe, and of our youthful lives, and the discord among them.
It was 1987 and Apartheid was in full swing, we had to dodge and outsmart the police on several occasions because smoking grass was a serious offence, and we consumed great quantities of it at our youthful age. We had a lot of adventures, to many to relate, but eventually I sold the kombi and after that I started walking around a lot.
I met a few of the guys from the Mac's motorcycle gang in Pretoria through a friend of mine at school called 'Soutie'. I only met a few of them and only mention them in relation to the next story.
The bikers I met through 'Soutie' were called 'Dutchman', 'Whitey', Rudi and some others. They were a very rough crowd, and they smoked more grass than one could think humanly possible. I hung with them a bit, through 'Soutie', and they took me to the Mamas, where one could buy half-kilo arms of marijuana of high grade at a very good price.
The day they took me to show me the place, and score for themselves, was a crazy day. They bought their grass, and smoked much of it on the return journey home. In the car it was a performance of smoking and chatting amongst them, while I was driving. It was enough to make anyone paranoid, but I had found a great place to buy weed. In the next few years, which included my army service, I often bought grass at the Mamas.
The place was in a big industrial area. You got of the highway and the off-ramp made a sharp turn, and then suddenly you were virtually slap bang in the middle of town.
You drove straight through town, down Main Street, towards the station. Here the road makes a sharp turn to the right, you carry on straight down this road for about two kilometers and find a small cafÃ© and bottle store on your right, and here you again turn right. A little way down this street the runners wait to take your order.
The police know about this place and raid it frequently. Therefore every time you go and score it is a nerve wrecking experience. Your adrenalin pumps furiously as you receive the big parcel of marijuana, inspect it quickly, and pay the man. Then you are off. You have to take care to drive out on a completely different route from the one which you took coming in. If you had a problem or query, you spoke to the Mamas, but in these days it was never really necessary. Everyone understood each other, and co-operated for the greater good.
This was what it was like on the streets of South Africa in the late eighties. My hair was long and I smoked grass. I listened to The Doors, John Cougar Mellencamp, Alice Cooper and two dozen other popular bands of the time. My favorite song at the time was 'Paper and Fire' by Mellencamp. We partied at Jacqueline's, Limelight and Club Atlantis occasionally, but I wasn't much of a night clubber. I mostly roamed the streets and smoked grass, listening to music in my room.
I went to a farm in the western Transvaal with three friends of mine towards the end of the year.
Two of them were on AWOL from the army, from different units. The other guy was traveling on a small motorbike, while we traveled in a Renault 5. We were short on supplies, including food, so we stole a sheep on the way. The guy on the motorbike blew his horn as we passed a group of sheep, we stopped the car and all peeled out, grabbed a sheep, and hit the road again.
The farm road was gravel, and in bad condition. A rock ruptured the fuel line underneath the car and we went and stood without petrol somewhere close to the house.
That night we slaughtered the sheep, which is one of the most unpleasant experiences in my life. It bleated with intent, as its throat was slit. We divided the meat in two parts. The two English guys took half, and we two Afrikaans guys took the other half.
After a day or two we went to the neighbors farm and borrowed his tractor, with out his permission, to move the car closer two the house so that we could work on it. That night our supply of grass ran out, and we sat around a table commiserating with one another.
I had chased the guy on the motorcycle away earlier that day, because in my opinion he was lacking in his share of the cleaning duties around the house, so there were only three of us left. Myself and the two guys on AWOL. We sat around a table in the lounge of the small farmhouse playing cards.
The next moment we were surrounded by armed police who demanded entry. They fired some shots off into the air as a signal to their fellows in the distance of the quiet night. They found the sheep meat and deduced we had stolen it. They also found the one guy's army papers. After sleeping a few nights in the local jail they let us go, as they could not trace the owner of the sheep. However, the guy that was found to be on AWOL was sent back to his unit, and of course, the detention barracks.
That left only two of us. We didn't stay long after that, only taking the time it took to repair the car. Then we headed back for Pretoria. The sheep theft and slaughter was definitely one of our less glorious moments.
In December I hiked down to a small town on the South coast. I was only eighteen and my hair was long. I took a bank packet of marijuana to keep me company on my journey, as well as my trusty little Bible, which has been with me on all my journeys ever since.
It was a long and tedious hike, with me getting lifts for short distances, making it a longer than planned journey. But I eventually arrived at my destination, tired and footsore. My grandmother rented a house for quite a few members of our family, and I stayed with them.
In those days there were separate beaches for black and white. It was a token effort if you asked me, because the black beach was right alongside the white one, and nothing really separated them. It was like one big beach with black people on one side, and white people on the other. What I found even more funny was that the white folk had a black lifeguard.
I spent most of my time on the white beach, like most kids of my race and age, but occasionally ventured over to the black side. Because here I had made friends with a black youngster, a few years my junior, who helped me procure grass during my holiday. His name was Vusi and I spent a lot of the time with him and his brother.
We used to go high up with the river that flowed into the lagoon, and sit on the black rocks next to the stream. Here we swam and fooled around. Afterward we would lie in the sun and smoke grass and make small talk. It was the most peaceful setting with the beautiful sub-tropical trees and plants growing on the banks of the lagoon. Across from us a big monitor lizard would occasionally stroll into view among the bushes on the banks of the far side. Sometimes they would slip off the banks and into the water, to take a swim. I found them beautiful beasts in this semi-jungle world of theirs.
To be in the right state off mind to appreciate this peace and beauty, it is ideal to be stoned, as I was. Lying in the hot sun, smelling the sea air, hearing the stream ripple by and listening to the birds singing in the trees.
One day, I think it was a Sunday afternoon, and all the streets were quite, I went with Vusi to his home in the small village across the main road. I had to be careful on all counts, at these times, but still went. Once I arrived at his place, I could see a virtual feast awaited us, I cannot recall what the occasion was, someones birthday I think, but we had a good time. Late afternoon I snuck back across the road.
On another occasion I went into the Transkei, which was then a homeland, and bought a small quantity of grass there, as my supplies were running low. I spent a bit of time jogging and doing basic exercise to prepare myself in some way for the army. Luckily, in my youth, I was quite fit and in good condition. I also loved swimming in the sea, and here the sea is ideal for swimming in. Sometimes I took long walks on the beach, which was one of my favourite pastimes. Close-by there was a wreck of a ship that got stranded, which was always worth going to look at.
That was my last holiday at the coast before I left for my two-year national service in the army. I reported for duty at Voortrekkerhoogte early in January, on a miserable morning, even though it wasn't cold. I was shipped off on a train for 3 South African Infantry Battalion in Potchefstroom to do my basic training.
Here one of my first experiences was to have my lovely long locks cut off. The man who cut my hair asked me if I would like to keep some to send home to my girlfriend. I told him that I had no girlfriend.
Chapter Two – The Army.
I did my basics in 3 SAI, 2nd phase in 1 SAI Bloemfontein, and was finally posted to 4 SAI Middelburg as part of 62 Mechanized Infantry. The Infantry is hurry-up-and-wait. You never volunteer for anything. You mark all your belongings with a permanent marker and keep track of your things. You do menial work such as ‘chicken-parade’ (picking up cigarette-butts on the base) and weeding the outskirts of our camp. You do this with a smile on your face, and the jocular banter of the troops, accepting their fate. Water off a duck’s back. I did border duty in Namibia, and was sent to a base in the desert for the last six months of my national service. Here I wrote a lot of poetry; I was about twenty. Towards the end of the year I signed out at Middelburg, Transvaal. Here is a story from my army days:
Early in April 1989 our platoon started out on a patrol of the northern border of Namibia.
We were dropped off at our departure point by four Buffel troop carriers of 3 SAI. Our driver was a guy called Patterson whom I had done basics with in 3 SAI. We said hello, but we had hardly made our re-acquaintance, when it was time for my platoon to move out on its weeklong foot patrol. We strolled off in single file into the bush.
At the start everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to the march. We walked through the beautiful and unspoilt African bush. The veldt was green and speckled everywhere with the varying colors of the lovely wild flowers. All shades of blue, yellow, pink, red, white, purple and every other imaginable color.
The fields were green with the stems of tall and strong wild grass. The land had scattered clusters of palm trees everywhere as well as the tall fan palms. From these latter palms we collected the nuts that were called ivory nuts. They were nuts with though brown shells that could be cut into patterns revealing the soft ivory colored flesh of the nut. It was a favourite pastime of us troops to carve such souvenirs for our family and friends back home in South Africa.
There were occasional pans containing water known as Khu-Khu pans. Around these were the Ovambo villages and kraals. Each family had its own self-sustaining farm around their kraal where they grew maize, sorghum, squashes and African melons. The land was an unspoilt paradise teeming with plant life and animals, especially birds. It was a common sight to see hawks and eagles in the trees and other high vantage points. Often they would circle lazily overhead.
Each Ovambo village had its own Khu-Khu shop where one could buy basic supplies such as candles, soap, maize meal, and tin food. These shops were located in tin sheds and were, as a rule, well stocked with beer. There was bottled beer from various breweries; all the popular brands. Then there was the local brew; Mahangu, a sorghum beer. It was a bit like a malt, or even a wine, and was an acquired taste. One which I acquired quite quickly. It only cost twenty cents for a liter and I replenished my supply regularly. At each Khu-Khu shop I would buy a liter.
This I would consume as we strolled to the next Khu-Khu shop, which was usually only a kilometer or so further down the road. So I went drinking Mahangu while we walked all day. It was only slightly intoxicating and one could keep it up, as I mentioned, virtually the entire day. By the end of the day however, one was well and truly zonked and in need of a good sleep.
So we spent the days strolling through the beautiful countryside, admiring the view and getting slightly intoxicated. I plucked wild flowers and pressed them in my Bible. Once I put some in my bush hat for ornamentation. We were like children strolling and playing in the Garden of the Lord.
Sometimes we would take a swim or a bath in a Khu-Khu pan, the whole platoon. It was a nice way to cool down on a hot summer day. At other times we found ourselves plodding knee deep in muddy water. It was all part of the fun, and I don't think there were any of us who did not enjoy it.
The night of Easter Friday the Lieutenant asked me to read something for the men from the Bible. I read Isaiah 53 and said a few words and a prayer, under the brilliant stars of the African night.
Afterward we retired for sleep, except those appointed to guard duty.
We were told during our first debriefing on the Border explicitly not to steal any Ovambo chickens or any other livestock. It was a common belief that when an army patrol went through an Ovambo village, there would be chicken legs sticking out of the backpacks of some troops, with the legs still kicking. This was a common misconception; nonetheless, several months on ration packs does make one appreciate fresh meat.
It was for this reason, and no other, that we decided to acquire an Ovambo chicken; to supplement our diet. Gomes (or Porra) the lieutenant's ordnance, Nel his driver, himself and myself, were accomplices in this heinous crime of chicken murder.
One morning the four of us walked over to the nearest Ovambo kraal. Here we found only one resident; a woman. The lieutenant proceeded negotiations concerning the price of a chicken. It was clear the women was reluctant to relinqish one of her precious chickens, thus he procured some money. This was a variety of change consisting of coppers and silver, but mostly copper. He counted the money laboriously into her hand under hefty protestation.
While he was thus engaged in the transaction aspect, we three troops were attempting to intercept a chicken. This is extremely tiring work, even for three young soldiers. Ovambo chickens are very fast and agile, and are also sometimes affectionately referred to as; Ovambo racing chickens. The reason for this soon became apparent to us as we unsuccessfully tried to catch one. The chickens ran in haphazard patterns at tremendous speed (for fowl), and the three of us went scooping and grabbing in vain behind them.
We were engaged in this fashion for quite some time, chasing behind the elusive chickens, when at last Porra pinned one down. We returned dusty but triumphant from our chicken chase to where the lieutenant was concluding the business part of the equation, still under hefty protest of the seller. Eventually we departed, a few coins less and a bit of minor damage to our dignity, but the legitimate owners of one genuine Ovambo chicken.
The platoon hailed us as the conquering hero's that we were, when we returned with our prize. Nel, Porra and myself quickly dispatched the fowl and prepared a fire and spit. Soon the meal was turning over the hot coals, burning to a golden crispy brown. However, somewhere along the line, the lieutenant and Nel decided that discretion is indeed the better part of valor, and declined their share of the finished product in favor of Porra and myself. This suited the two of us just fine, especially seeing as it was a small chicken, as Ovambo chickens generally are. We watched our meal roasting to perfection on the little spit over the hot coals. We were virtually licking our lips in anticipation.
When it was done it was lovely golden brown and juicy, as Porra and I divided it among us. I think it safe to say that it was the best tasting chicken I have ever had. No take-away chicken has ever tasted better. Porra and myself ate every morsel, and congratulated one another on a fine meal afterward. We had maintained the tradition.
Soon the lieutenant ordered the platoon to move out, and I fancied he was a bit unhappy at not having tasted a piece. The soldiers walked on in single file through the bush.
We continued as we had started, walking from village to village, in the lush green African veldt under the hot African sun.
I remember that at one village the guys played a bit of maraba-raba with the locals. At another they fooled around with some donkeys. They tried to ride one, but he was a headstrong mule and kept depositing his rider in a nearby thorn bush, to our great amusement.
Still, it wasn't long before we came to our destination camp, tired and footsore. We washed properly for the first time in days, and sorted out and cleaned our kit.
Operation Ovambo Chicken had been a resounding success.
Chapter Three – Bricklaying Days.
After finishing with the army, I spent several years bricklaying. It must have been about five or six years; into my mid-twenties. I didn’t make a lot of money doing this, but as a young man I could cover my own costs; and make ends meet. This is the story of how I started my time in the building trade…
I had reconnoitered the area on my last pass in the army when I had hiked down.
I found work at German master builders as an apprentice bricklayer and went down to start with them early in 1990. The first week or two I stayed at a cousin of mine who had an out room in an elderly lady's yard. The place was close to the sea.
When I started at the building firm, I rented a room from them. It was at the basement of a small block of flats that they owned. It had a beautiful view of the beach. There was only a garden in front of me, then the road, a small strip of grass, and then, the sea.
In the mornings I watched the sun rise over the sea. In the evenings I would also sit and watch the breathtaking view. At night the waves lulled me off to sleep, with the soft rhythm of the ocean.
It was perfect for a young man like myself. The work was strenuous and the Germans very demanding, but I coped, and even became quite a good bricklayer. My employers were perfectionist when it came to building, being master builders. They expected the same precision from their workers. It was hard and grueling work, but the sheer involvement in it all, made it worthwhile. The means became the end, the attainment of the goal, the whole.
I smoked grass moderately at work without the Germans noticing, or if they knew, they didn't mind. It makes physically labor more than tolerable; it can even make it enjoyable. We built grand houses for the rich. Once we built one on the top of the hill over looking the point.
There were a school of dolphins out at sea by the point at this time. We had the best view of the spectacle in town. From our high vantage point on top of the roof of the three-story house, we watched the beautiful sea creatures as they played in the waves. Gliding and jumping in unison, effortlessly in the water. It was a captivating and breathtaking sight. Days like this made it all worthwhile.
I spent most of my free time in my room by the sea. I read or listened music, always stoned. During this time I read George Orwell's '1984', which moved and inspired me immensely. I wrote a few good poems of my own.
I taught myself a bit of long board surfing, which as far as I was concerned, was just standing up and riding out the wave, no tricks. I bought a second-hand hang-ten board of pink coloration. It was my pride and joy.
I made friends with a local guy, John, who worked for a big gas company in East London. We smoked pot, drank, played chess and had deep discussions about all aspects of life, whenever he came around my place.
On weekends we would go to the Gonubie Hotel where there were disco's on Friday and Saturday nights. It was still the days of vinyl records and compact disks were only just being introduced. This disco still made use of vinyl records. You could go to the DJ and ask him to play a tribute. I always asked for 'tainted love' by Soft Cell.
When the disco was on, the Hotel was filled beyond capacity. It was a hustle and bustle to get drinks from the bar. There were hundreds of beautiful women and girls, all out to have a good time. There were jocks and nerds, and every other classification in the spectrum of human society. In a word; the place rocked.
I was high and drunk, partying at the Gonubie Hotel. It was only a matter of time before I would meet a girl, which I duely did. Her name was Carrie and she was short, sexy little brunette. We met up through a mutual friend, who was her boyfriend at the time. She left him for me, much to my joy.
We spent much time together and had the wonderful sexual relationship of young people in love. Her father and mother were divorced and had both remarried. Her father had a house on German bay. One night I sneaked in and spent the night in her bed, without her father apparently being the wiser. The next day I had to get off to work after a night of heavy lovemaking, it was quite a mission. I ran along beach road early in the morning, and luckily got a lift from a guy in a Kombi that I knew, also a smoker. I just made work on time, but the Germans gave me some hassle.
On another weekend I hiked through to her mothers farm in the Ciskei, just outside King Williams Town. I took her a teddy bear. Here we once again had a wonderful sexually raucous weekend. So it went on, with our young love flourishing, until I found her in the ladies bar one afternoon, hitting it off very well with a much older man. Much older than both of us.
I was heartbroken and that was the end of my delusions of young love. I returned to my routine of smoking pot, drinking and visiting with my friend, John. Again I started reading a lot and occasionally wrote a poem or two. I worked as I had always done, laying bricks for the Germans and earning my bread.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, as did my year in East London. I wanted to go back home; perhaps to study. I made up my mind one day to return to Pretoria; and the one day I was still there; and the next day I was gone.
I was hitchhiking on a lonesome, forsaken stretch of highway as I had been many times before, and many times since. Hitchhiking on a long and lonely stretch of highway in some distant point of South-Africa, far from home. The black ribbon spread silently between me and my distant destination, I stand and hold out my thumb in the darkness at each passing car and truck.
It was never a pleasurable pastime, but somehow hitchhiking is the ultimate expression of a man's freedom. To ride the waves of life, free like a pirate, bound by no man’s laws but your own.
Sail on young soldier, into the darkness.
Chapter Four – A Barman, a Writer and a Scholar.
I was in the building trade for about five or six years. I travelled a bit, and did Pretoria, East London, and Port Elizabeth in this fashion. In P.E. I lived in the township for a while, as I was working. I bought a motorbike and travelled the Eastern Cape a bit. I had a few wonderful journeys out in the hills and valleys. At times I sat without work looking for small building or part-time jobs. I was in-and-out of jobs like a lot of young men in my youth. I even tried to become a lock-smith at one point in time. It was the recession and the mid-nineties and the times were hard. When I sat without work, I sat reading; Steinbeck was my favourite at this time.
For about five years from my late twenties to early thirties, I was a barman. Four years of those I was the official barman of a bowling club. I worked hard and played hard; partying and fishing with my mates in my off-days. The work at the club was like Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’; there was an old man making love to his tonic and gin, there was a ‘Davy who was still in the navy’, there was a waitress who practiced politics while the business-men slowly got stoned. There were all sorts of people from all walks of life, and I served them all, working my butt off, and busting tables.
After leaving in 2002, I started studying languages, and finished Afrikaans Two and English Two, but did not complete my degree. I also started writing in that time, and have spent ten years writing poetry and fiction on ABCtales.com. I wrote short fiction and lyric poetry, and spent my days like this. It was long nights and bankrupt days, but I enjoyed it. Now I have a new thing going that should keep me busy for a while.
Who knows what tomorrow brings…
'Stick to your principles, and value all men equally...'