Friday, 20 May 2016

1975: January to December - Houghton and Tyrone

January 1975
It is Tuesday 14th January - a special day. Not only is it my 25th birthday, but I am also sitting in the lounge area at Heathrow airport before proceeding through customs for my flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Mum and Dad are with me, both rather quiet. I think they may have forgotten it was my birthday because there was no celebration or presents in the morning when I got up. I say nothing, but instead wonder what the next weeks, months or years may bring. I certainly don’t know when I will be seeing Mum and Dad again, or if I ever shall, because I don’t have any fixed plans at this moment.

Dad starts talking to another man who is returning from business in the UK to his home in Johannesburg – or Joburg as everyone calls it, or sometimes Jozi. Dad tells him about my plans, starting a new job in Joburg, but it’s a short conversation as my plans are zero and the man says he’ll look out for me at the other end – I never see him again.

Basically, I don’t have any plans except a typed letter in my hand that says I am to start work on 15th January and I will be met at Jan Smuts airport by Paul Sumner, the DP Manager. I have been offered permanent employment by OK Stores at R10,000 pa and all I know about the company is that they are a big department store with twin IBM computers and they need trained computer programmers.

A brochure I had picked up at the South African Embassy showed vast plains (the High Veldt), beautiful homes, wide beaches, sunshine and smiling people, all of them white - although one picture may have shown a mine worker (black), but purely as a publicity photo I am thinking. It omitted the fact that in a country of 21 million people, only 4 million are white. Where do the other 17 million live, I wonder; surely not in those beautiful homes!

All too quickly it’s time for me to go through customs to the departure area. Words seem to fail the occasion, as Mum and Dad’s youngest son departs for a life abroad for perhaps one year, for perhaps ever. No one knows what will happen; whether I will make my life there and maybe not see Mum and Dad for years to come. Nothing is mentioned about “Oh, we’ll come and visit”, but instead we agree to write (I probably write a letter 2 or 3 times each year for Xmas and birthdays). It’s all hurried and a lot is left unsaid – Mum and Dad must be very sad and unsure what the future holds, but I am full of optimism! I wave good-bye and I am gone.

Nearly 15 hours later I am landing safely in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jan Smuts airport is very clean and modern, perhaps 15 years old. Almost everyone that you can see is white, certainly those that are arriving or leaving by plane, and check-in desks and customs are manned by whites.  Paul is there to meet me with my name on a board. Paul is about 30, tall and thin with a broad smile. He is English and came here 5 years ago and is now the DP Manager for the biggest retail organisation in South Africa – plenty of responsibility. He ushers me to his car and we head for the centre of town.

Outside, on either side of the highway leading into town, there are wide expanses of open countryside (or veldt, so named for the brown colour it turns in winter when it can be very dry). There are not a lot of cars on the road, because as I discover, almost all cars are driven by whites and there are not a lot of whites in this country of 21 million. The blacks are mainly to be seen driving commercial vans or utes (called bakkies), or open pickup trucks; not many of them own cars, instead having to walk along the roadside verges or pile into overloaded buses.

Paul gives me a brief rundown of Joburg and the company, but the main conversation is about the ‘black problem’. I pretty soon learn that almost every day, you will have a conversation with somebody about the state of the political situation and the ‘black problem’ – how to treat them, the no-go areas in the city, the townships, guns, security and the ‘Pass laws’ which restrict the right of blacks to live and work in white areas. The almost daily discussions on the political situation and the ‘black problem’ become a mainstay of life in South Africa – and a thorn in your side that once pricked begins to slowly irritate you.

Paul drops me at the hotel where I will be staying for 4 weeks until I find somewhere to live. It is about 10 minutes’ walk from the computer centre of OK Stores, which is located in Commissioner St.

The next day, I walk to the computer centre to start my new job. I realise I am getting puffed out quite quickly, and I am told later that it’s because Joburg is at 6,000ft, and the air is thin as a result, and it takes about 2 weeks to get acclimatised. Until then, I am advised not to drink alcohol as it will go straight to my head!

Paul is there to meet me at the computer centre and show me around. The building is on 4 levels and the DP department is on the first floor with admin functions above it, and the computers and computer operators are in the basement (no windows down there!). Paul has a tall, attractive secretary called Jenny – long legs, tight fitting slacks. Jenny must be about 18 or 19 and is very elegant, and walks with an erect bearing which accentuates her height - she must be 6' or 6'2" tall. She comes from an Afrikaans-speaking background, meaning that Afrikaans is her first language, but she speaks with a beautiful clipped South African accent. Derek, who will be my immediate superior, is a very friendly laid-back South African who loves sport. In 3 years working for Derek I never see him get upset or annoyed at anything. I will be working on their Order Processing system, which is not difficult or complex, but it must be working 100% of the day and night to ensure orders arrive at each branch on time. I am on ‘call out’ if anything goes wrong at night. There are about 50 – 60 other people in the DP department, and most of them are South African, with about 5 or 10 of us from countries like England, France, Germany etc (we are called ‘ex-pats’) and 2 or 3 Afrikaners (who are descended from the original Boers and normally have extreme right wing sympathies). One of the Afrikaners soon corners me and tries to tell me how the Afrikaner nation has a divine right from God to stay separate and rule the surrounding ‘homelands’, with blacks segregated from the whites. It’s all very racial and intense and spoken with the passion of someone who is either mad or mostly delusional.

However, Afrikaans slang is full of fun and all conversations are peppered with odd Afrikaans words, since everyone (except the ‘ex-pats’) speaks Afrikaans and learned it in school. Phrases like “lekker like a krekker” (its great or wonderful), “where are you okes going?” (where are you guys going?), “nooit” (no way), “yussus” (expression of surprise, e.g., yussus man, you don’t know what you’re bladdy talking about!) are part of everyday conversations. Even more confusing is the use of “Now…Just Now…and Now Now” (“Now” means soon, “Just Now” means sometime when the person feels like it, and “Now Now” means immediately – terms not to be confused when telling people what to do!).

I also meet Peter in the basement, the Operations manager, who is German. Peter is very organised, with his pencils always lined up neatly in rows on his desk, but has no sense of humour. A straight up and down sort of guy – everything in its right place.

One thing that strikes me immediately about the building is that there are only whites working here. Outside on the street, Joburg is teeming with blacks, coloureds and Indian/Asians as well as whites of course. But business premises in the centre of town, hotels and most restaurants are exclusively white with ‘Whites Only’ signs prominently displayed; shops, of course, allow all races to enter unless they are particularly exclusive and then they may have ‘Whites Only’ signs as well. Needless to say, all Government buildings have separate entrances for whites and blacks. Strict racial segregation, I find, is part of the fabric of life here.

Paul and his wife are having a braai (BBQ) at his house at the weekend and he has invited me and a few others over for the day. He has a new house in Sandton, a suburb of tidy homes with manicured lawns about 20 mins north of the city. Sandton is a fairly new suburb, with a lot of new developments being built, and it doesn’t have the character of some of the inner suburbs like Parkview and Houghton. I notice that almost all the homes have bars on the windows and I ask Paul about this. “It’s the blacks” he says and we have a lengthy discussion about petty theft by the blacks and security in general. I am slightly worried but not unduly, as all the blacks I have seen seem very friendly. “You can’t trust them. As soon as your back is turned they’ll nick something” is Paul’s gloomy outlook. All I know is that they always wave and smile and say “Hello baas” (Hello Mister). Paul also has a pool which is a blessed relief from the summer heat. He introduces me to biltong, a tough salty dried meat which tastes, well, just tough and salty. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular here, because it makes you want to drink more beer. Everything on the braai is huge – big steaks, big boerewors (sausage which is rolled into a spiral about 3 feet long) and big king prawns (about 8” long). It’s a feast, and so different to what I am used to in England – back home they are probably shivering in -5C with snow on the ground and no electricity (the previous year, the miner’s strike had caused power stations to shut off electricity because of low supplies of coal), whereas here we have 30C and clear skies. Paul confides in me that he is working under so much stress that he is taking medication – I wonder quietly, whether it’s all worth it at his age.

I need a place to live and a set of wheels to get me around. My first priority is a car. There’s plenty of car yards a few blocks south of Commissioner St and I end up negotiating on a rather dilapidated white 1962 Volkswagen Beetle for under R800 (the type with the chrome over-riders on the front bumper). I am sold on the idea it’s cheap and will probably be reliable. I conclude the deal and drive away a happy owner – I love it for its combination of engine noises coming from loose brackets, rubbing hoses, items stuck in the fan and so forth, and the way it roles and wallows around like a drunken sailor. And it just keeps going and going.

Now I have a set of wheels, I can check the ads in The Rand Daily Mail for ‘Share houses’. I had heard that the communal house scene is good fun and lots of ‘ex-pats’ choose this way to live so there’s always plenty of social life. It will also be a good way of making new friends. I pick out one or two houses and call them on the phone from the hotel. One is a nice sounding single lady looking for a guy or girl to share her house. It’s close to town in Kensington, east of the city on the way to the airport, and has 2 bedrooms and a pool. When I go around there and meet Sharon, a 30-something single woman, I am smitten by the pool, completely overlooking the fact that she has a small group of close-knit friends and they aren’t necessarily going to invite me to all their parties etc. She is also South African (not an ‘ex-pat’), so not part of the ‘ex-pat’ scene. Anyway, she likes me as a Brit and before I know it, I have moved into her spare bedroom with my 2 suitcases.

Sharon charges R65 p/month rent and an extra R5 a week for meals. She likes me to be at the table for the evening meal, and she does all the cooking, but her cooking is very bland and there isn’t much of it – I think I am being ripped off for R5! She also has a boyfriend and they often come home late at night and I have to listen to them having vigorous sex in the next bedroom; Sharon is very noisy! However, Rosie (Rosemary Izard, my beautiful girlfriend in England for 6 months before coming to South Africa) has called me on the phone and wants to come to South Africa and live with me. She will fill in all the forms as a Permanent Resident and be here in 3 weeks! I tell Sharon, who immediately tells me it will be an extra R5 on the room and double for meals! I can sense my relationship with Sharon is headed for disaster!

February 1975

I find it strange to be in a country where the whites are in such a minority; where there are 4 times as many non-whites as there are whites (17 million to 4 million). Everywhere I go in Joburg, I am confronted by a sea of black or coloured faces. They are friendly by and large, never causing me any trouble. However, I am aghast to find that Derek always carries a gun. He brings it to work with him, puts it in his desk drawer, and slips it back into a holster when he leaves to go home. I discover some of the others at work do likewise. I feel the cold grip of the gun. It’s heavier than I thought. “Why do you need this” I ask somewhat foolishly. “If someone wants to try and rob me on the way to work, I use this on him” Derek replies casually. He then adds for good measure “If you ever pull a gun on a black man, you have to kill him. If you pull a gun and you don’t use it, he will likely kill you instead”. I shook my head in disbelief. I expect the blacks would use a club or machete; no match for a gun. I must say though, in the 3 years I was there, no one I knew ever had to pull a gun on someone and shoot them. Thank goodness.

I do sense some unease wherever I walk on the streets, a feeling of fierce resentment against the whites just bubbling below the friendly surface. I am not directly threatened at any time in 3 years, and I don’t meet anyone who is – that’s strange in itself in this virtual police state – but the feeling is there none the less. Was I lucky, or is it blind fear of the consequences of any action on the part of the black population? Perhaps they are beginning to find their voice of protest by the mid-70’s.For now, the most common words I hear are “Hello baas” from the blacks. And they have a wonderful sense of pride and forbearance for all the odds stacked against them. However, that may all be about to change.

There is a great divide in the standard of living between the races. The blacks are forced to live in specified areas called townships or shanty towns – Soweto, Alexandra and so forth – and these are strictly 'no go' areas for whites. Probably safe enough if you do venture into them, but I am told it’s better not to risk fate! The whites meanwhile live in opulent luxury, in leafy suburbs with parklands and pools and can go wherever they want. Blacks meanwhile must carry a Pass card, or documents, specifying they are able to be in a certain area, normally for work, and if they cannot present their papers when requested by the police, they are deported back to their homeland.

Most of the blacks I see around town are male, strangely. Perhaps this isn’t strange when you consider it is the male who will normally be at work in the city and therefore away from the township. I discover later that most men have not seen their wives and family for many months, because their wives must live in their designated ‘homeland’ many miles from Joburg, while they live in huge single-sex hostels built in townships like Alexandra, that house thousands of men at a time.

All the decent jobs are reserved for whites. Even a poorly educated white person can find a well-paid job, perhaps in a government position or unskilled work. The most menial jobs are left for the blacks – labourers, cleaners, maids, house servants etc. Coloureds and Indian/Asians fare slightly better but they are still not classified as white and therefore are unable to apply for many of the jobs reserved for whites. It’s a highly organised and strictly enforced system that has been developed over many years. I find it easier to observe the situation but not to ask too many questions. It is clear that the Apartheid system in place here cannot be changed by individuals alone, and anyone that tries to interfere in the system and ‘rock the boat’ will quickly be taken into police detention (Donald Woods, a South African journalist and anti-apartheid activist in 1977, was arrested many times by the government for his anti-apartheid activities and after he reported on the death in police custody of his friend Steve Biko, a prominent young black activist, he was eventually forced to flee the country to Lesotho and then to the U.K).

It’s strange living in a country that you know is basically brutal and unfair, with police and laws designed to control a large portion of the population and keep them in check, while all the time allowing yourself the privilege of a comfortable lifestyle at their expense. It’s a case of ‘turning a blind eye’ on a daily and continuing basis. Eventually, it will wear me down, but it will take 3 years of fun, excitement, pleasure and adventure to do so.

Since I arrived, most days have started warm or hot, a dry heat so not unpleasant, but by late afternoon the storms start building with usually a big downpour at about the time I leave work. There have been some dramatic thunderstorms at night, and I really feel that I am in the heart of Africa during these torrential downpours. As a result of the rains, the veldt turns a lush green colour. The weather in Joburg is a beautiful mixture of warm summer rains and cool dry winters. Due to the altitude of 6,000 ft above sea level, the air is clean and crisp at all times. In winter, it’s so dry that the veldt turns a magnificent golden brown. It rarely rains in winter. It can go below freezing at night in winter, but the days can be a beautiful blue sky with temperatures up to 20C.

Sometime after I arrive, a couple of the guys in the office suggest we all go to The Sunnyside Hotel in Parktown one Friday evening. There is a beautiful garden outside where we enjoy a beer and the place is packed. It’s obviously THE place to meet. After a few beers, the ladies are beginning to look pretty attractive, and I get a few phone numbers to call later. Everyone seems to be single and unattached, and dozens of people are here working in Joburg on short-term visa’s from countries in Europe or Australia and New Zealand. There doesn’t appear to be anyone from America; some from Canada; certainly not Asia or China. Also, lots of South Africans. It’s a great place to meet people, and everyone seems to have one thing on their mind – meet up, hook up and get dirty! It is the era of free love!

March 1975

Rosie’s travel plans have been confirmed and I am driving out to the airport to pick her up. It’s so exciting when you haven’t seen someone you love for 2 months and I have a tremendous sense of anticipation. I remember how lovely she looks and everything about her – her laugh, her smile. I have to remind myself that Rosie has travelled halfway across the world to be with ME, leaving a good job in the UK to live in a foreign country. She hadn’t professed any desire to follow me out to SA before I left, but when we spoke on the phone about a week after I arrived, she told me how much she longed for some excitement in her life too.

As she comes through the baggage hall into the arrivals section, she’s radiant and smiling and happy. I’m feeling the same way, and after hugs and kisses, I grab her bags and start telling her all about life in South Africa – the friendly people, the beautiful homes, how easy the life is, the lovely weather. And a bit later, of course, the ‘black problem’…and Sharon ... and where we will be staying!

For the first few days, we laze around the pool, shopping and seeing all the sights that I want to show her. She’s taking it all in and just loving it. We are blissfully happy.

Rosie really is very attractive – gorgeous face and lovely long hair down to her waist, and she confides in me she wants to do modelling. Face modelling or magazine ads, that sort of thing, but not fashion as she doesn't have the long legs for that.

We scan the papers together and there’s nothing in the modelling line so she decides to work in a clothes shop and applies for a job with Oz Boutique in Hillbrow. She gets the job easily, but finds the standing on her feet all day long very tiring.

After a few weeks, we both decide that Sharon’s house is not offering the attractions of an 'ex-pat' lifestyle with a large bunch of like-minded people who want to have fun. Sharon has had a couple of braais at weekends, but the gatherings are small and her friends are not in touch with the communal house scene. We have heard that the ‘scene’ comprises of up to 50 – 60 houses, all connected to each other through a grapevine that soon passes the word around about where the best parties are each weekend. We have also heard that most houses have Bar Nights on a regular basis where the booze is provided and you pay a small amount to buy it on the premises (about R1) – you never bring your own booze to another house and this is frowned on because selling booze is a way for houses to supplement their rent. Also Movie Nights at some houses where it’s more or less the same deal. You pay a small amount to see the movie with a bunch of other people and there is always a bar setup as well, so people can buy a drink. This way, the houses get a double whammy – money from the movie and the bar. Rosie and I decide that this is the way for us to meet plenty of people. And we like the idea that they are mostly ‘ex-pats’ and young adventurous South Africans our age.

So the following Saturday we check the ads in The Rand Daily Mail for ‘Share houses’, and one of them looks particularly good: a house called “Houghton” at No.1, 2nd Avenue, Houghton. We go around one evening to meet everyone and for them to meet us and check our suitability. I have to say that having Rosie beside me when being checked out by potential house-mates is a distinct advantage, because she is so attractive that the minute people meet her they want her in the house; I am simply an after-thought. Oh well….whatever works! So we are immediately given the ‘thumbs up’ and can move in straight away. By luck or fortune, I don’t know which, we are also offered the biggest and best room in the house, probably because it is a little more expensive than the others but for R75 p/month rent it’s a steal – it has a large bedroom with a large bathroom through a small dressing room, and walk out to a balcony, and would have originally been the Master bedroom. The house itself is situated in Houghton Estate, one of the most prestigious inner suburbs about 10 mins north of the CBD. Everywhere there are large mansions and “Houghton” does not disappoint – set about 20m back from the road on a sweeping driveway, on about 1 acre of grounds (approx. 5,000 sq. metres) 3kms from Hillbrow, the house is double-storey with 5 bedrooms, maids quarters, 2 servants and a pool. Its absolute heaven. Including Rosie and I, there are 7 people in the house. David and Gayle are a couple, he with Groucho moustache looking like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, and her a waif of a girl who also edits the Communal House monthly newsletter, which is distributed to all 50 – 60 communal houses in Joburg. Peter is a photographer and looks like David Bailey. Then there’s Carol, slightly older at about 28 or 30. She’s quite funny as she’s very interested in sex and the Middle Ages (not together), and blames the British for the entire ‘black problem’ (thanks to Cecil Rhodes, General Kitchener, the Boer War and British Imperialism!). She’s going out with a married guy of about 50 who occasionally drives up to the house in his red Mercedes 450 SL to take her out for the night. Very flash. Finally, Dieter who is as broad as he is tall and has no personality at all. All of us are ‘ex-pats’ from England, except for Dieter who is Afrikaans (had to be!).

Back at the house in Kensington, we pack all our belongings into the Beetle and wave good-bye to Sharon. She doesn’t repay the R5 each we’ve paid in advance for food and we don’t ask for it. The Beetle zooms off.

As we arrive on the sweeping drive of Houghton, a garden boy is raking the leaves and he waves. This is the life we have dreamed of - and we wave back. The adventure is just beginning!

April 1975

David and Gayle are the only ones at the house. Dieter is being paid to appear in a commercial for some fast food chicken and is out. The house boy carries our suitcases up to the bedroom and I realise there is no bed. David knows where a spare one is until we get one. David is a laconic sort of a guy, just as you would expect Burt Reynolds to be, and he could probably star in a porn film as Burt Reynolds did in “Boogie Nights”, since he has the rugged good looks to go with his moustache. We head out to the pool and have a swim to cool off and find out what’s happening. It’s all about parties and people, and dope (Rosie and I have never tried it before) and having fun, and the difference between where we used to live and the communal house scene is immediately apparent. Everybody seems to know everybody else. Houses have names like Gasworks, Milner Loo, Stud, Chateau Chunder, Swamp, Cyril’s Six, Soixante Neuf, Bastille and so forth – every house in the communal house scene has been given a name.

Houghton has a bar in the lounge, but we discover it has irregular bar nights and doesn’t go in for movie nights. However, because of Gayle’s contacts with other houses, she always knows which houses are having parties or movies and so forth. She is invaluable, and a gold mine of information.

Each evening, we all eat around a big table with meals prepared by the cook, and discuss the news. There is no TV (TV didn’t arrive in South Africa until late 1976) and therefore world events can only be gleaned from the daily papers which are highly censored (the Rand Daily Mail was controversially closed in 1985 after adopting an outspoken anti-apartheid stance in the midst of a massive clampdown on activists by the police). Amidst talk of illegal shebeens run by the servants, the political situation, the civil war in Angola and the situation in Rhodesia, and of course the ‘black problem’, we also discuss the idea of a massive party. David and Gayle are the main organisers and push the idea of a theme party. Gayle has all the contacts and estimates we should get between 200 – 300 people. This figure is absolutely normal for communal house parties, and are sometimes double that figure. We agree on a ticket system whereby everyone must exchange a ticket to buy drinks and they must buy a minimum of 3 tickets for R1 each on entry, and exchange 1 ticket for each drink – beer, wine, soft drinks or spirits. We reckon it’s an easy system and will work in our favour in the end because people will generally leave with some tickets in their pocket. Strictly speaking, it’s illegal for houses to sell grog, but with the ticket system no one has heard of any other houses getting into trouble. We are all salivating at the idea of a tidy profit for our efforts, since we are more or less doubling up on the cost of the booze – plus a good time will be had by all. Dieter knows of a DJ who has all the equipment and will do the night for a reasonable fee, so we leave that side of the organising to him.

On the day of the party, we deck out the entire ground floor like a cave and we have asked people to come in the theme of ‘something black’. This appears very funny to me but seems to have been overlooked by the others! Rosie gets dressed up in all black and wears black mascara and makeup and comes as Batwoman. I just wear black jacket, black tie and dark glasses. Outside, fairy lights have been draped around the pool, which has its own bar area which will be where drinks can be bought. Sixty or seventy dozen beers have been ordered on a sale or return basis from the local bottle shop.

Freks and Rosie
Before the party, a friend of Rosie’s comes around bearing gifts of rolled joints for everyone. Her name is Lucy Kenna, who is Irish, with freckles and red hair – a true Irish lass, and she likes to be called ‘Freks’. She’s the life and soul of a party and just who is needed to kick off the festivities. The 3 of us smoke a joint in our bedroom. It’s the first time for me and Rosie, so Freks shows us how it’s done – rolled joint between first and second finger, cup the hand to form a seal at the bottom of the cupped hand and suck through the opening at the top between curled thumb and first finger (I discover later that this is actually a safe way to share a joint in any group because you are not sharing other people’s saliva and it’s a very clean and cool smoke as through a pipe). OK, we’ve got the hang of it, now how much is too much. “Oh, you’ll know when you’ve had too much because you won’t be able to stand up!” says Freks. That’s wonderful advice, and we pass the joint from one person to the next until the very tip is left. This is then squeezed between first finger and thumb like a pair of tweezers, and sucked through the gap until the last glowing ember has been inhaled. The last couple of ‘tokes’ (ie. drag or puff) are usually the fiercest because all the resin from the dope is drained down to the end, and sometimes a burning ember will be inhaled deeply into the back of the throat!! Awsome!

The effect on me is mesmerising. South African dope is some of the best in the world, and it’s available usually from the servants as a way to supplement their income. The usual trade is a ‘baby’s arm’ for R10 – a baby’s arm being literally from your clenched fist to your elbow in a roll of tin foil about 2”-3” thick. This will last about 3 months depending on the number of your friends!

I remember walking down the stairs in a daze to my car, which is parked in the driveway. I wanted to go down to the shops for something – probably something to eat. I can remember negotiating the stairs and out into the sunshine via the Bat Cave to the car. OK, open door, sit down, key in ignition. I am staring at the steering wheel and instruments, Then I realise the whole car is moving – not in a forward motion or anything, just the instruments are moving, back and forth towards me in a rhythmic fashion. I stare at the instruments for a long time, but the movement doesn’t stop. I realise that I’m not going to be driving anywhere and I collapse sideways across the seats. And there I stay for a goodly long time having my first ‘stoner’ and it feels marvelous. There’s no way I can negotiate the cave and stairs again, so I remain prone across the front seats for ages until nearly party time. Lovely introduction Freks!

The party is a blast. At least 300 people turn up and most of the booze is drunk. The following day the servants do a cleanup while everyone is still in bed and we all convene around mid-afternoon for a round-up of the nights festivities. Nothing’s been broken downstairs, everyone’s had a good time. The last people were leaving as the sun came up. Ticket selling and the bar was closed about 2am – at that point we told everyone to buy their last drinks and make it last till they left. The DJ finished about the same time and someone found a stereo cassette with speakers. Someone does a tally-up of the finances. We’ve sold heaps of booze and spirits but the DJ cost more than expected (Dieter had mis-calculated – something about playing after midnight, but no one is sure what the arrangements were, just that Dieter has paid him a lot of money). The figures are added up and the profit is way less than anyone expected – it’s enough to cover the food shopping for a couple of weeks, but certainly won’t repair the house budget which is always in deficit for some reason. Who cares, it WAS a great party!

May 1975

There are lots of servant problems this month. Servants are just a subset of the ‘black problem’, since it’s a constant and daily issue dealing with their fights (with each other or their so called friends), their illegal drinking, or failing to perform some sort of menial task or other. One of us has the unenviable task of looking after the servants, telling them what needs to be done. The problem with servants is that any instructions need to be given to them very clearly and the consequences of not performing those tasks explained. However, only about 10% of what is said actually gets remembered, so the language needs to be simple. Whoever is looking after them has a thankless task and I wonder if they are just playing us – easy ‘ex-pats’ who know nothing of the ‘system’. We didn’t want to give the job to Dieter because he is so argumentative he would probably shout at them or fire them, leaving us with no one.

Joshua the houseboy is caught drinking the Bacardi from the bar. Dieter suspected him for ages and marks the bottle with a pen, and hides while Joshua is cleaning the lounge one day. After a few minutes, Joshua moves over to the bar, steps behind it, and quick as a flash takes a swig from the bottle. At that moment, Dieter jumps out from where he is hiding and confronts Joshua. Dieter is furious that Joshua would even think he could get away with it and reduces Joshua almost to tears. He is visibly shaking in front of Dieter who is shouting and telling him he will kill him or worse. Certainly no more work as a house boy – possibly anywhere. The situation gets discussed at length at dinner and Dieter wants to carry out his threat and tell him to leave (this will probably mean Joshua will have to return to his homeland as he won’t get work as a houseboy again). The rest of us feel sorry for Joshua and think he has learned a lesson. It ends up a vote and we decide to give him another chance, but tell him he can’t clean the lounge anymore and must give that task to the maid. Joshua greets his salvation like a man given another chance of life, and it’s almost sad to see because any sort of work is so important to these people, and Joshua is at the bottom of the heap anyway. But on the flipside, I wonder if he is smarter than he makes out and he thinks us ‘ex-pats’ are just a soft target. It’s hard to tell. All I know is the process has taken the whole evening and we are all exhausted.

The other servant issue this month is the garden boy.  We don’t have a full time garden boy and must drive to a major intersection near one of the townships, where every morning blacks congregate in groups waiting to be picked up for casual work. Dieter has a bakkie and goes off to pick up 2 garden boys for the day. He returns a little later with 2 desultory looking blacks in the back of the bakkie. He orders them out of the bakkie and starts telling them what to do, and then leaves for the day. Pretty soon, the 2 garden boys are just slacking off and at the end of the day Dieter has not returned. The deal is they will be taken back at the end of the day to where they were picked up. David is furious because Dieter has gone off with the bakkie and there is an argument about what they were asked to do and how much Dieter had agreed to pay them. David just says “R2 for all day work”. The 2 guys want R2.50. David sticks to his guns and there is a lot of ill-feeling over 50 cents. On top of this David must take them back in his car which may even be illegal – he isn’t sure! He is worried they will rob him on the way to the township so I volunteer to go with him. The atmosphere in the car is tense, but we get them to the intersection where a group of blacks is still hanging around, fling open the doors, and get them out as quick as we can. “Bloody blacks" mutters David. The sense of danger is palpable, as we zoom away from the hostile crowd, but all we’ve done is drop 2 guys off after giving them some work (and R2 each!). David and I agree the whole situation is absurd – we could have given them the money they wanted but it was the principle, not wanting to be a soft touch. We get home feeling very frustrated and tired from all the arguing. When Dieter re-appears he tells us they should have waited for him to get back – it wouldn't matter if it was midnight when he returned them. So he was angry as well. But he had agreed to give them R2.50, so that made us all laugh!

It makes no sense to me that here we are living in the lap of luxury, and some of the hardest decisions and greatest angst is over the very people we are taking advantage of. We are paying the servants about R15 p/month, and giving them free food and living quarters at the rear of the house, and we believe we are helping the black situation because we are giving them work. But really we are just taking advantage of them in the name of employment, all the while expecting them to feel gratitude for the pittance we are paying them. This all gets a blind eye because you can’t rationalise the situation while you are taking advantage of it. And it’s best not to think about it too much anyway because it does your head in! So I ignore it and move on!

Rosie and black cat
Rosie has asked Peter to take some professional photos of her for her portfolio which he agrees to do. He shows us his work, and it's REALLY impressive – lots of special effects such as placing large objects like buildings inside small objects like bottles. How does he do it, I don’t know. He does a lot of commercial work for large companies and is quite well known (apparently). He sets up his classic Hasselblad camera and arranges Rosie beside a doorway in various poses, with her holding a cat of all things. The camera is set up on a tripod, and he leans over it in an exaggerated fashion like David Hemmings in the 1966 movie “Blow Up”, whom he resembles. Rosie is dressed in black top and black jeans with a scarf around her neck’ He manages to get her best angle, many of the shots a close up of her face, sometimes pouting, always sexy, and after about an hour he has taken hundreds of shots and tells her he will get them printed during the week. Rosie is very excited and Peter, obviously smitten by her, gives her lots of affectionate attention like a real professional.

June 1975

Today, Rosie and I decide to drive out into the high veldt for a braai. Rosie invites Freks along with one of her friends, a guy called Andrew. Andrew is English and from Newcastle, and is very funny. It’s all “Watneys Red Barrel” and “knees up mother brown” stuff. We buy meat and boerewors and plenty of booze. I find a hotplate in the garden shed and we take plenty of wood and some firelighters. And off we go. The veldt is close to the suburbs and we are out into open country really quickly – about 10 minutes. But we drive a lot more until it is quite desolate and quiet, and we have a map which shows a small rough track off the main road, and we head down that. When we eventually find a place that is really off the beaten track, we stop the car and get everything out. The scenery is awesome – the veldt has turned golden brown and everywhere you look, it is an unbroken skyline of low hills and scrub, and stony outcrops. Something like Rorke's Drift in the movie “Zulu”. There’s an eerie silence and a feeling of foreboding about the place.

We gather some large stones and place the hotplate on them and start the fire underneath, and soon the coals are white hot. On goes the meat and boerewors and its cooked in no time. We then discover to our dismay, that we have forgotten to bring the most important ingredients for a braai – some plates and cutlery! There’s a lot of cursing and swearing, and Freks is saying “feckin eejit” a lot, but we end up using some old newspapers from the car and Andrew has a penknife that he uses to cut up the meat and then it’s all fingers and thumbs and its delicious.

Afterwards, Rosie pulls out her cigarette packet and flips open the lid. Inside the packet are 10 perfect joints! She has taken out her normal cigarettes before we left, emptied the tobacco from them and mixed the contents with some dope she scored off the houseboy, and then placed the dope and tobacco mixture back into the cigarettes, and carefully tapped the end to secure the contents in each perfectly rolled cigarette, just like a real one! When they are lined up in the packet with the normal cigarettes, a casual glance can not tell the difference – just the ends are a little more ‘tufty’ and the colour is a little greener. Perfecto!

Braai in the high veldt
We each take one and start to drag on the ends, like a real cigarette. This method of smoking is a little cooler because the cigarette filter is left in place, and hence it also filters out all the harmful stuff (perhaps only a little bit!). The local dagga (meaning cannabis and pronounced ‘dukka’) is so pure and potent that we only need half a cigarette each before we feel the effects and we all have to lie down beside the fire embers. The sky is a beautiful purple colour and the veldt has turned orange. Whatever birds are flying above our heads, swoop and circle around us as if we are dead carcasses, the warmth from the fire takes the chill from the cool air. It’s dreamy and intense for about 2 hours, maybe 3. I look over to the horizon and notice the sun setting lower and lower, and it’s not until about 5 o’clock that anyone stirs – we have all been quiet with our thoughts all this time. I get up for a pee but can only stagger about 5 paces and I turn my back on the others and relieve myself. The others do the same; not a word is spoken. It’s actually quite funny watching the girls squat down for a pee – just not lady-like at all! There’s some groans of satisfaction and we realise we’ve got to be leaving before it gets dark; the sun is setting and its twilight already. A bit of panic as I realise I’m stoned and have to drive back to Joburg in the dark. Fortunately it’s not too bad this time – since first having dope last month, I’ve had it a few more times and driven under the influence and its actually quite simple; you just drive very very slowly, push your head forward so you can see better and concentrate really hard!

We manage to get back to Houghton about 7 o’clock and everyone is whacked – its been a long day, but a beautiful day in the high veldt of South Africa. A most delicious experience. A beautiful country. One of the best days so far.

On another evening, Freks comes around to join us for dinner at the house. Dinners are normally noisy affairs and this is no exception, and the drink is flowing. After dinner, Peter wants to show the photos he took to Rosie, so Rosie, Freks, Peter and I go upstairs to our bedroom. Freks has brought a bottle of Cinzano upstairs with her, and Rosie is drinking rum and coke. Peter and I are drinking beer. The photos are black and white shots of Rosie in the doorway. I wouldn’t say they are particularly special but Rosie loves them as there are about 5 dozen of them, all of her, and she loves pouting for the camera and being the centre of attention. Peter is going to look out for any work for her, but is frank and says it’s hard. Freks by this time is flying high on Cinzano and wants her photo taken, so Peter and I pull out our cameras and start clicking away (I had bought a Nikon F2 by this stage and am shooting black and white, but only have about 10 shots left on the roll). Freks gets into the modelling poses, pouting and preening, and Peter and I are around her like professional photographers. I am saving my shots for later, as I think I know what is about to happen. As she gets more into the mood, and with the encouragement of Rosie, she takes off her blouse and bra and she’s doing all the modelling poses – it's all very tasteful. I finish the rest of my roll and the show is over and we all collapse. Rosie and Freks collapse in the bath of all places, still holding her bottle of Cinzano!

July 1975

Houghton does not have Bar Nights often, and they are generally small affairs with 6 or 8 people, so most weeks Rosie and I go to another house for a few drinks and meet other people. Tonight we are going to Jubilee Road in Parktown about 5 minutes away. We don’t take alcohol as it's all provided. When we get there, there are about 2 dozen people and it’s impossible to know who belongs to the house and who does not. It doesn’t appear to matter as we talk to whoever is there and swap stories – “where are you from, which house are you in, where is the party next weekend” are the chief opening lines to get started. Rarely do we stray into the political situation, or the black problem, as these topics are too contentious. Most people are smoking in the room. A couple of people have slipped outside and I assume they are having a joint. Rosie and I have split up and are talking to different groups of people. I can’t see Rosie for part of the evening and assume she is having a joint outside. As the evening gets more boisterous, the noise level goes up a notch and the music is turned up louder – it’s Ry Cooder, Santana and Giorgio Moroder on the record player, and it’s very pleasant. I drive home pissed, and find I am only going at 10mph, but who cares as no one ever gets stopped for drink driving. Bar Nights are good fun and almost any night of the week, there is one house or other having a Bar Night, and anyone can go along and meet new friends and find out where the parties will be the following weekend. What a great social life!  

Nick O'Keefe (standing right) and Ken Bell (drinking)
at Houghton braai
One evening over dinner, we decide to have a braai at the weekend and invite a big group of friends over from other houses. Dieter organises the meat and Gayle and Carol do the shopping. David and I get all the equipment out of the shed and up by the pool and Rosie and Peter do what they do best on these occasions – give directions to everybody. It’s a huge affair with 50 or more people spilling from the poolside and onto the extensive lawns at the back. The braai is a 44 gallon drum cut in half and set on an iron stand and is full of wood and charcoal. Dieter has rigged up a motorised spit and a half lamb appears and is turning slowly from about mid-morning. There’s also steaks and boerewors, and of course, dried biltong. Some people have brought meat, but otherwise we provide everything including salads, but the bar does a good trade and we charge R1 for beer and wine which more than makes up for the cost of the food. It’s a great success and Rosie and I get to meet a large group of friends from other houses. One of the guys we meet is Nick O'Keefe, from a house called Tyrone (this becomes useful a month later when Rosie and I decide to look around for another house to live in). It seems that whenever you have a braai for some friends, It's quite normal for 50 or more people to turn up because friends of friends are always welcome. There’s no such thing as a small braai for 5 or 6 people!

Houghton doesn’t have movie nights – probably a case of no one wanting to go to the movie hire place and be responsible for all the projector equipment. Movie hire places hire out movies in ‘reel to reel’ 16mm format, and the bulky projectors are always breaking down. A normal movie is 3 reels, and as each reel runs out, you call a temporary halt to proceedings as you thread the new reel through the projector sprockets. Fiddly stuff unless you know what you are doing.

One night David, Gayle, Rosie and I are invited to a blue movie at a house called Chateau Chunder, in Observatory. The event is by invitation only, as if the word gets out then the place will be invaded by hundreds of people wanting to see it, and no doubt raided by the police, since blue movies are VERY illegal in South Africa – financial penalties, confiscation of the movie and possibly a prison sentence. Rosie and I have never seen a blue movie before, and so it is with some excitement that the four of us leave the house in my Beetle for Chateau Chunder. As I drive along, Rosie pulls out a joint and we light up and pass it around before we get there. It’s been around about twice, and everyone is getting pleasantly high, when around a bend we see a police road block ahead. Everyone starts screaming instructions at once – “Put it out … Give it to me … No, throw it out the window … No, don’t do that they’ll see it”. “Oh Christ, the car stinks” I yell. I have an urge to turn the car around and make a run for it. “No don’t do that, keep driving” says David. “OK, everyone open the windows and inhale deeply to get rid of it on your breath”. What we all know, which we don’t talk about, is that a first offence for possession of dope (for whites) is a jail sentence, and we have all heard stories of friends of friends who have been locked up. This is deadly serious. I’ve got the cigarette in my right hand, and I go to throw it out the open window – the evidence has to be disposed of. But, horror of horrors, the cigarette hits the door post and falls into the back with David and Gayle, and…( this is absolutely true) they can’t find it. But we know it’s in the car and still burning. My heart rate has just gone through the roof! We approach the police roadblock and are flagged down to stop – the police are obviously looking for guns, and are probably more concerned with checking blacks. The police officer shines his torch into the car checking our faces (we must have looked white as ghosts). He sticks his head almost into the car and demands “what have you got in the boot?”Nothing at all, do you want to see” I say. “Ya, get out and show me. Doit” the police officer demands in a thick Afrikaans accent. I get out the car and stand unsteadily on my feet. My head is about to explode from the blood pumping through my veins. Of all the stupid things, I go to the back of the car and show him the engine (located at the rear of a Beetle) instead of the boot at the front, and to this day I don’t know why all the flashing blue lights didn’t go off at that moment, but he simply says “Ya, that’s fine, on your way”. I jumped in the car, and with a rush of adrenaline that I have never experienced before, I motored slowly away!! I checked the speedo, in case we were speeding. I am driving at 10 mph!

No one speaks for about a minute, then we all speak at once. “Christ, what the fuck happened back there”, and “Where the hell did the joint go”, and “Holy shit, we were so damned lucky”. When we made it to the house we were all flying high, on cloud nine!!

The joint episode in the car, almost overshadows the blue movie night. Everyone has paid R5 to see the movie which we all agree is good value, as this is a BIG deal, probably a ‘first’ in the communal house scene so we feel we are all making a bit of history tonight. The house has probably paid at least R200 to get this illegal copy from somewhere. Drinks as usual at the bar – R1. The movie is called “Behind the Green Door” and is destined to be one of the genre's ‘classic’ pictures, and one of the films that ushers in 'The Golden Age of Porn'. It is one of the biggest box office successes of the 1970s, alongside Deep Throat. It isn't "just a porn movie", it is actually much closer to an art-movie. To see actors performing the sex act on film for the first time is an absolute revelation to me, as it is for everyone watching. This is a full-length feature film of 1 hour 20 mins on cinema quality, 16mm reel to reel tape, being played to an audience of about 50 people. It actually has a story!! (The movie can be found on the internet fairly easily if you want to see it. It was a period before breast enlargement became popular, and pre-Viagra, and everyone had full pubic hair!)

At the end of the movie, everyone is exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure. I’m not sure I want to see another blue movie that quickly, but I know that what I have witnessed tonight is ground-breaking. I don't think it will ever become part of popular culture, but maybe remain underground for backyard patrons like me – how wrong I was! If you Google the word ‘porn’ on the internet today, you get over 128 million hits!

August 1975

Today, David has told me that he and Gayle are moving out of Houghton. They say they want to move to a house further out of the city, but I can see that David is unhappy with the other housemates. Peter moved out last month (he moved back to England soon after) and Carol moved out a few weeks before that. The replacements are a couple of South Africans, but they are not into the house scene and don’t go to the bar nights or parties. And Dieter isn’t around much, preferring to stay at his girlfriend’s place.

The loss of David and Gayle will be a blow, as it will complete a transition from all the ‘old guard’ to some newbies, and I’m feeling we will lose contact with the rest of the house scene since Gayle will be going (Gayle was editor of the Communal House newsletter). We need to find somewhere soon ourselves, preferably a big house that is firmly in the house scene. Rosie and I start to look around – this time relying on word of mouth instead of the papers. We know all the big houses by now, and I ask Gayle to keep us in mind if she hears anything.

Before they leave, David and Gayle are to spring one more surprise on the house. Or rather Gayle is about to spring a surprise on David! She suspects David of having an affair behind her back. Somehow, she has made David think she will be away from the house for a night (staying with a girlfriend) and meanwhile, while he is out, she gets back inside the house without anyone seeing her. She hides herself in the cupboard in their bedroom, and waits to see if he comes home alone or not. It’s an extraordinary test of her relationship to hide in their bedroom to test David’s fidelity, but she does it.

Everyone goes to bed at the normal time; no one is aware Gayle is back inside the house hiding in their room. Our bedroom is off the main landing upstairs and David and Gayle’s room is 2 doors away off the same landing. We are sleeping soundly when at around 2am there is an almighty scream from David’s room. Rosie and I wake with a fright and wonder if the house has been broken into, maybe we are being robbed. “What the..”. I jump up and race to the door. The screams start again. “I caught you at it you bloody bastard, get out, get out”. “What the fuck is happening” comes David’s reply. All the housemates are on the landing as a naked girl holding some clothes comes running out screaming, and races downstairs. David is still in the room and we can hear an argument going on. “I knew you would do this, you bastard” and other insults from Gayle, while David, obviously still stunned, can only say “What are you doing, why are you hiding in our cupboard?” The argument goes on for a lengthy period behind their door, and everyone is stunned – it’s like a scene out of a movie except we can’t see the protagonists, only hear them!

We wait for the shouting to subside and wander back to bed again. The following day, David and Gayle are quiet, but still together…just. We get the full story from a grinning David when Gayle has temporarily called a truce and gone out. She had hidden in the cupboard, but had left a small chink so she could see their bed. She had waited maybe 4 hours like that before David brought back someone he knew back home. They had got naked and climbed into bed, but apparently Gayle had waited until David was actually performing the deed (after some lengthy foreplay we are told) until she flung open the cupboard doors and literally jumped at them screaming obscenities. The shock of it had nearly killed both David and his friend, and being naked, there was nothing he could do except try and cover his excited state. Finally, with some understatement, he said “it was all rather embarrassing!” And then with a nudge and a wink, he wondered off to see what the cook was making for dinner. Just like normal, as far as he was concerned!

A couple of days later, David and Gayle are back on together, all smiles as if nothing has happened. Gayle has heard from Nick O'Keefe that they have a vacancy at Tyrone, if Rosie and I want to give him a call (funnily enough, we had met Nick at the braai last month).

We arrange to go around to the house the following night when most of the housemates will be there. When we walk into the lounge at Tyrone, as had happened at Houghton, all the guys are impressed with Rosie and I am the hanger-on again! I think I held my own when I mentioned all the communal houses which we knew from bar nights and movies; and some of the housemates had also been to Houghton before, so we came with good credentials.

Tyrone is absolutely fantastic. It’s a 7 bedroom double-storey Cape Dutch style home on about 7 acres of land on the side of Linksfield Ridge and in one of the most prestigious parts of Joburg located opposite a private golf course. The driveway from the main road, goes up the ridge for about 500 yards before it takes a sweeping turn to the left and opens onto a huge courtyard. Double doors lead into a hallway with rooms left and right. Outside there is a pool, and terraced gardens that go halfway down to the main road (there is another communal house below us called Roman). I am told that when the original house was built, the owner would tee-off from the top terrace with a No.5 iron, and the garden boy would have to run and retrieve the golf balls!

The housemates consist of David Forrest, Mike Sterne, Bryan Wasserman, John and Michele Shanahan, Nick O’Keefe and Richard. That’s 7 housemates and they want another one (or a couple). The room that’s available is one of the big bedrooms upstairs with views over the terraced gardens which by now have become overgrown with trees. There are 2 servants – Deere (cook/maid), and Josiah (Joe for short) a Matabele gardener (from Rhodesia) – who have their own quarters outside the kitchen in a rear courtyard.

As with all these things, a couple of the housemates aren’t there and other guys have been around to see the house, and it will go to a vote the next day. Shortly afterwards, I get a call from Nick O'Keefe to say we have been voted in. I suspect that Rosie won the day for us again! Good for Rosie!

We’ll be moving into Tyrone at the end of the month. The rent is the same (R75 p/month), and Tyrone is heavily involved in the communal scene with bar nights, movies and parties on a regular basis.

If Houghton was the Entrée, then Tyrone will be the Main Course…..!

September 1975
Our room - second from left, at top
The nice thing about Tyrone is that almost everyone is there for dinner during the week and we discuss the events coming up. All meals are cooked by Deere under guidance from the girls, but sometimes Mike likes to get involved to ensure the cooking is ‘up to scratch’ There are plans to be made for the next Bar Night or Movie Night – what bar stocks need to be ordered, what movie to get etc. Joe, the garden boy, serves dinner in a
white coat and gloves, and he makes the short journey from the kitchen where Deere is cooking each course, looking resplendent in his jacket and gloves. Discussions also take place around food and shopping requirements, and once a month there is a full meeting of the house to discuss the financial position. Everyone has a job, and Rosie and I are assigned shopping duties initially (eventually I get the plum job of looking after the pool!). David F. is Treasurer and Bryan is on bar duties (stocking, cleaning etc). In the entire 2½ years I am there, the monthly treasurer’s report is never favourable, always showing a deficit and requiring housemates to top up with extra funds. (To this day I don’t know how the house could have been in such dire straits since the bar nights, movies and parties were turning over the equivalent of a small country’s total economic activity (or GDP)!)

David Forrest is English and seems sensible and industrious. He’s a chemical engineer who works with Mike at AE&CI, a large chemical and explosives company. Mike Sterne is South African and tall with fair hair. He drives a  fabulous Alfa Romeo 1600 GT. Bryan Wasserman is Rhodesian but is a real ‘live wire’ and always up for a good time. He has all the contacts for anything slightly illegal! John and Michele Shanahan are a couple from New Zealand. John has a thick reddish beard and is always sensible but good fun, always laughing. He has a high profile job with AC Nielson. He works very hard and as a result is always falling asleep at the dinner table. Michele is like an angel – beautiful, always looking on the bright side and brushing off all the advances from the other guys. She is just 20 years old - we are all so young! Richard, reclusive and eccentric, who no one EVER sees, is building a racing car in the 6-car garage. And Nick O’Keefe who is English and works for an insurance broker. Tall, gangly, and the life and soul of a party. Always laughing. (Nick is not known to have enjoyed the company of a woman in the entire 2½  years I am in the house, despite frequent attempts to break the drought!)

It is obvious from the start, these guys are serious party animals!

In the first couple of weeks, Rachan puts on a party and the whole house is going since Rachan is next door to Tyrone, on the main road at the bottom of the lane and opposite the Golf Club.

Rachan and pool - filled
The party is great fun. The house has a pool and the day before, the housemates use a hose connected to the Fire hydrant on the main road to fill the pool, and it’s a green colour as a result, to say nothing of the fact that they have saved hundreds of Rand not using water from their own supply. There are a couple of housemates that Rosie and I meet – one of them is Dan Archer who has a Red MGA and is always dismantling the engine and putting it back together again. Then there is also Chris Little & Marilyn who are a couple. And also Belinda, who is very beautiful with lovely blond hair and drives a purple Triumph TR6 PI in lovely condition, which she bought new from the factory in England (it was the only colour available!). She’s South African and seems to be quite posh. She gets a lot of attention from the guys, and Mike Sterne is obviously keen, but we think he’s up for some stiff competition. We shall see!

Tyrone has weekly Movie Nights and Bar Nights on a Tuesday night. Movie Nights and Bar Nights are combined affairs, so that we take money at the Bar as well as charge people R1 to see a movie. Each week, I go with Bryan to pick up the movie from a Hire place on Louis Botha Avn about 5 mins away. Tonight, they don’t have the movie we want so we go to the next place a short distance away. We find the movie we want, and we lug the 3 reels of film and a heavy projector into Bryan’s car. The movie has been used dozens of times and the film sprockets are broken at the beginning of the reel which makes threading the film through the projector difficult. The movie is so worn, that several times during the movie, it jumps and misses about 10 frames which leads to a few heckles from the crowd.

Tonight, we have the usual attendance which is about 15 people, and we gather in the lounge and arrange the chairs and sofas for people to sit on, and some just sit or lie on the floor. Rosie and I slip out at the beginning to have a joint with a couple of friends, and Nick joins us. Nick is very funny when he’s stoned as he runs a continuous commentary on how he is feeling “Oh wow, that’s a good one guys” or “Jeez, who rolled this one it’s really gone to my head”. There’s a nice blond girl who has joined us, and her and Nick seem to be getting on well.

Bryan is running the movie, which means sitting at the back and taking each reel off the projector as it finishes and threading the next reel on. When a reel finishes it makes a ‘clackity clack’ noise as it spins around the projector with the film end flying around. He threads the new reel with the expert hands of a professional and it only takes about 2 mins between reels. People jump up and pay for drinks at the bar while he is doing it.

At the end of the movie, we pack up the gear and rewind the film back onto its original 3 reels so it’s back to the beginning again. People hang around and have some more drinks, and talk turns to the next weekend and where the parties are. By midnight everyone has left. I notice Nick has gone to bed early, and the blond girl goes home on her own. That was another opportunity missed there Nicky boy, I think to myself!

Tyrone has its regulars who come to our Movie Nights every week, and it’s a good way to make friends with people from other houses. Generally, it’s the same communal houses that are represented each week, and the regular ones are Gasworks, Milner Loo, Rachan and Roman (which is just below us before the main road). Freks (Irish Lucy), doesn't have a car, so most weeks I go and pick her up from her house in Parktown and drop her back after the movie. Sometimes she will stay over at Tyrone, and we sleep 3 in our big bed.

Primarily, Movie Nights are a way to make some money for the house and whatever profit goes back into the kitty to subsidise our rent.  Strange but true, the profits from Movie Nights still mean we have to dip into our pockets nearly every month to pay for ‘incidentals’ that no one anticipates.

October 1975

John S. at the  'Saddle Up Ranch"
Rosie hears about a horse riding place near Heidelberg, which has a name like ‘Saddle Up Ranch’, that’s supposed to be fun. We head off with John S. and Michele for the 1 hours’ drive south of the city, and when we get there it is in the middle of the veldt, with wilderness in all directions. The ranch is like the Wild West! It’s run by a bunch of cowboys with long sticks for getting the horses out of a corralled area and ready for saddling up, and the horses have a wide-eyed look of half-crazed beasts. As soon as we sign up and pay a fee, there’s a short wait before one of the cowboys calls out to us “fast, medium or slow?” We guess that must mean “crazy, half-crazy or a little crazy” referring to ourselves as the riders. Rosie and I both opt for medium as it seems the safest bet – we’ve heard the fast ones are real wild! The horses have names like Scout (from The Lone Ranger), White Fella (funny that one) and Trigger (of Roy Rogers fame). When they bring the horses around, they give us a helping hand into the saddle and tell us to be back in 2 hours – and that’s it! Go wherever you like, follow the trails, do what you want. Oh, and NO hard hats provided – there’re aren’t any!

There’s plenty of other people around riding in the hills, and we follow some others out onto a trail. The horses seem to know where they are going, and they seem to go wherever they want – we don’t care. It’s a beautiful day – the sun is shining, it’s early Spring and not hot yet, and the air is crisp and clean. The high veldt here is really beautiful; a rich brown colour from the dry winter months, scraggy and with undulating hills circling the large property.

When we get out on the open trail, we feel emboldened to spur our horses onto a canter. The horses lift their heads and start to gather speed, and Rosie gets excited and says “come on, lets gets these nags to gallop”. And so we give them some extra encouragement and before we know it, we are galloping along the trail. Our knees are dug in and we are holding on with all our strength. All I can see are rocks and thorny scrub beside the track, where we will be knocked unconscious or worse if we fall off!

The horses are sure-footed and the rolling motion of the gallop with the wind in our hair feels wonderful. After about an hour my backside is getting sore from the workout and I suggest a rest, so we dismount and tie the reins to a tree, securely as we know it’s a long walk back to the ranch and the horses will take any opportunity to gallop off! Up here on the ridge, there is a view for miles and it’s magnificent. After a short rest we decide to re-mount and head back.

Back at the ranch, a braai has started and there are cold drinks, which are welcome after our ride. It’s been a good day, and as we head back in the afternoon I can feel the pain of those riding muscles that haven’t been exercised for years and Rosie is feeling the same. By dinner time, we are so stiff and sore that it’s painful to sit down – 2 hours on a horses’ back have taken their toll. (We went back to the same ranch a few times, and each time the horses we had the last time appeared to be missing - “Sorry, Rebel or Apache or whatever, are not available today, ..try Ranger or Brownie instead”. We suspect our previous nags have been consigned to the glue factory already!)

Later in the month, David Forrest tells us he knows someone at work who may want to move into the outside room beside the pool (currently empty). A couple of days later, he brings Johnno around to meet all the housemates. Johnno has only just arrived in Joburg and is a relaxed sort of Aussie who comes from Queensland and likes surfing. When Johnno produces some dope and a packet of rollies (roll your own cigarette papers, usually JOB brand) and suggests a smoke, some of us around the table wander outside with Johnno and join him on the porch. Rosie produces her packet of cigarettes and rolls one of them between her fingers to empty the tobacco onto some paper with a couple of vigorous shakes of her wrist. Then Johnno mixes that with the same quantity of dope, and rolls the rollie paper between his fingers before licking the sides to seal it. We pass the joint around, taking a deep puff before passing it on. The effect is soothing, and we all mellow out. Before long, some music is put on the tape recorder inside, and the conversation is animated and everyone is relaxed and friendly. After a couple of hours and having had heaps of fun, the house decides that Johnno will make a great addition to the house and the discussion is all about when he will move in. The outside room beside the pool, has a skylight in the roof and 2 doors – one that opens onto the garden by the pool and the other onto the enclosed courtyard outside the kitchen. The room is currently a storage room for all the pool equipment, but with a coat of paint it will be a very cosy little pad, and quite private since it’s not part of the main house. It’s also quite small, about 10’ x 10’, but with just a mattress on the floor and a sound system at the foot of the bed, it makes a perfect ‘pad’.

We now have 10 people in the house and the social scene is about to kick up another gear!

The ten of us are now Mike S., Bryan W., John and Michele S., Rosie and me, Richard, Nick O’K., Johnno and David F.

Johnno has a Kiwi girlfriend called Sarah and they frequently disappear to his ‘pad’ to listen to music on his beautiful Marantz 1090 hifi, and sample the latest ‘dakka’. Sarah has dark hair and talks so fast at times that its difficult to keep up, but great fun and always ready to party like a true Kiwi girl. Johnno has painted the walls of his outside room a deep blue and opened up the skylight so that on warm nights he can see the stars, and with the back door open to the pool it’s a great place to listen to music or sample the latest ‘dakka’.

November 1975

One Saturday afternoon, Mike organises an Oompah band and we have a braai for a large group of friends. It’s a great event and the band are playing on the lawn while Bryan, John S., Nick and I cook the meat on a big open drum full of wood. We lounge around the pool as the day is hot, and some of the braver souls have a swim. The water hasn’t warmed up yet as summer has only arrived on the Highveldt in the past month or so. One of John’s friends dives in the pool head first and nearly knocks himself out on the bottom, and luckily only gets a sore neck, but John S. takes him off to hospital to get checked out. Mike S. fails to make the event due to work commitments and misses the Oompah band. Oh well, Mike, good effort as they were great fun.

In the same week, Joe is also discovered running an illegal shebeen at the back of the house in the servant’s quarters. Joe is slightly under the control of Deere (the cook) and she is always telling him what to do. However, on this occasion, Joe is selling alcohol to some other blacks from neighbouring houses and has appeared at dinner quite drunk. He has forgotten to put his gloves on. Nick who is supposed to be in charge of the servants, gets up and goes back to investigate, telling Joe sternly to “come with me Joe – you’ve been drinking”. Nick finds 6 other blacks at the back, all drunk and lying on the floor and he orders them to leave. “If this happens again Joe, you’ll be sent back to Matabeleland” Nick tells Joe, and Joe looks like the fear of God has been put in him. “I’m telling Deere you can’t work tonight” and with that Nick dismisses Joe and comes back to the table. The police take a serious attitude towards illegal shebeens, and houses and back yards are often the target of repeated police raids and investigations, and we don’t want to attract the attention of the security police.

Joe and Deere have a room each in the servant’s quarters, each about 10’ x 8’, and big enough for a small bed and all their belongings. There is also a shower and a small kitchen with a stove for cooking their own food like mealie-meal, a coarse flour made from maize, etc. Deere is deeply religious and sleeps in a bed raised off the ground with bricks to keep her out of reach of the ‘tokoloshi man’, a domestic spirit thought to be a brown, hairy dwarf with a large penis (hence why Deere is so scared!). Joe and Deere have all they want, they get their food bought for them and a small amount of money each month for their work. If they don’t cause any trouble, everyone is happy, but most weeks there are petty disputes or issues to be sorted out and we have to discuss them over dinner. This is all part of the ‘black problem’ that we have to deal with every day, and it reminds us we are responsible for their well-being, however difficult it is.

Joburg is a city of contrasts, a mixture of extreme wealth and poverty, of high-rise buildings in Hillbrow and large, luxury homes in white-only suburbs like Houghton and Sandton, next to shantytowns like Soweto and Alexandra. Joburg also has a large Jewish quarter in Berea and Yeoville, and is supposed to be the largest Jewish city outside Israel. Pollution is worst in poor black townships on the outer ring of the city, where coal is used for fuel. This is also a time of racial segregation in the form of apartheid and the Pass laws used to control the influx of blacks into the cities, and during the time I am in South Africa several hundred thousand blacks are forced from Johannesburg to remote “homelands”. Although there is strict censorship of the papers and there is no TV at this stage, we can feel that black discontent is growing.

The National Party also bans opposition parties, and this month we hear that the Government is investigating a newly formed, extreme right-wing organisation, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), a neo-Nazi white supremacist group run by someone called Eugène Terre'Blanche. His is a paramilitary organisation, dedicated to the creation of an independent Boer republic, or "Volkstaat", in its own part of South Africa (Terre'blanche was eventually murdered on his farm in 2010).

About this time, I buy a green 1972 Mini Clubman and sell the trusty Beetle to a car yard. The Beetle has not let me down once, so I am hoping the Mini will be just as reliable. Costing R3,000, it’s my biggest purchase yet and I go into debt with a 3-year HP agreement, which is popular at the moment until credit cards become more widely available (Visa card was not introduced in South Africa until 1976). Rosie and I decide to drive down to the Kruger Game Park for a week’s holiday in the car. The drive down to the southern entrance at Malelane takes about 5 hours, and its getting dark by the time we get there. The nearest camp with decent Rondavels is just inside the Park at Leopard Creek. When we arrive at the camp, its pitch black and so quiet it’s almost eerie. We are let into the camp via a manned gate that is locked behind us. Some bush sounds make it a little scary, but we are assured the camp perimeter keeps the wild animals outside. However, we notice signs that say “Wild animals are dangerous. No feeding allowed” in English and Afrikaans – no further advice needed for us! The Rondavel has a bedroom and a shower in the style of a traditional African hut. Its round in shape and constructed from mud and stone, with a thatched roof. Inside, the roof has exposed poles supporting the roof. It’s very comfortable and will be our base camp for 3 days.

The next day we head out along the road heading further into the Park, noting as we leave the camp the signs that say “Tourists MUST stay in their cars at all times”. For about 3 hours, all we see is Impala and we arrive at a picnic area for lunch after about 30 miles. Progress is slow, as every few miles there is a group of cars that have stopped and people pointing and taking photos. Every time we see a group of cars, we also stop to see what is going on, to be told there is a feeding lion or large elephant or other of the ‘must see’ game animals, further in the undergrowth. Unfortunately, we can’t see much evidence of this, or maybe it’s those tourists with bigger zoom lenses than I have that can actually see anything. Since the rains started recently, the undergrowth is thick here and it is hiding the game. “You should’ve been here a month ago…” we are told!

After lunch and driving slowly along a quiet side road, having only seen Impala close enough to photograph all day, Rosie screams as a fully grown giraffe runs across the road 10 yards in front of us and starts feeding about 20 yards away. Unfortunately the camera is on the back seat, and by the time I bring it around and focus it on the animal, it is slowly moving off into the undergrowth – mostly obscured. I drive the car slowly forward and open the window, and stick my head out for a ‘possible’ shot. As I focus the camera on the giraffe which is now maybe 20 yards away, Rosie gives another scream and the car is almost trampled by another fully grown giraffe as it runs across the road. I’ve got my head out of the window and this animal is running across my field of vision only yards away. I press the shutter as many times as I can, but the animal is too close and all I am getting is feet or head. I fire off about 10 shots, but the manual film advance lever on the camera is slow and there’s no automatic focus, so the shots are mostly out of focus anyway! By the time I compose myself and get the focus and exposure correct, the animal has sauntered off and I am left disappointed.

Over the 3 days, we never did see a lion or elephant, much less a rhino or crocodile. Plenty of Impala, which is rather like second-best in this world renowned game park. Oh well, we enjoyed the open roads that criss-cross the Park, and the relaxed nature of viewing the game from the car, whatever there was to see, and we leave satisfied. We do feel if we did it again, we would rather explore Kruger Park on foot taking a guided bush walk, or a game drive, and a ranger armed with a rifle of course!

December 1975

The weather is warming up in December, and some guys from Milner Loo suggest a camping weekend on the coast, only 30 miles from the border with Mozambique, at a famous remote Zululand coast beach called Sodwana Bay. Nick, Rosie and I decide to join about 6 guys from Milner Loo. There are no shops or facilities at Sodwana Bay, and so we take all the provisions and load up 3 cars with tents and gear.

Nick O'Keefe - drive to Sodwana Bay
It’s a long drive, nearly 7 hours, and the last 30 miles are along sandy bush tracks via remote rural villages, where directions are poorly signposted, so we stop whenever we see someone and ask for directions – no one thought to bring a map!! What we only realise at about 5pm is that the camp rangers shut the gates at 6pm and anyone arriving late will not be let into the camp. We know one of the cars is ahead of us, and we are racing through tracks that are getting more and more sandy, in order to get to the camp in time. Then, as we come around a bend we see our friends in the lead car have come to a halt and everyone is out of the car. “What are you guys doing, we’ve only got 30 mins to get there!”, someone says. One of the guys replies that the engine has stopped because a spring has come off the carburettor and is somewhere on the track behind us. So we all jump out of the car and help with the search – we can’t leave the other car here, and there is no going forward or back until we find the missing spring. Since it’s a weekend, there will be no chance of getting a mechanic out here until Monday, when we have to be back in Joburg! And we know the gates close in under 30 mins and we are about 10 - 15 miles from the camp.

We are all looking frantically on the ground, walking away from the car as it could have fallen off well before the car stopped. Then, after about 10 mins of looking, Ken Bell from Milner Loo gives a shout as he’s found it on the track about 50 yards away!! Quickly, we re-attach it and jump in our cars, just as the third car comes around the corner at about 60 mph, racing for the camp. So we set off in convoy again, and literally put the ‘pedal to the metal’ and make for the gates by 6pm. We must have covered those last few miles in record time, as we reached the camp gates as they were beginning to close them. Phew, made it.

The camp is really remote – and we choose a couple of sandy beach sites, set amongst the shrubby trees that line the coastal beaches beside the Indian Ocean. The beach is an awesome view of beautiful magnificence, stretching as far as the eye can see, in both directions; it’s my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean.

There are many other off-road vehicles here, and some of the other campers have come with open utes, or flat-bed trucks, loaded with enough provisions for a month and complete with small fridges run from 12-volt car batteries – very well organised, and people that must have been here before and come prepared!

Sodwana Bay
The 2 days we are there are simply gorgeous – everyone unwinds. There are a couple of toilet blocks but no showers. Rosie refuses to go to the toilets alone as she sees a tropical spider the size of a dinner plate on the first evening. Sunday is spent exploring a wreck about 5 miles up the beach, and watching some of the off-road Dune Buggies racing in and out of the estuary nearby.

That night, Rosie produces a full cigarette pack of joints that she has prepared before we came and had hidden in the boot of the car. We all stroll along the beach in the darkness, with only the moon and crashing surf to guide us, to a quiet spot away from all the other campers and light up a few numbers, sitting around in a circle. It is a magic moment – just some friends together on the beach under the stars, getting quietly stoned beside the Indian Ocean.

This month, I also take over as Pool Attendant at Tyrone responsible for the pool cleaning etc. Up until now, no one person has looked after the pool and there is a lot to be done to keep it looking clean. The pool has an old sand filter which requires just the correct amount of fine sand to be poured into the pool pump to coat the pool filters without completely clogging them, or getting a cloud of sand pumped into the pool when it is poured too quickly. I also buy a pool testing kit which requires the water to be tested each day and need to aim for a perfect deep purple colour signifying the amount of chlorine is correct. Finally, the correct amount of "Solchlor" chlorine from AE&CI has to be tipped into the pool, preferable not within 2 hours of anyone swimming in it! Oh, and try not to lick your fingers after handling the chlorine since its yucky stuff on clothes or skin.

Me - pool boy
One hot sunny day, I go over to the pool to switch on the taps for the pool filters in the afternoon, and come the closest to dying an early death I have so far experienced. Before switching the pump on, I have to turn one tap off and another tap on, to re-direct the flow of water from the pool to the pump and filter. I lazily lift the wooden lid to the pool pump and reach in and start turning the first tap off, and there curled around the warm pipes having a snooze is an African rock python - brown with lighter brown and olive green markings - one of the most deadly snakes in South Africa and about 3 – 4 metres long. It must have slithered out of the undergrowth below the house and slipped under the wooden lid. Fortunately, it was sleeping and hadn’t seen my arm which was reaching in to grab the tap, only centimetres away from him. I jumped 10 feet into the air, gasping for breath, my heart rate soaring into the stratosphere as I fall over backwards and start to backcrawl away from the pumphouse keeping my eye on the snake in front of me. I jump up and run into the house and yell for help – I don’t know what else to do. Fortunately Bryan is coming down the stairs at that moment. “Jo man, you are just a pommie skapie, man. Show me die slang” he says in Afrikaans. “Jo bliksem” when he sees the size of it and he goes off to find a shovel while I watch the snake from a safe distance. On Bryan’s return, the snake is quickly despatched with the blade of the shovel and my ‘close encounter’ with a deadly python is at an end!

Before we know it, the New Year is upon us and 1975 draws to a close. An eventful year for someone who landed in Joburg just 12 months ago with no plans, and no idea what the future would hold. What will happen in the next 12 months?

Read on…
To continue with the story, scroll to the Blog Archive in the right-hand panel and click on '1976: January to December'.


  1. DH what a great story. I see I made a big impact. The job was not so high powered, Im just a sleepy kinda guy. When I get time I must share the story of your shoes.

    1. Bladdy shoes – I wondered what happened; you didn’t vomit in them did you?

  2. You must have kept a diary to record this detail, David. An absorbing piece of literature! Soon to be a major motion picture? To suggest all Tyrone inmates were dagga rookers is more fiction than fact, however - some of us grown-ups did not join in the pot-fests.

    1. October 1975 entry to welcome John P. changed to "...some of us around the table wander outside.... etc (to have a naughty puff!!)

  3. Great Memories David, it seems that all 20 somethings in Jo'burg seemed to do the same thing - I moved into a commue in Linbro Park in the 80's and we ran an underground pub, or as the neighbors would call it "A white Shebeen" it was only when I moved to Ireland that I learnt that Shebeen was an Irish word. We frequented many Commune parties in Sandton, Houghton, Randburg - I remember a commune party in Randburg that was getting so loud, the neighbor threw a tear gas cannister over the wall, and that ended that party. Of course Mary-Jane was so widely available and so cheap that everyone smoked. I often have to admit that my 20's were a bit of a blur, too much alchol and MJ. But there are those few memories that rear their heads every now and then.

    1. It's nice to know the tradition continued, after we moved on to other things in the late-70's! I will let you know when I post 1977, and then 1978 - lots of exciting and funny times to come! Also, I will be adding to the Photos as I go. There are more photos in the Epilogue. Keep well.

    2. Hi Rozi. I forgot to let you know that I completed 1976, 1977 and 1978 a few months ago. Lots more funny stories from those 'free-spirit' days in the communal scene. Happy reading! David