Around this time, I feel like a ‘car project’ will be quite fun and I have always liked the Austin-Healey ‘frog-eye’ Sprite, probably because it was my brother’s first sports car back in 1966. But I don’t just buy one ‘frog-eye’ Sprite, I buy a whole family – 3 of them!!
The first Sprite I buy is a modified one with a special Lenham GT bonnet, a fibreglass bonnet with enclosed lights like a Lotus Elan. This car is missing quite a lot of bits (like the original bonnet!) and therefore it is sold quite quickly as it will be too difficult to restore. Before I despatch the car, I take some of the interior bits out as they are in good condition and I sell the car as a ‘works modified’ rally car – hence the rather spartan interior!
The next Sprite I buy is a test of my trust in someone who has started restoring it but has got tired of it. The car is literally in bits – engine and chassis in one piece, but interior trim, gauges, bonnet and doors all in bits and about 10 boxes of parts that all fit somewhere on the car! But I can tell the car is in absolute mint condition with no rust on it, due to it always having lived in the Transvaal where it is warm and dry (mostly) and never on the coast. And it has a very rare hardtop (as well as a soft-top). So I put down R450 and the car is mine (I still have the receipts which show what I paid for the car, including a towing charge to get the chassis and bits back to Tyrone – R25).
I soon realise that some parts are missing, so I also buy a ‘donor’ car – basically a wreck – for some parts, and I start rebuilding the car. Luckily the courtyard in front of the house is huge and can accommodate at least 10 cars, so my 3 cars (the Mini + 2 Sprites) don’t take up too much space! The car is a glorious cream 1958 Mk.I ‘frog-eye’ Sprite and after many hours and weeks of sweat and toil, the car is almost ready for its first outing. One thing is missing that I have not been able to find anywhere in the car scrapyards around Joburg – the 4 original hubcaps for the car; the previous owner never had them and they are the only item that is missing, so I have to be thankful. One day after another fruitless search, Bryan says to me “howzit yo, why don’t you try the factory man, they built them in Cape Town man”! This is like a lightbulb moment, but I think to myself surely they won’t have any items left in stock, the car was discontinued 15 years ago.
So I call them on the phone and get through to the spares department and tell them what I want. “Well ….”, someone says on the other end,” it so happens we do have 4 brand new hubcaps….and they are the last ones in the factory!!!” Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I tell him “put them in a parcel and I will post you a cheque for the parts and rail freight, thanks” – the cost, R40. I am so excited, the car is finished. The first drive in the car is great – hood down, wind in the hair, a ‘good as new’ red leather interior and new cream duco exterior – the car looks perfect, and in fact later in the year, it gets a second place in the Austin-Healey Concours (the winner had his car towed to the event which is a bit like cheating at cards, but I’m not bitter….I hold no grudges!). I keep the car in the garage at Roman next door, as Richard is using the big garage at Tyrone to build his racing car, and the Sprite is a treasured possession for sunny days and Sundays for the next 2 years.
The military situation in Angola and Rhodesia at this time is deteriorating and I hear more young South Africans are being conscripted into the South African Defence Force (SADF). The draft is for all white males over the age of 18, mostly young men who have just finished school, and is for 12 months service. The SADF are regularly launching cross-border raids on militant ANC bases in neighbouring countries, and it also supports guerrilla groups in Angola (UNITA), Mozambique (RENAMO) and Namibia, in an attempt to bring down the Marxist governments in those countries.
Angola and Mozambique have only recently gained independence (in 1975) and the South African government views the Marxist governments there as a threat. Mozambique has also allowed ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (the militant wing of the ANC) to establish military bases there and SADF troops are being sent to the borders to fight against the insurgency. The SADF is also getting more active alongside the Security Forces in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) during their liberation war, and fighting a counter-insurgency against SWAPO rebels in South-West Africa (Namibia).
We have 2 or 3 guys in the OK Stores computer department that are drafted this month and we are all sad to see them go, so young, about 21. And there are reports in the paper this month that the South African Army, in support of the UNITA and FNLA alliance, is defeated by the Angolan People’s Army which is bad news. Militant ANC guerrilla movements are also becoming more common within South Africa, so the situation is definitely getting more dangerous both within and outside South Africa’s borders.
We are only getting snippets in the Rand Daily Mail of the worsening situation around South Africa’s borders, but we feel the noose is tightening against apartheid. We wish them good luck, and expect to see them fit and well in 12 months’ time.
Johnno, Rosie and I go to a party at Cyril’s Six in Highlands North where we meet Gayle and her friend Jean, who are both from Bristol in England. They are both dressed in tight fitting black and white luminous-painted skeleton outfits, so that the strobe lighting makes them appear ghost-like, moving in rhythm with the music. Apart from Rosie (of course), Gayle and Jean are the most attractive girls at the party and everyone wants to dance with them. Johnno tells me “I’m going to ask Gayle to dance”. I wish him luck! The girls, both attractive blondes, share a room in the house and I expect there is a queue of guys knocking down their door! We don’t see him for the rest of the night. We know what he got up to!
Later in the month, John and Michele suggest we all head down to the coast, to a small town called St Lucia about 200kms north of Durban, where there are camp sites on the sand dunes behind the beach. It sounds idyllic. John S. has borrowed a big tent that will sleep ten, so John and Michele, Rosie and I, Johnno, Nick and another couple – making 8 of us in all – agree to make a weekend of it. At the last minute, Johnno asks if he can bring a friend, and he turns up with Gayle, who he met at last week’s party at Cyril’s Six! We set off in 3 cars for the coast, and adventure.
After a drive of about 7 hours, we reach our destination and drive a short way up the coast to an isolated part of the beach where we find a perfect spot to erect the tent. There is a flat area of elevated sand dune for the tent, and we lug all the equipment up to it for 180 degree views up and down the coast. As the sun disappears behind us, the beer and wine come out and someone gets a campfire started for dinner. It’s another perfect setting, looking over the Indian Ocean at dusk, alone on an isolated beach in KwaZulu-Natal. Intoxicating.
Gayle has some sort of wide-eyed innocence which is divine, and is so perfectly dressed that some of us are wondering how she will get on ‘rough camping’, on a remote beach beside the ocean. As the beer and wine flow, it seems her innocence is growing and her beautiful blond hair is even more luminous in the light of the fire. At some point in the evening, she declares she’s going to change for bed and re-appears around the campfire a minute later wearing a slinky lingerie number! Everyone is transfixed by this and Gayle doesn’t seem to realise the effect she is having, dressed in a skimpy wisp of silk while everyone else are still in their dirty jeans and T-shirts!
As the fire dies down, we all decide to call it a night and head for the sleeping bags. Although it’s a large tent, it is still small enough to touch the couple next to you and as the bedtime talk dies away, we are left with the sound of the ocean outside and pitch blackness inside the tent. But wait, there is movement in the tent, and two of our number are enjoying each other’s company in a double sleeping bag! It’s clear that we are all awake at this point, while Johnno and his new friend entertain all of us in the tent with a kind of horizontal dance-song!! In the pitch black, our imaginations are running in overdrive!! In the morning, Gayle is still looking perfect with not a hair out of place! How does she do it?
We spend 2 nights on the coast, and by Sunday morning on the second day we all feel we know each other a whole lot better! Well done Gayle; camping with style!!
Alec Spiller (Gasworks) has untamed desires on someone he has met who is living alone in a cottage in Parktown, and decides to introduce her to Milner Loo as a new recruit to the communal house scene. Her name is Pat Myhill and she will become a leading light in the communal scene, editing the communal ‘Houseletter’ and living in a number of houses including Tyrone (from July 1977) and breaking numerous hearts along the way!! Pat is lonely in her cottage, and she only has an ‘ugly little charismatic bastard’ for company (Pat’s words!), and she needs to appreciate what life has to offer. However, Alec has designs of his own with Pat, and believes he can most easily achieve his plan by having Pat join Milner Loo, where Alec is also going out with one of the house members (no names!). Alec figures he can “kill two birds with one stone” if he has both his ‘objects of desire’ in the same place – good plan Alec, everyone is impressed by that one! Needless to say, Pat is accepted by Milner Loo and it doesn’t take long for Alec to achieve his goal with her!!
Johnno sometimes plays tennis at Jubilee Road in Parktown, with Peter and Tony, and he hears they are having a mega-party on the weekend. Jubilee Road is a lovely single-storey home, set in large treed surroundings with tennis court and pool. Rosie and I pick up Freks from Parktown (Gail Road), and we meet Johnno at the party with Gayle by his side. There are masses of people and everyone is having a good time in the house and gardens, which are decked out with lanterns.
As the party gets into full swing, we notice groups of individuals slipping away into the darkness and someone says there are people on the tennis court enjoying a puff, so the 5 of us go off to investigate. We manage to lose Johnno and Gayle on the way, but when we get down to the tennis court a group of about 15 people have congregated in the middle and someone has a joint. Rosie rolls a ‘5-stacker’ (5 rollie papers stuck together to form a long thick joint, about 5 times the size of a normal cigarette) and we join the happy throng. This is massive, as we have 2 joints circulating the group, and the atmosphere is laid back. Someone sits down, and we all sit down in a circle. On the tennis court, the mood is relaxed, the lighting is benign and the music thump, thumps in the background.
To give the joint lasting effect, we notice that couples are inhaling the smoke from their partners by locking their lips on their partner as they exhale, thus creating a sort of longer lasting effect as the joint is inhaled and exhaled a number of times before the smoke is finally dispersed completely. It must substantially increase the effects of the joint, because after a couple of tokes we are all smashed, and the tennis court begins to move ever so slowly! I am sharing my smoke, and my lips, with Rosie, which is more pleasant than I care to admit, and Freks is on the opposite side with a friend.
Someone shows me how to create a roach clip out of 2 matches, to hold the final burning embers of the joint without burning your lips (or fingers) – take 2 matches from your matchbox which have already been used (obviously!) and hold them together like a pair of tweezers with the end of the joint between them, and make a sucking motion about 1 or 2 mm from the tip to draw the smoke across the gap without actually touching it; brilliantly simple and effective, no burnt lips and no wastage!
After what seems like an age, but is probably only 15 minutes, the circle breaks up and slowly moves off into the darkness, led back to the house and the music by the lanterns on the path. On the way back to the party, we notice Freks has fallen into a flower bed behind the house, enjoying the moment with someone she has met and having her our own private party!
When we leave, around 2am, I am still pleasantly stoned – good enough to drive, but maybe at only 10mph, so we drop off Freks and make our way back to Tyrone, but slowly!
There is much excitement around the house later this month, as John and Michele are getting married in the garden at Tyrone. The week before they get married John asks Michele what she is doing the following Friday. When she says nothing apart from work, he says “Why don’t we get married?!” Being young and naive she thought he was just smitten, as she was, and she eagerly says yes. She later finds out it was, however, the end of the tax year and John had discovered that being married offered some significant tax advantages!!! (the South African tax year was 1 March to end-February each year).
That leaves them just over a week to find a priest who will marry them without the usual palaver which accompanies Catholic weddings (in those days, reading the banes and undertaking religious instruction etc), and to find a dress, ring, etc. They find a gorgeous Irish priest who agrees to officiate the ceremony at Tyrone. It is the first time he has married anyone outside a church, and although there is much that isn’t ‘usual’ about their wedding, he agrees to do it. The only complication is that as Michele is under 21, she is still considered a minor in South Africa and needs her parent’s written permission to marry. He gives them the paperwork and explains that both parents have to complete the form – in less than a week!!
John is at work the next day explaining his dilemma to his work colleagues, that it will take about 5 weeks to get a letter to NZ, for Michele’s parents to complete the documentation and then to post it back. At this point, Pat Myhill says “here, give it to me”. She promptly fills in the form on behalf of Michele’s mother and another guy fills it in as proxy for her Dad. On the day of the wedding Father Leatham arrives at Tyrone early for the ceremony. He requests to see the bride and groom and then asks if their parents have filled in the forms. Michele doesn’t want to lie to a member of the clergy, so just hesitates a moment and doesn’t say anything, and the priest thinks he smells a rat! The lovely man then says in his delightful Irish lilt, “don’t worry now, your Mum has spelt your name incorrectly and your father has put down the wrong birth date……but I have fixed it up”! So not only does he agree to marry a non-catholic and a catholic together, outside of a consecrated church and without reading the bands or making them undertake the usual religious instruction, but he also helps them correct their paperwork!! Are they properly married we all wonder afterwards!!
Postscript: They never did have a honeymoon, as Michele had to work the following day. But when they did decide to take a ‘honeymoon’ trip to Swaziland some months later, John was speeding en route and went over a speed trap. An Afrikaans cop jumped up out of a ditch some distance down the road and flagged them down……issuing them with a R350 speeding ticket – sizeable fine in those days – so they just did a U-turn and spent the next few hours driving at the legal limit back to Tyrone, as they couldn’t afford a huge speeding fine and a holiday – their honeymoon was over!
Michele wears a lovely long white dress for her wedding, which she has bought in the last few days. The bride looks radiant, not yet 21 years of age. John and the Best Man, Bryan W., wear suits and the Maid of Honour, a friend of Bryan’s and the Shanahan’s, looks lovely in her soft green dress. Deere and Joe are invited as well, and they are dressed in their Sunday best. And there is even a Flower Girl who is Bryan’s 7 year old daughter. It is a beautiful summer’s day and we all step onto the porch at the back of the house overlooking the garden. As the priest goes through their vows, the view from the porch across the terraced lawns, overgrown with trees now and somewhat neglected, is still magnificent. It is a tranquil setting and perfect for their wedding. John S. has invited some friends from work (A.C.Nielsen), one of whom is Pat Myhill who will figure later in our lives at Tyrone. Afterwards we all sip champagne and toast the bride and groom, even allowing ourselves a few minutes to share the occasion with Deere and Joe. For a moment, the difficulties of race and colour, of apartheid and segregation, are forgotten as we spend time with the servants – momentarily, it all seems normal. Bryan gives a short speech “Unaccustomed as I am…..” and goes on to say how lucky we are to have such a lovely married couple in Tyrone. We all chip in with “Hear hear….” and quickly scull our drinks and seek some more!
The day that John and Michele are married, they are competing with Brian W. for the use of the lounge. He has planned an informal roulette evening for just a few friends, to trial a small table he has acquired. So we have to settle for some curry and rice as a wedding dinner, so that the gambling is not delayed. We had our priorities right in those days!!!
The final week of the month brings news that Richard is moving out and vacating his room. I think we all breathe a sigh of relief, as Richard has not been an active member of the household – in fact, in the 6 months I have been in the house, I think I have seen him twice, once on the way back from the bathroom and once when he showed me the racing car that he is building in the garage! To say he is a recluse, is an understatement. Notoriously private, he keeps the garage doors locked. He has been building an open-wheel racing car for the past 2 years and he makes most of the parts himself – even down to the nuts and bolts. He tells me he hopes to race it one day in a ‘special’ category, and I think to myself that by the time it is completed, regulations will have changed and the world will have moved on to something different – he will just miss the boat as far as racing it is concerned (we never do hear what happened to his racing dreams after he left, as he never spoke to his housemates again!).
Bryan W. immediately tells everyone that he has some big plans for the garage as an entertainment area with bar and darts etc, and everyone agrees that the garage should be converted into something BIG, as it is huge – at least 6 cars worth!
We hold the usual interviews and a very interesting guy walks in one evening, who is full of energy and fun, and that is Paul Overton. Paul runs a small import-export business, importing steel for South African businesses. Since a number of countries have imposed sanctions on South Africa due to its stance on apartheid, Paul has the difficult job of circumventing the regulations and quotas to obtain steel from whatever source he can. He is a tremendously enterprising guy, always looking for a business opportunity, and we all like him a lot. Paul gets the nod to move into Richard’s old room.
Bryan W. has returned from a holiday in Rhodesia with 2 English hitchhikers, Keith and Julie, who are apparently travelling through Africa, hitch-hiking their way to the southern tip of Cape Town. They tell us they have an aunt who lives in Durban, and they are making for there as soon as they have spent a few days in Joburg. We welcome them in – they are actually quite fun, with their stories of Big Game hunting and meeting rebels in the Rhodesian conflict. Their personalities are larger than life, and match Bryan in a way, and I can see why he likes them so much. However, they always complain of having no money, and the idea of asking them to pay some rent for using the lounge, or to pay for food, is left unsaid; and certainly isn’t volunteered by them!
They sleep in the lounge and consequently we are always stepping over their stuff or simply unable to use the lounge because they are sleeping. But it’s OK, we assume, because they will be leaving in a couple of days. Well, the days turn into weeks, and there is no mention of their aunt in Durban or when they may move on. I don’t think they want to leave, and perhaps the lounge will become a permanent bedroom making 9 bedrooms in all – there are already 10 of us in the house, and 12 makes eating around the dining table a bit of a squeeze. However, we are planning a big party in a couple of weeks and Keith assures us they will leave after that.
While Keith and Julie are here, they help Bryan build an enormous Bar in the garage with dart board, piano and fully fitted bar facilities with fridge, drink pourers, cold beer and wine, soft drinks and even cigarettes – all for sale and which will make the house a tidy profit on weekly Bar Nights. The garage is so big that the bar extends across the back wall, with a long bar counter for housemates to stand behind and serve drinks, and heaps of room in front for darts, piano, music system and room for probably 50 people. It’s the best Bar of any communal house. Bryan is a wonderful handyman, and the bar counter and fittings are professional items that he has procured from somewhere – he has all the contacts!
After about 2 weeks of feverish labour, the Bar is ready for unveiling at a huge mega-party that we want to have to celebrate its opening. Bryan announces the idea over dinner, “yessus man, it’s going to be one crazy party, man, the likes of which you okes have never seen!” Everyone likes the idea and we get into serious planning mode.
We decide that all drinks will be R1 each, strictly by ticket sale, and people will purchase tickets when they arrive and someone will be at the entrance taking money for tickets the whole evening. Someone organises a DJ and the lounge is completely cleared to make room for the DJ and dancing. The bar will be stocked with 100 dozen beers on a sale or return basis from the local bottle store, and enough wine and spirits for 500 non-beer drinkers, and so Bryan orders 500 plastic cups. We expect 700-800 people.
The night of the party is an absolute blast. There are so many people that we start to run out of tickets by about 11pm and we have to do a mad scramble to rescue used tickets from the Bar, and the 500 cups are exhausted by mid-night and we tell people to find a used cup and wash it out! Luckily, the beer and alcohol is keeping pace and the only problem is keeping the beers cold (there’s a big bath beside the bar, full of ice, that’s continually being restocked from our supplies). Someone tells me that the parked cars extend all the way down the lane to the main road – approx. 500 yards!
The music pumps out of the lounge and everyone is spilling onto the lawns outside – it’s simply the biggest party I’ve ever seen. We are all racing around making sure the party goes smoothly – with 3 of us at all times behind the bar on shifts, maybe another 3 going around selling tickets and the others re-stocking and banking cash! So, we are all exhausted by the end of the night, which is nearly 4am, but everyone has had a good time. It is simply awesome!
Estimates put the number of people at around 1,000. It seems the word has got around that Tyrone has the best Bar in Joburg, and everyone wants to see it. Somehow, everyone there appears to be from the communal house scene and it shows how well the ‘grapevine’ is working – everyone seems to know someone else at the party and it’s a great success. Tyrone’s bar is on the map, and we announce that we’ll be having weekly Bar Nights in the garage from now on.
The next day is a huge clean-up, and we collect 2 large containers of rubbish that a haulage contractor will eventually take away. We calculate the finances and logistics – at least 700 soft drinks and spirits consumed, and about 1,000 beers (there is only a small quantity to return). We are making about 60-70 cents on each drink, so that’s about R1200 profit; deduct R200 for the DJ and we have about R1000 profit. We are about to crack out the champagne before Bryan reminds us he has not been paid for the bar facilities and to stock the bar, which will take another R500. A groan goes up, and we realise we have made about R50 per head – maybe just one month’s rent – not bad, but not a goldmine!
Two days later, while we are all still struggling with hangovers, Keith and Julie finally tell us they are packing their things in the lounge and leaving for Cape Town (their aunt in Durban never did materialise) and David Forrest tells us he is moving out to go back to the UK.
Crikey, that means another round of interviews and new faces, our third new housemate in 6 months. However, within a week we have found a lovely English girl called Maggie who wants to move in. She is a delight to be with - whimsical, a lovely sense of humour and a Manchester accent that is endearing.
Maggie soon takes a fancy to Bryan Bourke, who works for Afro-Ventures as a driver/guide and lives in another house. He is away a lot on tours, but when he is in town he is often to be found at Tyrone, and he and Maggie quickly become a couple
Mike Sterne takes over as Treasurer from David Forrest, one of the most important jobs in the house. The Treasurer has to ensure the rent is collected and paid, pay the bills and the servants, and ensure there is a small profit at the end of the month. Mike starts his new role by asking us all for an increase in the ‘float’ since the kitty is empty. “The profit from the party has gone on essential repairs to the plumbing, and I want everyone to put in R5 to top-up the kitty” Mike says confidently, and since we all believe in Mike’s financial whiz, the money is paid over without complaint. However, we are spending far more on things like repairs and food than we realise, and this becomes Mike’s plea at the end of most months, that the kitty is empty and the larder is bare!
A few days after the party, we lose all electricity to the house for almost a week. Some of us suspect the party has finally caused the system to collapse. The house is slowly crumbling around us – the tennis court is full of rubbish, mainly beer cans, the roof has holes so that when it rains we have to run around with buckets and the guttering on one wall has fallen off. So the idea that the electricity has finally given up, comes as no surprise to many of us. The problem is traced to a breakdown in the wiring outside the house, inside a maintenance pit (about 200 yards from the house) mid-way between the house and the main road. On inspection of our rental agreement, Mike informs us that we are responsible for all maintenance of the property and we will have to pay for the repairs, which will cost up to R500-R600.
Fortunately, Bryan W. has trained as an electrical technician in Rhodesia and he swears he can repair the problem himself, so everyone else takes a step back and says “OK, there’s enough electricity going through that pit to fry your little ass, so good luck, we’re right behind you … at 20 paces!” No one is sure where the transformers are located, but we all suspect that the power coming into the property from the street is at least 12,000volts! Bryan is not worried!
Bryan makes a call and gets the power disconnected and then he starts digging around the pit. After about 30 mins, he has unearthed a whole bunch of wires and says with some satisfaction “yessus, there it is…see there, the wires are broken, man”. Everyone is sceptical, but keen for him to proceed. We have to fix the problem if we are to continue living in Tyrone.
Bryan gets some wire cutters to repair the broken connections, and prepares to cut the wires while Paul holds them steady for him. Everyone draws a deep breath as he cuts, hoping that the energy company has done as instructed. The cut is clean, and to our amazement, Bryan and Paul are still with us! Bryan welds the loose connections together, and places the wires back inside the pit and we walk back to the house to phone the energy company to turn the power back on. This they do within about 1 hour, and hey presto, the lights and power come back on. Rosie screams with delight “now I can wash and dry my hair” and disappears for a long shower. Well done Bryan and Paul, we are all in awe of your skill and bravery!
Whatever Bryan has achieved fixing the electricity, we are still constantly reminded of the growing maintenance problems at Tyrone. We can’t afford to fix the holes in the roof and every time it rains we run around with buckets upstairs to catch the drips – fortunately, the water is only coming in along the long passage that connects all the bedrooms – none in the bedrooms themselves. We can’t afford to fix the problem, and the owner doesn’t want to get involved – he is only waiting until he can re-finance the property and develop it for new housing. Even the tennis court is full of rubbish, mostly beer cans. There’s no net or equipment, so all we can do is watch it gather weeds. We know within our hearts, that time at Tyrone is limited – either the weather will get to us first or the owner will sell up and evict us. Never mind, we press on and enjoy ourselves.
Over dinner, Bryan talks about getting a Honda 250cc trail bike. Apparently, he is picking it up tomorrow. He talks about some of the great trails through the veldt and dry river beds that are only a few miles from the city – it’s possible to ride a bike and get out into open veldt in around 15 mins. We are that close, especially from Tyrone which is on the eastern edge of the city anyway (Linksfield Ridge). Rosie eggs me on to get one as well – maybe she has a secret desire to ride a bike herself – but I’ve only ever ridden a Vespa! I decide to buy something a little smaller (Honda 125cc trail bike) which will suit my experience. Within a week, I am the proud owner of a ‘little sister’ bike to Bryan and we plan to go out on a ride the next free weekend we get.
The house also has a weekly Bar Night in the garage to organise– the first one since the party. From the first night, these Bar Nights are raucous affairs with everyone getting fairly pissed and 30 or 40 people regularly turning up each week. All the housemates take turns behind the bar, and its great fun serving drinks and taking the cash. Johnno provides most of the music (recorded on Dolby TDK90 audio cassette tapes) and its popular stuff like Donna Summer & Giorgio Moroder “I Feel Love” and Steve Miller Band “Take the Money and Run”. It’s not unusual for the housemates behind the bar to get pissed and as the evening wears on, the drinks seem to flow ever faster (with consequent more spillage as everyone starts dancing to the music!). Rosie likes to make a striking pose and will sometimes prop up the bar on a stool and light a Dunhill cigarette in the style of a great movie star, blowing the smoke over the gathered throng. Rosie loves a bit of theatre! Bryan is definitely the ‘ringmaster’, giving instructions and calling out prices of the drinks, and encouraging everyone to drink more beer. These are great evenings, and regularly go on into the small hours. All the single ladies want to meet the single guys, and occasionally we find someone who’s got lost getting home and appears the next morning at breakfast!
While we are enjoying ourselves at parties and bar nights during the week, one thing that doesn’t easily get forgotten is the ‘black problem’. The daily journey into work and the CBD bring the daily working lives of millions of black people into perspective and it’s hard to ignore. Black-only bus stops service inferior Black-only buses which they use to get to work (PUTCO is the main "blacks only" bus transport) and trains are reserved for ‘blacks-only’ to get them to work from townships further afield. The bus stations and central railway station disgorge their human cargo each day to work for their white employers, and wherever you walk in the city there is always a sea of black faces. Many signs say “Slegs Blankes; Whites only”. All Government buildings have separate entrances for whites and blacks with signs like “Nie Blankes; Non Whites” and it’s hard to ignore the ‘black problem’ in the city each day. Cinemas and theatres in white areas are not allowed to admit blacks, and most restaurants and hotels in white areas are not allowed to admit blacks except as staff. Public toilets are segregated. The Rand Daily Mail is also reporting almost daily protests in the townships about education or housing or other matters that concern the blacks, that there is a feeling of rising tension in the air as the weeks and months of 1976 pass us by. The issue comes home to me in an incident one day at the central railway station.
I want to see the central railway station in Joburg as it is quite a landmark – large, Dutch style architecture and granite stone façade. Imposing. It’s in the middle of town and I can walk there from Commissioner St. in my lunch hour. It takes about 15 minutes. It occupies several blocks of land, and is bounded by 4 main streets. The approach on Wanderers St on the eastern side is full of small stalls selling their wares, and there is lots of activity as people make their way either to or from the station. It serves both black and white commuters, and hence it is always busy with people coming and going. It also serves as a bus station and is the largest railway station in Africa. I wander up to the entrance. It’s big; it’s imposing. It’s a massive stone complex and the dramatic station Concourse is restricted to 'Whites only' (the Concourse was redeveloped in the mid-90’s when it was made open to whites and blacks for the first time). I wander through it and out towards the platforms. Here, it becomes quite confusing and I make for a flight of steps to take me to the platforms. I find some stairs and descend to the next level. When I reach the platforms, I don’t notice for a moment but everyone here is black; somehow I have found my way onto one of the platforms for Soweto. The place is a mass of black faces; I feel suddenly confused and a bit stupid; I am the only white person. Everyone is looking at me as if I am an alien, and indeed I am to these people because I shouldn’t be here. It is very confronting. Someone points to a sign at the stairs “Nie Blankes; Non Whites only”. The impression is obvious; I am not welcome here and I must leave immediately. I turn and make for the stairs, aware of all the black faces looking and staring. I make it to the top of the stairs and the safety of the Concourse, and have to catch my breath. That wasn’t very pleasant at all. I felt as if I was an alien in someone else’s world. And then I realise – this must be how the blacks must feel every day. It is not a pleasant experience!
One evening, Bryan comes to the dinner table more excited than usual. He knows a ‘friend of a friend’ that has secured the first illegal copy of the film “Emmanuelle 2” to enter South Africa, starring the beautiful Sylvia Kristel in the nude (of course) with several explicit sex scenes. The word ‘porn movie’ hasn’t entered the modern lexicon at this point yet, and we call it a ‘blue movie’, but the inference is obvious. This will be a huge hit for young people in the communal house scene and the first ‘blue movie’ for many people – what better for a future classic of the genre to be shown at Tyrone first – in all of South Africa!. We also realise, this will be strictly illegal, and if we receive a visit from the police it will mean confiscation of the movie and financial penalties and possible criminal conviction. Anything deemed sexually permissive is banned in this country. We need to be very discreet.
But Bryan reckons we go for something much bigger still. His earlier roulette evenings for just a few friends have gone well. He knows where he can get a professional roulette wheel and baize cloth, professional chips and all the paraphernalia that goes with gambling, and suggests that while we have maybe 100 or 200 people here for the movie that we also have a roulette night. Operating a casino in South Africa is also illegal but by this time we have thrown caution to the wind and we are all behind Bryan – it will be great fun and make the house a lot of money.
We decide to charge R1 entry for the roulette, which Bryan will keep and he will also finance the table and take whatever winnings (or loses) himself – fair enough we think, since most of us have never played roulette before, let alone been to a casino! The roulette will be held in the lounge, and the big garage will be set up with chairs in front of the bar counter and the movie projected onto a large screen in front of the doors. Tickets for the movie will be invitation only and cost R3, and will be pre-sold beforehand, as Bryan has had to pay R250 to get the movie for one night only. We also hire 70-80 chairs from a stadium promoter, for the movie.
In the event, we sell over 200 tickets for the movie, and we plan to have 3 showings during the course of the evening and people will also be playing roulette both before and after the movie, so there will be potentially a huge profit for the house after paying for the movie and the chairs.
There is one more surprise that is kept secret. Paul confides in me that he has arranged for 3 strippers to come along on the night and do private shows in his room upstairs for anyone that wants to pay for it. This all sounds a bit over the top to me and Rosie, but we don’t get involved – if he wants girls in his room and have some private fun, then that’s up to him. No one is any the wiser!!
On the night of the movie, there is a great air of excitement – everyone there knows that what is happening is highly illegal, but that seems to lend the occasion with greater excitement. We have 200 people at the house, maybe slightly more as some people have just come for the roulette and the bar is doing a roaring trade (we temporarily set up the bar in the lounge, as it’s impossible to get in the garage while the movie is showing). I remember that Sylvia Kristel is the most beautiful actress that I have ever seen on screen, and the sex scenes (set in Hong Kong, Macao and Bali) are tasteful and erotic. We all agree that the movie is simply the best film anyone has ever seen.
Meanwhile, I look around for any girls who may be strippers and don’t see any and I wander over to Paul and ask him what is going on. “Well Davey boy…they turned up an hour ago, had one look at the illegal setup we had happening and the number of people, and got cold feet and left immediately!!” Ha, ha, I laughed like a drain. “It was a bit over the top”, I told him. “If we are raided by the police and they find out we have girls upstairs doing private shows, then we are all for the high-jump!!” Paul actually agrees and tells me he is kind of glad because the house is pumping as it is. Paul has a cheeky grin and likes to be a bit on the naughty side when it comes to the ladies. He is always up for anything that is fun or fabulous.
The night is a great success and Tyrone is now firmly on the communal house ‘map’ for parties, Bar Nights and blue movies!
The story about roulette doesn’t quite end there however. Bryan builds a professional roulette table in the garage, complete with all fixtures and fittings and we decide to hold weekly roulette nights on a Friday night which Bryan will finance, and the house will take whatever it makes on the Bar. This is in addition to Tuesday nights, which alternate each week between a Movie night in the lounge and Bar Night in the garage. So Tyrone is almost becoming a little money machine, with all the social events happening in this sleepy part of Linksfield Ridge! Maybe it’s time for a visit from the police!
This duly happens one Friday evening while there is a rowdy roulette session happening in the garage (behind the closed doors fortunately – but the cars down the lane will have given the game away).
Two uniformed SAP officers from the Parkview police station knock on the front door and came into the lounge area and start asking questions. The noise from the garage can plainly be heard in the background. This doesn’t look good for Bryan, for the housemates or for Tyrone. However, perhaps because Bryan and Mike had recent military service (in Rhodesia and SA respectively), and the 2 uniformed guys are police reservists, they develop a spirit of empathy towards us, which is helped along by Bryan and Mike giving them a few drinks. After about 30 minutes, they say to Mike “well Meneer, there’s nothing much happening here, totsiens man” and leave by the front door! Phew, that is a close shave. For the next few weeks we cancel a couple of the roulette nights, but after about 2 months we are suffering from some serious ‘party’ overload (and Bryan has some financial losses on the table) that the Friday night roulette evenings are quietly dropped.
After Bryan and I had got trail bikes, Nick O’K. decides he would like to join us and he gets a 250cc Yamaha (2-stroke). Most weekends now, the 3 of us head off into the veldt and find dry river courses or trails that go for miles and seem quite remote, although we are only 20 minutes from the house. It’s fun having the wind and the cool, dry air blow across our bodies as we negotiate the ups and downs of the trails. I am reminded of the importance of wearing a helmet one day when I slip and fall beside the trail, while only riding slowly, but it gives the side of my head one hell of a bang. We all ride with open-face helmets and googles, so lucky I didn’t fall on my face! Rosie likes the thrill of riding too, and she occasionally takes the bike out on the street but she isn’t game to take it out on the trails. She does give it a go on the lawn in front of the pool however, and after a few attempts, manages to get a half decent ‘wheelie’ going. “Oh crikey”, I shout, “watch out for the pool” as she drops it within a few feet of dropping it in the pool! Later, Bryan, Nick and I build quite a commendable race track through the wooded area below the house (between us and Roman - the house below us) and Rosie and ourselves have great fun and timed races through the trees. We install a couple of jumps as well, and we all manage to get the wheels off the ground as we fly through the air! It’s free entertainment for us, and the other housemates, as they see who the first to fall off is. Eventually, most of them also give the bikes a go and Bryan, Nick and I take bets on whose bike will suffer the most damage!
This month we are having yet another housemate leave us. This time it’s Maggie, who says she is moving in with her new boyfriend Fairfax, who is a stockbroker in the city. Rosie will miss Maggie, because they are always smoking on the outside porch together, and borrowing each other’s cigarettes. After the usual few evenings seeing people who want to move in, we decide someone called Marlene Blomerus is perfect for the house. She is bright, good fun and slightly reserved with a lovely nature. She moves into Maggie’s old room upstairs at the far end of the house, next to Bryan.
By June, we are still having Bar Nights in the garage on alternate weeks, on a Tuesday night. They are always chaotic affairs – loud music, everyone enjoying themselves and all the housemates having a good time behind the bar. I get to know all the drinks, like the ever popular Bacardi and coke, and Castle beer and Lion Lager. The darts board always gets a workout and the piano in the corner is more for show than go. It’s always fun, but often I wonder how some of the people get home on the roads – maybe because the roads are so quiet at 2am when it seems most nights finish up. However, there is chaos of another kind one Tuesday night when one of the “patrons’ gets decidedly drunk and fires off a few rounds into the air in the garden. Mike immediately swings into action with his military training and disarms the guy – firmly but politely – and puts him and his gun in his car where he is seen sleeping it off a few hours later! No harm done, and the neighbours are far enough away not to be alarmed by the shots (our nearest neighbour, apart from the communal house Roman, being about 200 yards away). At the next night’s dinner table, Mike S. is the voice of reason and suggests we cancel a couple of weeks of Bar Nights to let the situation cool down. This appears sensible, as we don’t want another visit from the police. Mike is like a wise ‘sage’, having been in the military and one of the long-standing members of the house, and we all listen to his wise counsel with reverence and respect!
I have noticed a change in black people’s behaviour from around the beginning of 1976, and the Rand Daily Mail occasionally carries a report about the growing unrest within South Africa – mostly workers strikes at the mines and so forth. On June 16, black discontent explodes in Johannesburg when South African police fire on a group of Soweto students protesting against plans to impose Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black schools. Although the number of people who die is usually given as 176, estimates vary up to 700 and the number of wounded as over a thousand people. The papers aren’t able to report all the details, because of censorship, but we all know that something serious has happened only a few miles from the centre of the city. In the days before Wikipedia and the internet, most of us had no idea what was happening on our doorstep, or even why the students were protesting. Very little of the seriousness of the situation is published in the daily papers. And TV News which started broadcasting earlier this year for the first time is heavily censored. The original government figure claims only 23 students are killed.
The unrest quickly spreads to other townships, such as Alexandra, where 19 people are killed. Many Soweto student leaders are influenced by the ideas of black consciousness at this time. Some small groups of student activists are linked to old ANC members and the militant wing of the ANC ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’. ANC underground structures issue pamphlets calling on the community to support students and linking the student struggle to the struggle for national liberation. We realise that South Africa is changing in front of our eyes, and the privileged white society that we are used to is changing forever.
June also marks the annual House Olympics. These are held each year at Gasworks in Randburg, and consist of outdoor competitions where house teams compete for points to win the greatest accolade in the communal house year – winner of the House Olympics! Our team this year consists of Bryan W, Tony W (Bryan’s brother), Mike S. Johnno, Sarah Evans (John’s Kiwi girlfriend), Nick O’K., John and Michele S, Marlene B, Rosie and me. Some of the games this year are the Greasy Pole (2 people sitting astride a greasy pole over the swimming pool with feather pillows trying to knock the other competitor into the water) and the Beer Race (team of nine must down a pint of beer and upend the glass on their head – empty – before the next team member can start their pint) and the Sausage Race (2 teams compete across 50 yards of lawn with cold sausages strung across the track at 10 yard intervals, which each member must eat before running to the next sausage). It’s all great fun. The games are hilarious, and of course, the alcohol flows freely so that as the afternoon wears on, the games get even more chaotic! The 2 chief organisers at the Gasworks are Alex Spiller and Malcolm who are frequent visitors at Tyrone Bar Nights, so they know they have a lot to live up to. They don’t disappoint and at the end of the day, the winners are declared as a very strong team from Jubilee Road.
The work situation at OK Stores hasn’t changed since I started. I am still responsible for their stock control and order processing systems, and since I started, the company has introduced new computer systems for their upcoming Hypermarket opening. These stores will be the ‘killer-category’ stores in South Africa, which will allow you to buy almost anything you want; not just TV’s and whitegoods but also new cars (they have an arrangement with Ford). Occasionally, I get called in when something doesn’t work in the overnight computer program, and I have to go into work, usually around 4am, to fix the problem. This involves a phone call to the house which one of the servants will pick up, and then to wake me with groans from Rosie, to get down there as quick as I can. I’ll drive through the empty streets of Joburg and park in Commissioner St, outside the front entrance of the DP Centre. There are no concerns for safety at this time, even after Soweto a few weeks ago, and no one locks their car doors while driving, even at night. Usually, the problem is quickly traced by finding the instruction that has caused the problem, from a computer dump of machine code and some address calculations as to where the program has crashed, I’ll get the program tray from the library (computer programs were stored on punchcards, in metal trays, at this time) and find the offending punchcard, recompile the program and get it running again. Then it’s back to bed as the sun is coming up, say 6am, and more groans from Rosie. And I will usually be back at my desk by 10am again – all in a normal day’s work!
A memorable party that Rosie and I go to is held one Saturday night at Jalis Inn in Highlands North. It’s a small communal house with only 4 guys sharing it but they create a great atmosphere with coloured lights against the white walls and convert the main lounge into a club vibe complete with a Jimi Hendrix movie projected diagonally onto the walls and ceiling playing his biggest hits like “Purple Haze” at full volume, to great effect. Rosie is in her element as she dances to the music, her long hair cascading over her shoulders as she weaves and turns to the beat. She loves to be the centre of attention, and her good looks get her plenty of admiring glances. She reminds me of a Kate Bush, with the way she rocks with the music. Outside is a small pool enclosed by a courtyard, and everyone is feeling the love and jumping in and out of the pool and dancing to the beat from inside, while in a corner there’s half a lamb turning slowly on a spit. The sight of the lamb, and the smoke from the fire, and the sights and sounds of Jimi Hendrix wafting outside, make for a great memory; it’s a small bunch of revellers, maybe 80 or so, all enjoying the moment in time.
The following weekend, Nick suggests that the 3 of us (Nick, Bryan and myself) should head south of the city and go trail bike riding over the mine dumps and mountains of ‘tailings’ left by some of the gold mines there. More than a century of gold mining has left towering piles of bleached mine waste, known as ‘tailings’, all over Johannesburg's landscape. The mine dumps look strangely beautiful from a distance. Lustrously yellow in the sun, blazing red at dusk, their huge molehill shapes provide the city with its distinctive skyline. Some of the biggest mine dumps are around Diepkloof, only 3-4 miles south-west of the centre of town, and they are perfect for riding up their steep slopes (some about 100 feet high) and onto their level tops. Some are so steep that we only get half way up before sliding down again, only to find another way to the top. Everywhere is a fine yellow dust, and we are soon covered in the stuff (It turns out to be no ordinary dust, either; later research has identified traces of everything from copper and lead, to cyanide and arsenic, and high levels of uranium concentration – one reason, perhaps, that it is yellow!).
After about an hour, we have travelled over half a dozen mine dumps at least, and have become a little disoriented, and decide to head back to the city along the edge of a poor residential area. We drop down into what is obviously a township for blacks. There are no whites here, and it is made up of hundreds of black faces, looking at us as we slowly ride past them. Bryan calls over to Nick and I, “we must be in Soweto and this isn’t the best place to be right now, so just keep riding and don’t stop”. It’s good advice indeed, as the black faces show us they don’t like this intrusion into their lives. As long as we stick together, we feel we will be alright. After about 10 minutes we emerge onto Main Reef road at Riverlea, about 5 miles south-west of the city. “Phew, that was a bit crazy” I shout over to Bryan and Nick, “but you have to admit it was great fun”. The other 2 just look relieved! When we get back to Tyrone, everyone else just thinks we were mad to go down there. “But we got lost…” says Nick helplessly!
Although we have had our own security issues in South Africa, with more reports of rioting and protests since Soweto last month, I am reminded that England has its own security issues with the Irish problem, known as the ‘troubles’ – on 21 July it is reported that the British Ambassador to Ireland, and his secretary, are both assassinated by a car bomb in Dublin. It seems that the Irish ‘troubles’ are getting worse, and even at home in England you may not be safe (the Irish IRA ‘guerrilla war’ against England does escalate through the 70’s and 80’s with bombings of the Old Bailey in London, the Horse Guards in Hyde Park and of course the bombing of a hotel in Brighton aimed at Margaret Thatcher. Lord Mountbatten, while on holiday in Ireland, was killed by a bomb planted on board his boat. And on the same day, eighteen British soldiers were killed by two roadside bombs in Ireland).
About this time, Mike S. goes on a few weeks holiday to N America to see his father near Washington DC. While he is there, he drives a repossessed Cadillac across the country to California for a dealer. The dealer gives him one week to do it, which means that Mike has to drive almost 500 miles/day – no mean feat!
Mid-way there he stays overnight at a motel in the tiny town of Russell, in Kansas, and next morning he goes into town to buy breakfast. The town is a buzz of excitement, because US President Gerald Ford is in town that morning to announce his ’76 campaign running mate for VP, Senator Robert Dole, who grew up in Russell. The Republican National Convention is to be held next month in Kansas City. Amazingly, Mike gets to shake hands with the President and his running mate, and when he comes home 2 weeks later he is still telling the story (and his right hand is sort of blessed because it’s been touched by the president of the United States!)
While Mike is away, most of the rest of Tyrone drive to the Drakensburg Mountains for a weekend, staying in some accommodation overlooking a famous landmark – the ‘Three Rondavels’ – beside the spectacular Blyde River Canyon. Situated to the north-east of Pretoria, in the corner bordering Botswana, Rhodesia and Mozambique, it is an easy 4 hour drive. In fact John S. has a new Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina sedan, and he drives very fast so that he reaches the destination about 30 mins before anyone else. Paul Overton, on the other hand, has a very nice Triumph Stag and he drives very sedately with the top down and the wind in his hair, and arrives as its getting dark! We are staying in a self-catering lodge that has a pool and horse-riding next door so plenty to see and do. There’s 10 of us and we occupy 2 lodges – John and Michele S., Johnno and Sarah, Bryan and a friend, Paul O. Nick, Rosie and me.
Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on Earth. It has some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent. Possibly the best view in the whole of the Blyde River Canyon is of the ‘Three Rondavels’, which are 3 massive rock formations that rise 2,000 feet above the surrounding area and we can see them directly in front of us, from our lodge accommodation. A million dollar view.
On Saturday we visit all the best spots like Horseshoe Falls, God’s Window, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Nick wants to swim in the icy waters of Horseshoe Falls and everyone tells him he’s crazy, but he does it anyway – brrr. On Sunday, Rosie and I head off on a horse trail ride, down a steep trail into the Canyon that leads to a magnificent gorge and waterfall. Beautiful. Rosie is a much better rider than me, and she looks quite regal on the horse; head held up and hair flowing behind her – no hard hats here!
For some reason, at this time, I decide to sell the Mini Clubman I’ve owned for about nine months. One reason, I suspect, is that I happen to see my old Beetle for sale in a car yard as I am walking past and I remember how I used to love it. I suspect the other reason is that the HP agreement is costing money every month and I’m paying quite a steep rate of interest – money that’s being thrown away on something that is worth half of what I paid for it last year. The Beetle is going for a song – the same price that I sold it for a year ago – and I decide to trade in my Mini for the Beetle.
There is a minor hitch when we can’t get the Beetle started, and while the salesman convinces me that it is a minor fuel issue, I negotiate a hefty discount on the price and we push the car out onto the street. Whatever the problem, I know I can get it started if I can get it to a garage, so I call the AA and ask for assistance with a car that’s broken down. When the AA turn up a short time later, the mechanic turns to me after looking over the motor and says without a hint of surprise “how was it going this morning?” “Oh, just fine” I reply with a straight face. “Amazing…” is his only reply. Nevertheless, he manages to get it running after about 10 minutes, and tells me it was a blocked fuel filter. “Looks like the fuel hasn’t been used for months” he says with a straight face, and our eyes meet and we sort of understand each other without any more being said.
I drive the Beetle home a happy owner, and in the remaining 18 months that I am in South Africa, it costs me ‘not a cent’ in maintenance. What reliability! What German engineering!!
Only a couple of months after Soweto, we hear of a three-day strike in Soweto by between 150,000 and 200,000 black workers. The Rand Daily Mail only reports it in general terms, as there is a ban on writing anything that is happening in the country that is against the Afrikaner-backed National Party, so most of the time we are not hearing about what is going on. The violence even spreads to Cape Town, to the black townships of Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu and then, for the first time, to Coloured townships. 33 people are shot dead in looting related incidents. The noose is slowly tightening around the neck of apartheid, as a tidal wave of protest and opposition slowly but surely starts to make an impression on the country (South Africa had economic and political sanctions imposed on it by the international community at this time, to slowly build pressure to break down the barriers of apartheid, but it took almost 15 years until South African President, F.W. de Klerk, announced the end of apartheid in his 1990 address to Parliament).
The big event this month is Michele’s 21st birthday party. We are all so young, but Michele is the youngest of all of us. Obviously, John S. is a lucky man, and don’t the other guys in the house know it!
Deere cooks a special dinner, and Mike S. oversees the preparations in the kitchen. A giant Pavlova cake has been made by Deere to instructions from John S. All the housemates are there – Marlene, Bryan, Mike, Paul, Nick, Johnno, John and Michele S, Rosie and me. Also a couple of friends from A.C.Nielson - Mike and Yvonne Hoy, and Lynn Cormack. And Johnno’s gf Sarah Evans and Bryan’s brother Tony. Tony is a cameraman with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and he suggests we make a film and call it “The Rocky Horror Show”. Johnno and I also decide we should introduce Michele to a ‘5-stacker’ (5 rollie papers stuck together to form a long thick joint, about 5 times the size of a normal cigarette) at dinner, and plan some extra festivities during the evening.
After the main course, Johnno brings out the ‘5-stacker’ and we light up and pass it around. Most of us draw a deep breath on it before passing it on, and it is so large, the joint is going around the table for about 30 minutes. Everyone is in party mood by now, either from alcohol or dope, and we get Michele up the front. Johnno makes a speech and then someone else – Nick or Paul – runs outside and jumps in the pool, fully clothed, and comes back into dinner dripping wet. This is a sign for most of the rest of us to strip off and dash for the pool for a dip in the freezing water (its winter) – Michele leads the charge to the pool, followed by the two Johns, me and several others. It’s an immediate rush and a real zinger – this must be how Nordic people feel when they dash out of their saunas and roll in the snow!
When everyone has dried off and got dressed again, still very inebriated or on a high, we sit down again for the Pavlova. It is brought in with great ceremony by Joe, lights dimmed and everyone singing Happy Birthday. It is lowered carefully onto the table in front of Michele, who stands and shovels great spoonfuls of the soft white gooey mixture onto plates. There is an air of expectation as everyone waits to get their plate. Then, as if by some hidden signal, the idea of a food fight comes to all of us at the same time. Soft, white blobs of Pav are hurtling across the room and in all directions, and we are all covered in the gooey mixture – no one is spared! At the end, everyone dives in the pool again to clean off. Oh wow, what a dinner party.
Tony did make the movie “The Rocky Horror Show” that night, but the copy goes missing and no one gets to see it. That would have been a good memento!
We continue to read of sporadic outbreaks of violence in Soweto and in central Johannesburg and around the middle of September there are riots in Joburg. It makes us feel slightly uneasy to know that unrest is on the streets in the centre of Joburg, but we still don’t feel threatened in any way, and we certainly aren’t in fear of carjacking. We don’t even lock the house during the day, or at night, as we know the servants are always around and we feel that that is a good enough insurance policy. The ‘open’ policy has worked in the past at Tyrone, and we don’t think we need to change – not yet.
Mike knows of a new private game reserve – Londolozi Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger Game Park with special opening rates – and he has a cunning plan to impress Belinda. He went there recently with a friend from Barclays who had the use of a company vehicle. It’s an ‘all inclusive’ experience with full accommodation, meals, game tours, and guides armed with rifles so they can drive off the beaten track and get out of the LandRovers. All for R35/night each.
So Mike books a long weekend at Londolozi and disappears with Belinda for a spectacular wildlife experience. When they are there, they meet Lex Hess, who started the previous week as a guide (Lex spends 16 years at Londolozi and goes onto become a famous naturalist and wildlife photographer and runs a school for safari guides. Londolozi is now one of South Africa’s top private game reserves with rates starting around USD 1,000/night).
Towards the end of the month, Rosie tells me that she wants to leave the house and take a break in our relationship. It’s a sad day for both of us. It’s an amicable break; we’ve both felt the pressures of communal living with the socialising and drinking and dope and so forth. We have also been attracted to other people we have met, and this has become unbearable to ignore at times, and we both feel the time is right to experience what else life has to offer. We are both young, and we need to test our love in other directions. We feel that we could both keep going as we are, but it certainly isn’t leading to a long term commitment and the thought of marriage is not on either of our minds. Is that a good enough reason to have a break? I’m not sure, even after a long passage of time, whether that alone is a good enough reason to break up, but we have been a couple for 2 years (including 6 months in England) and the spark has waned a little, you could say, and therefore we both need to freshen our outlook and seek romance elsewhere. Two years is a test of any relationship, when exposed to the hard partying and socialising of the communal house scene, and the substance abuse such as alcohol and the ‘mary jane’, and the temptations they can lead a young person to. We agree to see each other occasionally and remain friends, and see how we feel about each other in 6 months’ time. Rosie leaves to join Kiwi Estate in Bryanston.
Shortly after Rosie moves out, I am loading a film reel on the projector on a Movie Night when someone comes up to watch how it is done. “Isn’t it a bit fiddly”, she says, making conversation idly. “Not when you’ve done it a hundred times” I say, trying to impress her. We drift off to separate areas during the movie, but I’m intrigued by this woman who has been chatting to me. She isn’t the normal communal house type. For one thing, she’s much older than anyone else. And another thing, she doesn’t live in a communal house. She has her own house in Rosebank, about 5 miles away. There is no doubt she is very attractive and looks probably early 30’s, and I’m intrigued to find out more.
I discover her name is Helena. She has been brought to the Movie Night by someone she knows, and otherwise doesn’t know anyone else at the house. She’s shown some interest in me, so at the end of the movie I wander over and offer her a drink. Over a couple of drinks, I discover she is 40 years old and there is obviously some sort of wild attraction between 2 people who are 15 years apart in age. Her friend comes over later and says she is leaving and asks Helena if she wants a lift home. Her eyes catch mine and her look says it all. “No, look, I’ll be happy to run Helena home later” I say, and with that, Helena is cast into my care!
After a number of drinks, Helena and I are getting on famously. About midnight, the crowd is dispersing, so I tell her I will run her home. Well, by the time we get to her house, we are all over each other and the evening ends in intimate fashion at about 2am. Nice one Helena – I suspect she likes the idea of a long-haired Brit half her age and I quite like the idea of an older woman, thank you, especially one that is so fit!
Helena and I become a couple for about 4 weeks during which we go to numerous parties, bar nights and house movies. It’s all so much fun, but like all good things it comes to an end when Helena picks another young man to conquer. She is voracious; a man-eater, and I have been spat out when she has tired of me. It doesn’t worry me; she is still a gorgeous person – vivacious, energetic, very fit and a lovely pair of black leather boots that somehow makes it into my bed on one occasion!
Mike S. is officially going out with Belinda from Rachan. We are all jealous as we find her very attractive. Initially we thought that Mike would not stand a chance with Belinda, against the pursuits of other men, but to his credit he has come through with the goods. The relationship actually looks serious, and Bryan wonders if it could lead to another wedding in the house – he has already been ‘best man’ once already for John and Michele, and maybe he expects a second round (Mike and Belinda do indeed get married in July ’79, but in Cape Town, and go on to work in San Francisco for a couple of years). We all wonder what Mike’s secret weapon is. More than one wag suggests it must be his water-bed! I remind everyone that his waterbed leaks most of the time, so that can’t be pleasant, but Johnno remarks that someone should test it and check it out.
Marlene is also going out with someone from Rachan, and that is Dan Archer. Marlene is like a quiet achiever – very kind and sweet, and you would think sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but over the past couple of months she has been working on Dan, and now they are a couple. She can also surprise us out of nowhere, as on one occasion she saunters over to the pool one day, strips off her bikini top and floats topless on the water while enjoying the approving gaze of the other (male) housemates. Well done Marlene!
On the 17th October, the township of Soweto again flares into violence, and these popular uprisings and protests are met with banning of any opposition to the apartheid laws, and imprisoning of anti-apartheid leaders by the National Party government. As unrest spreads, the security forces respond with more repression and violence. It’s a vicious circle at the moment. But we still don’t fear for our safety.
Meanwhile, Johnno has taken his own words to heart, and invites a girlfriend up to Mike’s room while he and Belinda are away for the weekend. Unfortunately for John, Mike arrives back early from his weekend away and discovers him having a work-out on his waterbed! Mike shouts through the door “I’m giving you one minute and then I’m coming in and kicking you out” to which John’s reply was inaudible, as he was somewhere under the sheets at that moment. They appear with some clothes on, in under a minute, and disappear to his room. The atmosphere is very cold at dinner for some reason.
Freks and I have been close friends since I first met her at Houghton last year, and we take my ‘single’ status as an opportunity to get friendlier, She’s a lovely Irish girl, with a shock of reddish hair and face freckles (hence her nickname) and a cheeky sense of humour. She doesn’t have a car and I therefore pick her up from her house in Parktown (Gail Road) and bring her over for Bar Nights and anything else that’s happening. Usually, by the time I get to take her home we are under the influence of something ‘mind-altering’, with inevitable results at her place, and the number of times I drive home as the sun is coming up are too numerous to mention (I have to be at work by 9am, so it’s tough!). She’s a naughty girl, but I like it.
Johnno is seeing Mary Lion regularly now, and she is a nurse at the Florence Nightingale Hospital. She is a lovely Irish girl, with a perfect complexion and natural blond hair. She lives in nurses quarters opposite the hospital, with about 20 other nurses, and they become a rich source of single ladies for the guys at our bar and movie nights. They all seem to be Irish, and they love to have a good time, and can frequently drink the guys under the table. They certainly liven up the Bar Nights in the garage and it isn’t unheard of to discover 4 in a bed on some occasions at Tyrone (that’s 2 couples; not 4 ladies!).
One weekend, John and Michele tell us they’re going to show us how the Kiwi’s prepare a very traditional roast meat and vegetables. It’s called a Hangi. A Hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. We are all intrigued, as no one has ever seen this before, and I am a little sceptical – burying food on some hot rocks, surely not! John and Bryan dig a large pit on the terrace below the house, start a fire in the pit and place large stones in the pit to super-heat them. It takes about 2 hours to heat the stones completely. While this is happening, Michele and Marlene prepare pork and lamb, and also generous portions of vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, potato, onions and cabbage.
When the stones are super-hot, the food is placed in someone’s white cotton bed sheets and soaked in water to prevent burning, and to provide water for steaming the food, and placed in wire baskets before being placed on top of the stones. Some old hessian sacks, also soaked in water, are laid on top of the food as this helps to provide more steam. The whole thing is then covered in earth so that the heat and steam cook the food slowly to a succulent flavour – about 3 hours. When it’s done and cooked, the aroma's, scents, and flavours hit you hard and the rest is just amazing. Everyone has a feast, and has to admit they haven’t tasted anything like it. Nick remarks “I know the Maori’s like their food, but is it always necessary to wait 5 or 6 hours to get it on your plate”! Someone reminds him it wasn’t so long ago that they were cooking the missionaries, and it probably took a lot longer to get them to the sweet and succulent stage then!
On another weekend, I pick up Rosie from the Gasworks and we go over to Freks house for a spit-roast her house is having. I have seen Rosie occasionally, since she move out, and we remain friends although it’s extremely difficult to see her with anyone else. Is that jealousy or what, I don’t know. I know that our relationship wasn’t going anywhere so that a break was for the good of both of us. But that doesn’t make it any easier when the 2 of us had been together for almost 2 years. Maybe I should stop seeing her altogether, if the pain of it is too much, but I know that we are happier apart. So sad.
The spit-roast is a great success. It’s a half lamb with back and front legs, turning slowly on a spit. As the afternoon wears on, people wonder over and carve slices off the lamb onto plates heaped full of salad or vegetables. Yum.
While I am there, Freks introduces me to a guy who has just come out from England and is staying at the same hotel where I stayed when I first came out. We chat about events happening in England, and I fill him in on the communal scene. He tells me what a huge news event that the Soweto uprising was and how the international community is applying pressure for change in South Africa, the details of which I was not aware of because there is so much censorship here. It’s annoying really, and I have a feeling of hopelessness with the situation as not only do we not know what is going on, there is nothing that people can do about it from within the country. The opposition party in Parliament, the Progressive Party, is really just a token effort on the part of the mainly liberal-thinking, English-speaking classes. Up until 1974, Helen Suzman is the party’s sole representative in Parliament, fighting alone against apartheid and the extension of South Africa’s racial and security laws (in 1974, however, the Progressive Party won just seven seats). It’s a hopeless situation.
At the end of the afternoon, Rosie leaves with someone else, so I offer the English guy a lift back to his hotel. We jump in the Beetle and set off for the Rand Inn hotel near Plein St. When we get there, I pull over and wish my new friend well. As he gathers his stuff, he turns to me and invites me upstairs to his room for a drink. Now, I had never been propositioned by a guy before, but in a moment of sudden clarity, I sort of know what is on offer. I am totally unprepared for it – he’s a good looking guy and we had been getting on very well but I am sure I hadn’t put out any signals. I blurted something like “I have to get home” or something equally as stupid and I shut the door and sped off. I felt totally stupid. Why should I assume he was propositioning me; it may have really only been something innocent like a drink. (To this day, I shall never know, but it was the first time I have received such an offer and I was a little embarrassed to be honest! I was only 26, and I had obviously led a rather sheltered life!)
TV was introduced to South Africa earlier this year, and in December we decide to hire a colour TV set (a new TV set costs more than R750). TV has taken a long time to come to this country, mainly due to opposition from the National Party who see it as a threat to Afrikaans and the Afrikaner volk, giving undue prominence to English, and creating unfair competition for the Afrikaans press. By December, there is still only one channel with airtime divided evenly between English and Afrikaans, alternating on different nights between the two languages. The TV News comes on at 6pm for 30 minutes, and it is the best program on TV, where we get most of our information of what is happening in the rest of the world (the National Party controlled what is broadcast on TV until the 1990’s when changes to the Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press and other media).
Johnno knows all the good places to go around Hillbrow and the nightlife scene. John and I sometimes head out to one of the clubs on a Friday or Saturday night in search of the ladies. Our favorite dance club is Shiaparelli’s in De Villiers St., south of the Hillbrow district. It’s trendy, it has queues, it’s up some stairs in a darkened venue where all manner of things are happening, and it’s pumping out the dance music – all the latest disco numbers from Giorgio Moroder and others. There is a smoke filled atmosphere, some of it dope, and everyone is in party mode. There are 4 or 5 podiums where guys or girls can get up and dance or sway to the beat – in today’s world you might call it a gay club but this is before that term is popularised. It’s not a gay club, strickly speaking, and it appears that everyone is friendly with everyone else, but there are plenty of hetrosexuals to add to the mix. Even the toilets appear to be mixed, or at least it appears that women are coming and going in the Gents toilets! Shiaparelli’s is the hottest club in town at the moment, and everyone wants to get in there. Needless to say, Johnno seems to have some contacts and we only have to wait a short time on the stairs before we are let in. We had some crazy boozy, smokey, weird times there dancing to the beat. And afterwards (like about 4am) we stop by Fontana in Hillbrow for a toasted chicken sandwich, or go to the Paradise Café for a cappuccino.
One afternoon, Bryan, Nick and I are cleaning our bikes on the lawn after going out on a ride when we notice a car come up the drive and its occupant disappear into the house. Nick seems to recognise her, a very attractive 20-something who turned up with her husband for a party earlier in the year. She must have enjoyed it, because we have seen the same car on a number of afternoons and her disappear into the house to see someone. We have no idea who it is, or why she comes over, but it’s all very clandestine and secretive. The visits normally last a couple of hours and then she disappears again. We decide to see nothing and say nothing – Mum’s the word on this one, as we don’t want her husband coming around looking for her. We never do find out who she is seeing or why, but the strange case of the afternoon visits goes on for about a month and then we don’t see her again. Very strange!
The year draws to a close in usual fashion, with high expectations for the New Year. The past year has gone in a ‘blink of an eye’ and everything has been a blur. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in South Africa for 2 years, 18 months of that time in Tyrone. We have a good bunch of people still, and even though we have had the usual turnover of housemates, the basic character of the place remains intact. It is in no short measure due to the guiding hands of the long-standing members of the house like Bryan, Mike, Nick and John and Michele. But everyone gets on really well too – no personality clashes, just sweet times all round. Bryan is like the ‘ringmaster’, controlling his circus animals, Mike is the ‘wise one’ who we all listen to, John and Michele are the loved-up married couple ‘steady as you go’, Nick is the ‘funster’ always having a laugh, Paul the ‘naughty one’ always on the lookout for a good time and Johnno is the ‘music man’ and philosopher, with his collection of fine music and various smokers requisites like bongs, pipes and gourds to help us find the inner meaning of life. Marlene, meanwhile, is the ‘steady one’ but always ready to surprise us. And me..well, I’m just here for a good time and happy to go with the ebb and flow of the social scene. A butterfly, perhaps.
As 1976 finishes and the New Year commences, we wonder what the next 12 months will bring.
To continue with the story, scroll to the Blog Archive in the right-hand panel and click on '1977: January to December - Tyrone'