Back in the day…

My memory is clear. Growing up in a flat (apartment) in Sea Point, Cape Town, 504 Wavecrest, phone number 495415.

Not the actual view from our balcony, but this must have been from a neighbouring apartment in Wavecrest

Just down the outside corridor that ran around the building was Jean, the coloured (mixed race) Maid (domestic worker) to whom I used to run every now and again in order to meet her in her servants quarters (the old South Africa, remember) to enjoy the smell of food cooked over a Paraffin stove, sitting on a bed propped up on bricks to stop “the bad little things, you know, what the Black people (her Ouma and Oupa) talked about; the Tokalosh” from climbing up the legs of the bed and carrying her off into the dark for who knows what neferious purposes.  I loved that place, the smell, always redolent of cooking and Sunlight Soap, rooms right against each other where the conversations echoed and laughter and tears were always shared.

This one of the iconic smells of South Africa

A place where the the dinner call from home always tore me away into the waiting smile of Ma and Dr Sam (my Grandparents) and the three sisters (my mother and her siblings). A smell of another dinner cooked with love and an evening filled with quiet conversation and gentile Black and White Scotch whiskey, mixed with soda.

If there was ever an extra light version then the only thing that Dr Sam would have used it for was to drop it off the balcony onto the heads of the Salvation Army Major who conducted the band that appeared in the courtyard once a year. I once ran away to join the army (Salvation) at age 6. Remind me to tell you about that.

While the flat slept, a sneaked tomato sauce sandwich and to bed with always a happy thought of what the next day would bring.

Waking up in the morning and running barefoot down to the beach, the tar of the pavement burning under my 7 year old feet and the concrete of the gutters cool when the heat got too much, skipping from heat to cool and wondering what the beach would bring each day.

Each morning and afternoon was an adventure, a day full of possibility that consisted of wandering around the beach front where the discovery of a coke bottle would bring the reward of 10c when handed in to the neighbourhood cafe (corner shop) and the knowledge that two (what can you get for 15c these days?) of these treasures would allow for the delicious tang of either a Banana Boy ice lolley or a Granadilla Boy sold by the man on the strand, who would announce his presence with a ringing of a hand held bell and the cry of ‘ice cream, ice cream, who wants an ice cream?’.

The joy of peering down into a cool icebox mounted on a three wheel bicycle and begging for just a piece of dry ice and the vendors smile (sometimes, at other times you distracted his attention and tried to cadge a piece) as you cuddled this in your hand, then making your way back down the stone stairs to the beach is one that I will never forget. To tip that small piece of sheer icy hot coldness into a rock pool and watching the bubbles boil to the surface is one that I will always keep in my treasure chest of memories.

And then to home as the African sun began to paint the sky with colours, the reds, yellows, pinks and purples that would make a master painter long for his brushes. The journey would not be complete without stubbing your big toe and taking the skin completely off. Taking the lift with its welcoming buttons, pressing 5 and hearing the machines in the basement coming to life and lifting you with a slight jerk towards the only place in the world which meant love and safety and laughter and people who meant everything in the whole world, a place where parquet flooring meant home, a place where bringing home a pail full of live beach guppies, freshly caught was greeted with dismay and the admonition that “they’ll die if they’re not in the sea, they need to breath salt water”. The crushing realisation that small fish will simply not bath with you without tragic consequences.

Tears and being helped out of the bath by loving hands and the assurance that the small friends have been helped back to the sea.

When you start to get older you begin the long journey towards childhood memories. The experiences you had become more and more vivid. Just one of those nights I suppose. Remind me to tell you about the red headed girl at the edge of the Sea Point Salt Swimming Pool.

This is a meme that I will return to (not even my family knows that I remember this).

Good night and sleep well.

PS: If any of the copy in this recollection seems racist, it is not my intention, this was the environment I grew up in, no apologies, what was, was. Times have changed for the better.


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