musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Johannesburg

Retrospective: Newtown Municipal Compound

In 2011 I  did a number of photowalks in and around Newtown in Johannesburg and blogged about them, and as a result I started using the blog more and more as I found even more uses for it. The end result in 2019 is quite large but I never really utilised it as much back then, and during one of my periodic searches for images I rediscovered the images from the Newtown Municipal Compound and decided to do a retrospective of them. Once again I am not an expert in this field, and I really want to show what I saw back then because it is quite important to acknowledge our heritage (as horrible as it may be) if we want to understand more about the present and why we are where we are. I am afraid that things were very different back then and our sense of right and wrong really changed over the years as people began to recognise that even the lowliest needed consideration.

I recall walking though this complex and was horrified, however, had I been walking through here in 1950 what would my attitude have been? Sadly the African labourer employed in the mines and in industry where labouring was done on a large scale probably faced these sort of conditions as a matter of course, it was the norm rather than the exception.  Remember that back then pass laws were enforced too. No pass could result in arrest and a stay in Number 4 Jail.

The complex forms part of the area around Newtown that encompasses Sci-Bono, Museum Africa, the Market theatre and the former old market in Johannesburg. This area has been extensively redeveloped since 2011 and I did not recognise it when I passed through in 2016. 

Stitched image of rear of compound (1500x 393)

The image below was stitched from 2 separate images and shows the layout of the compound.  This image and subsequent key were on an information board at the compound. 

Compound layout (1500×527)

Key:

1. Domestic quarters

2. Compound manager’s house: the manager had to be available at all hours and was housed directly behind the compound. 

3. Sleeping quarters: the compound was designed to accommodate 330 workers. No mattresses or lockers were provided. Rooms would be strung from side to side by clothing, washing, and other possessions. Each room had a small coal stove for heating

4. White staff houses

5. Lock-up room: Used to lock up workers who broke the rules, they were often chained to the wall and the only toilet was a bucket.

6. Ablutions: the toilet room had 16 squat holes. No partitions or doors separated the toilets

7. Induna’s room: the Induna was the compound manager’s right hand man.

8. Showers: there was 1 cold shower for every 165 workers, and one latrine for every 55. Hot water was only available in buckets.

9. The courtyard: space provided where social interaction could happen

10. Gantry

11. The Tree: if the lock-up room was unavailable unruly workers could be chained to the tree.

12. Compound manager’s office: the compound manager kept control administration and law enforcement from this small office. He was assisted by the Induna, an admin clerk, and the municipal police.  

13, Veranda: There were no cooking or eating facilities in the compound. Workers could go eat at eateries catering for black workers or use the counters for food preparation. Sinks were provided for washing clothes and dishes. 

14. Stables and Kennels: over 750 draught horses were stabled here. The horses pulled the wagons used for refuse and sanitary waste removal. Cart drivers and animal keepers were also housed at the compound. The stables were demolished in the 1930’s. 

The interior is grim, and was probably much worse when it was occupied by men who came from all around the country, sleeping in dormitories, sharing communal ablution facilities and exposed to diseases such as TB. The record states that at one point there was 1 shower for every 165 workers and 1 latrine for 55. 

Communal showers (8 on layout image)

Urinal (6 on layout image)

I do not know what era the building represents, but it is probably quite close to what it may have looked like to those luckless migrant workers who ended up here.

A reproduction of a pamphlet issued in 1946 paints the following picture:

Extract from a pamphlet published by the Communist Party in 1946

The paragraph above is an extract of a speech presented by Hilda Watts at a meeting of the Johannesburg City Council in November 1946, reproduced in a  pamphlet published by the Communist Party.

Sleeping area

One of the sleeping area upper levels has a display of “luggage and possessions” which I thought spoke volumes about the men who lived here.

Naturally fights would break out and there was even a handy “lock up room” (marked 5 on the layout image above). How much abuse of power happened in that small room is unknown.

Just image a place like this after a long days work with primitive facilities and a lack of privacy. From what I read this particular compound was much better than some that were in use by the council.

We are fortunate that places like this still exist so as to give us a glimpse into a different era and an almost invisible group of workers who swept streets, emptied dustbins, collected night-soil and performed other menial but important work for a pittance, often supporting wives and children far away. They were the faceless and nameless that helped make Johannesburg what it is today. Inside the compound is a statue of an orange clad worker launching his spade up high with arms outstretched, almost reaching for the sky. It is quite a fitting tribute to those workers who eked out a  living in such a deplorable place.  I am glad I saw it, but am ashamed at what I saw.

DRW © 2011 – 2019. Created retrospectively 13/05/2019. Some information from the information board and displays at the compound. 

Updated: 15/05/2019 — 17:25

A brief burst of pink

Last week I posted about Spring and one of the images was of an ornamental cherry tree (aka “Sakura“) that was flowering. I had never seen any of these until I came to the UK, and this seemingly normal tree shows its true colours when Spring finally comes around. 

The clusters of pink blossoms are very beautiful, and I really look forward to seeing them probably because the sakura is a very common theme in anime. It pops up in many of the series I watch and I am currently reading a fanfiction about Clannad, where one of the characters is intent on becoming the student council president so that she can save the sakura that are due to be cut down. It does sound corny but the Japanese do hold the sakura in esteem. 

Today when I came home the tree was loosing its blossoms and the area underneath it was becoming a pink carpet as the blossoms fell.

The wind was clustering the many petals into hollows in the road and the drizzle ensured that they stayed there, it was really something to see. By next week the sakura will be back to its normal summer foliage and the cycle of rebirth will start again. Such are the ways of nature.

Of course it is not only the Sakura blossoming, but every other tree that is capable of producing blossoms has done so. This beauty was close to where I work.

In South Africa we have a similar situation with Jacaranda trees. These were planted in the pavements of Johannesburg and Pretoria probably during the 40’s or 50’s and every year they undergo a similar burst of colour as they bloom and then loose their blossoms, coating the area underneath them in a carpet of purple. 

You can really see the effect in the image I took on Northcliffe Ridge a few years back.

Jacarandas in the Northcliffe/Fairlands area (1500 x 811)

Trees really can surprise one, we live with them all around us, and generally do not pay too much notice of them except when they undergo change; loosing leaves, blossoming or falling down are all part of the life cycle of a tree. Their advanced age is interesting because many of them outlive us, and some survive for centuries. The world would be a boring place without them, so hug a tree today. 

DRW © 2019. Created 25/04/2019

Updated: 27/04/2019 — 07:09

Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.

** Updated 27/05/2019**

Last month, when I was in South Africa, I bought a small plastic tugboat at the local el-cheapo shoppe. It was a simple bathtub type boat with waterjet style propulsion, and stickers stuck on it and with the propensity to listing and sinking. It does not have enough of a draught to stay upright without batteries in and it leaks like crazy. It is not a very successful tugboat, it’s more of a typical cheap and nasty toy designed for a few days enjoyment and then a swift final voyage to the dustbin or under the bed.

Now you may ask what this has to do with the price of eggs? People who know me are aware that I am a ship enthusiast, and once upon a time I used to have a large fleet of ships, of which two were radio controlled. 

My first RC boat was a “Damen Stantug” made by Veron and she had a 29″ fibreglass hull and was quite a large vessel with lots of space in the hull for a small model engine of the glowplug design. Naturally these were not available on my budget so a large electric motor was substituted instead. I also purchased a 2 channel radio and a set of motorbike batteries to run the motor off. Unfortunately a reliable speed control was very difficult to find and I ended up with a large wire wound potentiometer affair that used to run very hot and tended to be somewhat unreliable. 

Once the motor, prop shaft and bulkheads were installed I was ready for a test run and a friend and I headed off to the Blue Dam in Mayfair late one evening with the hull ready to launch. I had installed simple navigation lights and a search light on it so we could see it in the dark and we launched the hull with much trepidation. If something failed I would literally be up the creek without a paddle because retrieving the boat would have been very difficult. Lo and behold everything worked and the hull tore across the water at maximum revs. It was working remarkably well and so far no leaks had shown up although the speed control was running very hot. 

Wind forward many moths later and my tug was finished as per the plans. And, by some strange miracle I have pics of her. She carried the moniker “Dildo” and I am not even going to try explain it. She also flew a small red flag with “Enjoy your pizza” on it, just another quirk that I added. 

Unfortunately the speed control was a major bugbear and charging arrangements for the motorbike batteries were less than ideal. The big motor drew a lot of current and the bike battery worked well enough. The hull was buoyant enough that I ended up adding extra lead ballast in it to bring down the draught. I also managed to score 10 model truck tyres that I wired as fenders along the rubbing strake, and later on I added a small crane, zodiac, electric searchlights, internal lights and navigation lights. I was proud of my tug, she was awesome. 

I also bought a small centre island container ship that could be converted into a superstructure aft configuration made by Graupner under the unlikely name of Neptun. She too was radio controlled and was very fast on the water, too fast in fact and she really had to be reigned in or she would try to imitate a speedboat. Her motor was much smaller and more efficient and I had better battery life with her, although the limitation of both boats was the life of the penlights that were used in the radio receiver (4) and transmitter (8); back then rechargeable batteries were not as readily available as they are now.  

Superstructure midships configuration

Superstructure aft configuration

Of course back then I was living close to a large body of water, albeit a very polluted body of water, so could put a boat under my arm and head out for a quick sail. When I moved from Homestead Park in 1985 I no longer had anywhere to sail my boats and of course not having a car meant that their days of sailing had come to an end, I used the tug once or twice when I was involved with the disastrous attempt at restoring the models ships at Santarama, Alas the person in charge was more of a hindrance than anything else so that all came to nought. Interestingly enough Santarama had a number of radio controlled ships that were probably in operation when the place opened, but they had been laid up and became scrap.  

At some point I had managed to pick up a very nice trawler by Veron too, and sort of completed her but the wood was very dry and the superstructure cracked badly. It was a nice model though and it would have made a nice conversion into a short seas trader. She too was sold in a semi rebuilt state. I recall using her as a demonstration model on navigation lights at a meeting the Titanic Society of South Africa under the name SS Lamptest. 

I sold my large ships in 1999 and I like to think that my tug is still out there somewhere and that she occasionally hits the water and has a blast. I always regretted selling her as she was an awesome boat, but at the time it was more or less a sound idea. I still collect ships though and have a large collection of 1/1250 and 1/1200 waterline vessels, although none can float. And, I have just gotten this poor imitation of a toy boat that I am tempted to refit, although fittings appear to cost more than the boat did. Much to my dismay there is not much of a selection of toy boats suitable for the bath out there, and that is quite sad because occasionally you really need to mess about with boats. 

**Update**

Yesterday while browsing the local overpriced antique emporium I chanced upon a model I have been after for quite some time. Produced by Triang I have seen these on ebay, usually at a horrible price and a poor condition.

The one I picked up is reasonably intact but is in need of attention (and a hair dryer to sort out the warped hull). It has a clockwork motor in it and the key comes out the funnel.

As far as I can see there were 2 in the ocean liner series: Pretoria Castle and Orcades although the only difference between the two was the paint job and Orcades may have been battery powered. I wanted the UC ship because of my interest in Union-Castle. Sizewise it is 50cm long, and surprisingly heavy. The warped superstructure seems to have been common problem with them though and many Triang products from that era suffered from the same problem. Triang also produced a tanker, police launch, tug boat and a drifter but I have not seen them on ebay as yet.  I may have to fabricate masts and booms for her and unfortunately the 1 set of lifeboats is missing, however the motor works and that huge prop spins like mad. As a curiosity this ship is really great, and I believe you could get them in South Africa too and they have outlived the real ship by many years. Nowadays they are really relics of a bygone age of toys. 

DRW 2019. © Created 14/03/2019, updated 27/05/2019

Updated: 28/05/2019 — 10:29

Back home in England.

It is now 19.30 on the evening of the 7th and I am back home, surrounded by washing, empty suitcases, clothing, postcards and heaps of other odds and ends that I brought back with me. My flight left last night at 9 pm, and we landed just after 6 this morning. I have spent the time between then and 4 pm in queues, trains, buses and Paddington Station. 

A lot happened between my previous post of the 24th of February and now. I split my time between my brother’s house and my friends on the West Rand, although was not as active in the local cemeteries as I was previously. My mother is surprisingly strong, but I fear that she is trapped inside her body and is probably hating every minute of it. Unfortunately we had to make the decision that we made in 2017, there were no more options available to us.  Sadly she is surrounded by other elderly women of various ages, many never get visited and lead out their lonely lives in the home. I am afraid that in some cases they have outlived their children, or their children are no longer in the area or in the country. 

Menu from my return flight

There is a lot I can say about South Africa. Corruption has seriously damaged the economy, and the continued demand by Eskom for higher tariffs is met with disgust as the public recalls how easily Eskom and the corrupt in it seemingly burnt money with impunity. To this date no high profile crooks have been arrested for corruption and  they continue to lead the high life, safe in the knowledge that they got away with it.

The few malls that I visited were also showing the effects of the economic downturn, with empty shops and fewer buying customers visiting them. Generally though I had good service from 99% of the people I encountered in my travels in and around the West and East Rand. The petrol price continues to bite though, and of course the traffic jams in Johannesburg are even worse as a large portion of the one freeway has had to be closed to repair some of the supports and bridges that are part of it.  

Muffin the cat continues to amuse, at this moment he is thinking of entering politics and is trying to register his own political party called “The Fishycookie Party”. By his reckoning he could be the chief poohbah in the next election because at least he wont be corrupt, although is liable to sleep in parliament. 

Again I got to enjoy the pets of my brother and friends during this trip, and it is amazing how they enrich our lives; there is never a dull moment when you have a cat or a dog.

The weather back in South Africa was hot and very uncomfortable as I really prefer the relatively cooler summers of the UK. I do not do heat well! We did have a typical highveld thunder/rain storm in my last week, and I had forgotten how much water these could dump and how bad the thunderstorms can get in Johannesburg. Back in the UK it was overcast and drizzly where I live, but the march to Summer continues.  

Suburbia (1500×671)

Prices.

Food prices continue to rise and I did quite a few comparisons with the prices I gathered way back in 2017.  These are just a few examples that I spotted, and some items may have been on sale. The items are not indicative of my own personal preferences and are sourced through leaflets and shops I visited in the West and East Rand. Petrol was R14.08 pl 95 octane and R13.86 for 93 octane (02/03/2019)

6 Eskort Gold Medal Pork Sausages: R44.91

Kellogs Corn Flakes (750gr) R49.99

Beef Biltong R320/kg

Oreo 16’s R14.99

Sedgewick’s Old Brown Sherry 750 ml R44.95 (R39 in duty free at ORT airport)

Milo 500gr tin R51.99

2 Litres Coke R16.99

Cadbury’s Chocolate (80g slab) R19.95

Oral B electric toothbrush R499.95

Jungle Oats (1kg) R26.99

Weetbix (900 gr) R38.99

Wellingtons Tomato Sauce (700 ml) RR18.99

Baby Soft 2 ply toilet rolls (18’s) R124.99

Lipice (4.6 g) R22.99

Sunlight dishwashing Liquid (750 ml) R32.99

Joko Tea (60 bags) R32.99

Milo (500 gr) R54.99

Ricoffy (750 g) R79.99

Mrs Balls Chutney (470 g) R28.99

Douwe Egberts Pure Gold coffee (200 g) R119.99

Crystal Valley salted butter (500 gr) R47.99

Nature’s Garden mixed veg (2,5kg) R25.99

30 Large eggs R49.99

Stork Country Spread 1kg R29.99 

Dewfresh milk 6×1 Litre R69.99 (R11.99 ea)

Gordons Gin 750ml R99.99

Hunters Dry 12x440ml Cans R129.99  

30 Extra large eggs R44.99  

Ultra Mel Custard 1 Litre R22.99

Enterprise Back Bacon 200gr R23.99

Fresh chicken breast fillets (R59.99/kg

Huletts white sugar (2.5 kg) R39.99

Lipton ice tea (1,5 litre) R17.99

King Steer burger R64.90, Regular chips: R15.90  2019

95 Octane petrol R14.08, (/02/03/2019)

4 Finger Kitkat R8.99

48 Beacon Mallow Eggs R79.99

Tabasco Sauce (60ml) R38.99

 

Random Images

DRW © 2019. Created 07/03/2019

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 14:03

Onwards to Africa

Continuing where we left off

The flight was not too bad, food was ok, and the movies helped pass the time. I watched: The Incredibles 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, The Christopher Robin movie, The Hurt Locker and Bohemian Rhapsody. The last I was still busy with when we started our descent to OR Tambo Aiport in Johannesburg. 

Breakfast was not too bad, at least there was no sign of that awful spinach…

 

It was overcast outside and we landed at roughly 8.15 in the morning (2 hours behind local time in the UK). 

Flightline (1500×560)

I was collected by my brother and I saw my mother about an hour later. It is hard to describe my feelings when I saw her. It has been almost 2 years since she left her former home to go into frail care, and there was a marked deterioration in her physical condition. However, she can still outglare  a rattlesnake. The decision we made in 2016 was not an easy one, and of course there is a lot of guilt associated with putting into frail care. We did not have any choice though, because neither of us was in the position to take care of her. She is very frail and imprisoned in her own body, and at some point the inevitable will happen, but I do feel better about seeing her again, and I am sure she was happy to see me, although she would never admit so much. 

The duty done, it was time to unpack and bath and clean up after the flight. I was tired, having been on the go for almost 30 hours. My plans for this trip were to rationalise more of my collection, visit friends and family, look for my missing will, and have some serious discussions with my brother. I wont be taking thousands of images though as I won’t be travelling much while I am in South Africa. 

DRW © 2019. Created 27/02/2019

Updated: 28/03/2019 — 07:30

By the time you read this

I am technically back in South Africa for a quick visit. My journey really started early on the morning of the 22nd, travelling from Ashchurch to Cheltenham and then onwards to Paddington Station and finally Heathrow for my overnight flight.

My mother took a bad turn last December and I decided then that I needed to go down to see her, although having enough leave and being able to get a slot to take it was difficult. I was also tied in by the date for Brexit, and will rather be back in the UK before it happens. Ideally I wanted to do this trip in March or April but beggars cannot be choosers.

So, if things get quieter for 2 weeks you will know why. I will catch up when I get back after the 7th.

Hang in there, keep calm and don’t panic!

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 13:58

Happy Birthday 747

On February 9, 1969, the “Queen of the Skies” made her first flight, and début in the world of transportation. The iconic Boeing 747 (aka “Jumbo Jet”), entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route, and has been around almost as long as I have; and it is expected there will still be examples flying in 20 years time. My own memories of the Jumbo date back to when the South African Airways pavilion at the Rand Easter Show had a full scale mock-up of the interior of the aircraft. We were in awe of the rows and rows of seats, and could only dream of flying in one. 

My first flight in a Jumbo was on board a Boeing 747-SP from Johannesburg to Seychelles in 1989, and it was a chartered Luxair branded aircraft and not a regular commercial flight.

747-SP (Seychelles)

My next flights were with KLM and they were from Johannesburg to Schipol and back and they happened in 2000 and 2001. The return trip was on board a “Kombi” version and the image below I took on my way back to South Africa, but this is not the aircraft I flew in. This is a 747-206B.

747-206B (Schipol)

In 2008 I flew long haul to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, and this is probably my favourite airline.  The image below is of our aircraft on the leg from South Africa, but unfortunately I am unable to identify her.  Our return flight was at night so I did not get any images of the aircraft. However, I seem to think these were 747-400’s and they were very comfortable (or as comfortable as you can get in economy).

My next flights also happened in 2008 and that was a return to the UK, travelling with Virgin Atlantic. I do not have pics of the onward flight, but we flew back on 747-4Q8 G-VBIG “Tinker Belle”.

747-4Q8 G-VBIG “Tinker Belle” (Heathrow)

I also managed to watch this lady landing while waiting for a connection at Heathrow. I think she is a 747-400 but cannot be sure. 

I also spotted this BA Jumbo overhead in London in March 2013.

Strangely enough I have not flown on an SAA Jumbo, although the images below are of the two 747’s preserved at the SAA Museum at Rand Airport that I visited in 2009. 

Boeing 747-200, ZS-SAN “Lebombo”

SAA 747-200, ZS-SAN “Lebombo”

Lebombo is the first Jumbo that SAA operated and she was delivered on 22 October 1971, and was in service for 31 years, 11 months, 14 Days. She landed at Rand Airport on Friday 5 March 2004 and it was a very close landing given that Rand Airport is not as large as the international airports that she was used to.  I was fortunate enough to have a tour of her at the museum, although the cockpit and upper deck was out of bounds. 

The museum page on the aircraft  and her service is well worth a visit (as is the real aircraft).

 

747SP-44 ZS-SPC “Maluti”

She was delivered on 11 June 1976 and made her last flight on 0 September 2006.  Unfortunately she was not open at the time of my visit, but she does make an interesting comparison to her fleetmate.

Museum page on Maluti

It is hard to think that in a few years time we will only see Jumbo Jets in movies or in pictures, however, it could be that this aircraft could enter the realm of long lived classics like the DC3. I like to think that they will be with us for a long time, although realistically there are much more economical aircraft around. It is probably the most recognisable passenger jet to fly, and I do not know about others but I really enjoyed travelling in a Jumbo. 

Jumbo passing at an airshow

The London Science Museum has a sliced section of a Jumbo on display, although getting a decent image of it is very difficult. 

When I saw it in 2017 I could not help but ask myself what happened to the mock-up that I saw as a child? it probably ended up as scrap somewhere.

The skies will not be the same without that familiar shape that we all took for granted, but the replacements are cleaner, more efficient and hopefully safer, but they all however seem to use toilets designed in 1920! I may dislike airports but enjoy flying and I am glad I was able to experience these before it is too late. I have flown on the A340-600 as well as the A380 and neither compare to my experiences with the good old Jumbo. 

DRW © 2019, created 09/02/2019 

Updated: 28/05/2019 — 13:26

Church in Danger

In 2012 I blogged about the Nativity Play that was held at the parish church that I was a member of way back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. When we all moved from Mayfair we left the church behind, although we do have a tie to the church as my father’s ashes were interred there in 1981, and we have an open plaque for my mother for when she passes on. The assumption back then being that nothing untoward would happen to the church. Changing demographics really affected the church over the years but from what I can read it still had an active congregation up till 2016. However, I was posted a link to the Heritage Portal website where somebody had reported illegal work being done in the grounds of the church.  

Christ Church Mayfair is one of the oldest churches in Johannesburg and was built in 1897; Johannesburg was only founded in 1886 (or thereabouts) and the church served the mining community in an area known as “Crown Mines”.

Looking at Google Earth imagery shows how the grounds of the church shrunk as more and more development encroaches around it. I recall walking up what was then Crown Reef Road with its tree lined streets and mine houses. The church being at the one end and Hanover Street on the other. It is all but unrecognisable now, and the formerly empty veldt and mine ground have really become a warren of Chinese shops, taxi ranks and assorted chaos. 

I recognise that progress is inevitable and invariable, and I also recognise that the church is really a relic from the past. Let’s face it, the church is in Mayfair/Fordsburg. It is not in the northern suburbs so is easily overlooked by the heritage followers. The fact that it still survives is somewhat of a miracle.

At the moment we have no further information as to what is going on, or whether the Garden and Wall of Remembrance still exists. The fact that there are cremated ashes there may prevent anybody from doing anything drastic. “In terms of Civil Rights, Cultural and Religious Rights, etc. in our Constitution, no grave may be disturbed or tampered with without due process.”

Watch this space? yep, I will be keeping a beady eye on developments, because this does impact on our family, and we do have some sort of stake in the outcome.

As for the Church, it was not an easy place to take photographs in, and these were taken in 2011. I am much better at it nowadays. It was impossible to get the whole building in the shot given how awkward the grounds were.

   

 

 

The Garden and Wall of Remembrance

A wall was built to the left of this this garden where commemorative plaques could be mounted. My father is commemorated on the 3rd plaque from the top next to the blank plaque.  

The Roll of Honour for the parish may be found inside it (or at least it was there in 2011)

There is also a commemorative plaque for Harry S. Metcalfe, 3rd Engineer of the Nova Scotia who died on 29 November 1942 when the ship was torpredoed.

The Rectory was somewhat of a Victorian wedding cake of a house, and was home to many a minister and their families. I do not know what it is used for today, by the looks of it the building has been cut off from the church, but it is very hard to say. 

That’s it in a nutshell. A place from my past in jeopardy, and the final resting place of my late father. 

DRW © 2018 – 2019. Created 20/09/2018

Updated: 04/01/2019 — 06:48

This time last year

This time last year I was in the air somewhere over Africa (I think) heading South towards Johannesburg.

Approaching ORT, with Johannesburg in the distance (1500×964)

It was a trip that I had to organise at very short notice and was one I did not really want to do unless I really had to. The reason behind it was the ever declining health of my mother who lived on her own in the South of Johannesburg. When I finally saw her early the next day I was shocked, it was hard to believe it was the same person I had known for all my life (my father passed away in 1981).   

There were a few problems that needed dealing with, and we were fortunate that things happened when they did or we would have been in an extremely difficult position.  The decision was made that we needed to get her into frail care. She was not coping well and a recent fall had really robbed her of self confidence and raised the alarm bells. The complex where she lived had no facilities for frail care, or even a resident nurse or caretaker. Too many occupants died unnoticed in the past and it was a situation we wanted to avoid at all costs. 

I won’t waffle on much in this post, I just wanted to say that a year down the line she is doing better than she was this time in 2017. I wont say she is healthy as a 70 year old, but at least she is in a better place physically than she was in March 2017. 

She moved out of her flat in May 2017, and that must have been a horrible experience for her. Leaving your life behind to embark on what may be your final days is not something to be taken lightly, and I do understand her reticence about going into frail care. Naturally the question is: did we do the right thing? whether it was right or not is irrelevant,  what is important is that it was the only option we had and it was better for her in the long run. 

Only time has the answer to our situation. Fortunately I am in a better position visa wise, but there it is inevitable that at some point will have to make another trip down south. There is very little I can do about it and just next year this time I will be doing a two years down the line post, let’s wait and see.

DRW © 2018. Created 20/03/2018 

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

5 years ago

On this day 5 years ago I was facing my last day in South Africa. At this point the last of my possessions had been moved to the storage unit and there were no more sleeps left as I had to catch my flight. I had accommodation organised for my first week in London, but anything after that was uncertain. On arrival my priorities were: find a place to stay,  open a bank account, obtain a National Insurance Number, have my qualifications assessed, and find work. I had played these scenarios out in my mind a number of times, but was pretty sure that the odds of finding work almost immediately were small. When I had originally planned this I had decided that I really wanted to settle in Southampton, although that depended on whether I found work elsewhere first. I had visited the UK in 2008 so was not completely in the dark about what it was like. At least I more or less knew where London was!

I had a lot of stuff to store, so much so that I hired a storage unit to keep it all in, and the last week I spent driving to and from the unit and offloading into it. The unit also had to be big enough for my car which I had not sold. It is scarey how much stuff I really had at that point, much of which would be superfluous with me being the UK, but I was loathe to dispose of my books and other collectables. 

At my age (52) packing up and leaving is not easy, I literally had to turn my back on everything I had accumulated since I moved out of the family home so many years ago. Make no mistake, I had no loyalty to South Africa, I could easily turn my back on the place without a second glance. I would not be missing “braaivleis, rugby, sunnyskies and Chevrolet”, although I would miss Mrs Ball’s Chutney.

My visa was for 5 years and the start date was 1 January 2013. My original plan had been to leave on the 15th of Jan, but as things turned out I finally left on 28 Feb. 

The last sunset I saw in South Africa for a year

My flight was not a direct one, but via Dubai, and it would be a long schlep with roughly 17 hours in the air and 4 hours in transit in Dubai, and unusually it was partly during the day but I was still dreading the flight the most.

There were many preparations that I had to make; that included changing money (I seem to think the exchange rate was around R14 to £1), getting enough medication to last me at least 3 months until I had organised a doctor and a new repeat prescription. I was not lugging too many clothes around although, and was technically “travelling light”. Because my arrival would be towards the end of Winter I did have to take warm clothing and that included my infamous 20 year old navy parka. I also needed comfortable shoes, and bought a pair that seemed perfect but which turned out to be hell to wear. At the last minute I also bought a pair of Hi-techs that served me very well through many cemetery visits. I was also going to take my coal burning laptop because I would really need to search for work and frankly my small smartphone not be adequate for that task. 

I closed my bank account and killed off as much debt as I could, the one thing I did not need was having to run around trying to placate my creditors. A last minute snag with my broadband provider did cause me a lot of trouble and I ended up fighting with them while waiting for my flight at the airport. Fortunately when things went pear shaped at work my car was finished paid for so it was really a case of paying insurance while it languished in storage. 

It is very difficult to believe that 5 years have almost passed and I am now heading into year 6. I have seen many things in this period or my life, and have taken thousands of photographs to prove that “I was there”. The most difficult thing to believe is that I have literally started over. Although realistically starting from scratch really started in Southampton and not in London.

Was I scared? I would have been an idiot not to be, if things went pear shaped I was up the creek without a paddle, and because I had a one way ticket could not return to South Africa easily. I did not have any friends in the UK that I could call on and I really had to make a success of it as quickly as possible.  The fact remained that I was not able to find work in SA, I was prevented so by the constitution and legislation that enforced discrimination in the guise of “transformation”. It is important to know that my retrenchment was not a result of any racist agenda by the company I worked for, but rather a result of skulduggery by those in charge. Many of my African co-workers were similarly retrenched when I was.

In the 5 years I have been in the UK I have lived in London, Southampton, Salisbury, Basingstoke, Burntwood and Tewkesbury. The furtherest North I have been is Crich to visit the Tramway Museum. I have been to many museums in my travels, and walked myself to a standstill on a number of occasions.  I am much more physically active here than I was in South Africa. I have even started to ride a bicycle, but have not driven in the UK yet (although I do have a license to drive).

What do I find different?

For starters their postal system works! But the much vaunted NHS does not live up to the Doctors and medical professionals that I encountered back in SA, although I was a paying patient in SA (I had a medical aid). What amazes me in my day to day life is how many people I see. Dogs get walked, children accompany their parents to shops or the park, the trains and buses work, the weather is not only overcast and wet, houses are not fortresses, and life does not revolve around driving from home to the mall and back, or braai-ing meat over a weekend

There are negatives too: accommodation is expensive and hard to find, meat is pricey, food can be expensive depending on where you shop, London can get horribly crowded, employers do not tolerate slackers and works starts and finishes on time with overtime being paid unlike in SA. Safety in the workplace is often crazy but it is also there for a reason. 

I have met people from many countries, and I have worked with all manner of nationalities. Unfortunately my poor hearing and their accents does sometime create odd looks. Tattoos and “vaping” are very big, as are tanning salons, betting shops and nail bars. Many of the cities in the UK are in a decline as they are realistically built around old towns with a much simpler layout. I currently live in a small town and it and goes back many centuries and it too is suffering from the accommodation shortage and declining business within its borders. My council tax is roughly £75 per month and on top of that I still pay National Insurance and income tax. I was fortunate enough to find a bedsit and lead my own life surrounded by my ships and toys. I do miss my books, although have quite a collection already. I came to the UK with 1 suitcase and a wheelie bag, I now have 3 suitcases and 3 wheelie bags (and a wodge of other bits and pieces).

The experience has been a life changer for me though, at my “advanced age” (nudge nudge wink wink) I have had to adjust myself to a whole new country, timezone, hemisphere and culture. Fortunately I am somewhat of an Anglophile so it was not too difficult. My biggest challenge has been in the workplace. Lets face it, my skills are out of date and my poor eyesight really negates me applying for jobs that require small work. I have however worked 3 temp job, the first as a baggage handler, the 2nd as a “recycling operative” and the third as an “assembly operative” in the manufacturing industry. Those entry level jobs do not exist in South Africa and if they do come available get flooded by thousands of applicants.

Like many places the UK has its problems. I was here when the Brexit referendum occurred and by the looks of it will be here when Brexit actually happens. Gang violence does occur in some cities, knife crime is commonplace and drugs and alcohol abuse are a problem. Hooliganism and petty vandalism are common too, but alcohol does play a major part in it. Overall people obey the rules of the road (which can be confusing), and parking is expensive. Relatively speaking cars are quite cheap to buy but not as cheap to operate. I do miss my car, especially where I live now which is somewhat of a public transportation dead zone. Rail fares are not cheap either, especially if bought on the day and in peak hours. Bus fares are expensive too (Day rider is £7.50 to Cheltenham and back). However, public transport does exist unlike in SA. The transport system in London is to be seen to be believed. 

The weather does play a major part in our lives, and flooding happens more often here than it does in SA. Gloucestershire suffered a disastrous flood in 2007, and I tend to be nervous when it rains.

Snow is welcome but not an every day occurrence (at the time of writing we are suffering from a week of low temperatures and possibly snow too). I have seen snow 4 times in the UK which is 4 times more than I saw it in SA. Generally though most of the places I have lived had warm but short summers and long cold winters, and 2017 was probably the closest I have come to how the weather is supposedly in the UK; cloudy days and low temperatures in summer.

When Spring starts to arrive the country becomes a riot of colour as the flowers bloom and everything wakes up from its long winter sleep.

I have picked up some strange new habits and have a whole new line of food to try. I have developed a taste for cod ‘n chips, I tolerate “brown sauce” and I really enjoy a glass of cider. Pizza is not that great here, so my consumption of it has declined. I was never much of a meat eater and now eat even less, although I do live on “ready meals”. I do not own a television and if I did the TV license would snag a chunk out of my salary, I do not intend buying one. I have really quick broadband and my cellphone has 4G of data.

I could probably rattle on all day about this stuff, but I think I have covered it pretty well in blogposts that stretch from 2013 right up till 28 February 2018. 

It has been quite a ride, but stick with me because I am here for another 5 years, and who knows what changes will happen in South Africa while I am gone, or what will happen when the UK finally divorces itself from the EU. It is going to be interesting though. Talk about Interesting times.

I will periodically return to milestones in my sojourn from a retrospective point of view. It is always good to look back and say “Wow…. I did that?”

DRW © 2018. Created 28/02/2018

Updated: 15/03/2019 — 07:00
DR Walker © 2014 -2019. Images are copyright to DR Walker unless otherwise stated. Frontier Theme