I find writing a cathartic process. Almost a necessity these days. Maybe it's something to do with age. It seems to me, I have more to look back upon than look forward to. Music triggers memories. But memories trigger memories too. I live in my head a lot. I like rummaging about. Today I thought about William and Pine View. I'd like to share these with you. Before I begin, a short backstory is necessary.
17 July 2021
One summer, Dad had towed Mike and Marion back to England from just south of Lyon. We had met them on a sandy campsite in Cannes. It was probably 1971. They were young honeymooners. We all became friends. Then one day Mike & Marion set off before us. And broke down. By sheer luck Dad spotted them on the road side, as we came trundling along some hours later. The tow home cemented their friendship for life.
Some three years later Mike was instrumental in encouraging us to emigrate to South Africa. As an Anglo American engineer working for the gold mines, he'd told Mum and Dad about the sunny weather, and outdoor lifestyle. Dad was hooked. Off we went. It was January 1975.
By then Mike was living in South Africa full time. He offered us accommodation and a pick up from Jan Smuts airport. We stayed with them at Pine View until we found a place to rent. These then are my memories of our stay.
Pine View Flats
'Pine View was a compact, neat, two storey 1950's era block of flats, situated on a hill. Hill street to be exact. It's West facing facade was shaded behind a single row of pine trees, which grew tall, just outside Mike and Marion's second floor apartment. With their windows and balcony doors open all the time, the sweet smell of pine cone wafted in. Day and night. While Mum and Dad, if my memory serves me correct, slept in the spare room, Peter, my brother and I, bedded down in the living room. We fell asleep to the sound of crickets and warm African nights. Cold and dreary England seemed like a million miles away. We were blissfully happy.
How long we stayed I can't remember now, but certainly long enough to get to know William. He became a subject of great fascination to me, during our days at Pine View, and I continued to seek him out on subsequent visits to Mike's place.
The apartments ringed a small tidy garden with a crystal clear pool at it's centre. Both were tended lovingly by William, the Zulu groundsman. Having just arrived from the gray skies, cold and drizzle of Lancashire, both Peter and I were thrilled with the gurgling water, deep blue skies and the heat. Then there was the added enjoyment of getting up close to William, a real African, who was usually always somewhere near, trimming the hedges or pruning the roses.
After getting all cool and wet in the pool, I would follow William around. I found his African features fascinating. He had an almost perfectly rounded cranium. He shaved and polished his head, and it reminded me of a waxed leather football. He had circular bags under his eyes, and with the arch of his eyebrows above, together they made him appeal almost owl like. He had big thick round lips too. Everything about Williams features were round. He was sort of like a black man in the moon.
He was always grinning, and sucking on his bamboo pipe. That which he stuffed with cheap boxer tobacco. In retrospect, I guess he'd lace it with good SA doobie! Hence his perpetual grin and bloodshot eyes. He never seemed to mind me tailing him. Staring. Watching his every move. He would stand with a hosepipe, watering the flowers, humming to himself and jiggling his right leg. He would beam at me. And I would beam back. He was a comical sight. Almost drowning in his ill-fitting blue overalls. He was bony and thin. His brass wrist bracelet reminded me of a bird ring on a budgies claw! His skin was inky black. He had a very organic aroma. I'll never forget his crooked white teeth. I could have stared at him all day.
When not studying William or frolicking in the pool, I'd wander up to the Greek owned supermarket or cafe as they were called in SA, to buy a Sad Sac comic. The caf was just up the road on the corner of Hill street, and Kent Avenue, just across the way from where the Sanlam centre would eventually be built. I don't know why I took such a shine to Sad Sac. Maybe because I saw a lot of him in me. I liked the shiny new covers, and I'd buy a coke to quench my thirst and a bunch of chappies gum to chew while reading. The humming pinball machine inside caught my eye.
I guess it had a subliminal effect on me, because later, my teens became a blur of playing pinball in school uniform, a misspent youth, hidden down the back of Greek cafe's, smoking Chesterfields. I recall the rancid smell of fatty chip oil, and the guffaws of laughter from Roger, my cornish pin-ball crony! He took great delight in watching me tilt the machine. Quite by coincidence during the height of our preoccupation with pinball, he lived in a block of flats at the other end of Hill street. While visiting him, to get up to trouble, I'd think of Pine View. Momentarily. Until Rog laid on the next mad idea. He was full of them. Mischief was his specialty. Quality street chocolate fights or tying up his sister with telephone cord while his parents were out at the drive-in are stories for another occasion. Save to say, High School memories revolve to some degree around cold winter mornings riding the Hill street dip between Rog's old block and Pine View. It was a route I took to school, skirting Malanshof, and dodging the centre of Randburg. It was a run that encouraged my not so nifty Yamaha MR50, a lame excuse of a motorbike, to get my heart beating fast riding down the Hill street dip. I blot out the stupor of the crawl up the other side.
Pine View was a vivid chapter of all things exciting and fresh to a wide eyed 12 year old beginning a new life in Africa. Besides William, the pool, the fragrance of pine and azure blue skies, there was the smell of brasso on the brass window latches and snecks. I loved the odor and sight of parquet wooden floors. Something I'd never seen in England. Buffed shiny. They glowed a rosy brown. I loved to play marbles on them. I recall with fondness Marion's balcony, and looking West towards Randpark Ridge Koppie, as the sun set and cast dappled light on my Dad, who would stand outside to puff on a cigarette. Ah yes, memories so clear.
Pine View is still there. I often ride by these days or have a peek on Google street view. The pine trees are gone. Probably died of old age. Makes me think too. Of my own immortality.'