Saturday, 18 February 2012

Long-lost friends reunited

I like lots of things about growing older, but one of the very best for me is reconnecting in unexpected ways with friends from long ago.

Although I’m no fan of Facebook – in my opinion, its user interface is rivalled only by BlackBerry for sheer unfriendliness - when I got a message recently from Nina, I whooped so loudly that all the animals ran to the bottom of the garden. ‘Remember me?’ she wrote. How could I forget?!

Me, Terry and Nina on Thursday morning - 26 years on!
After I matriculated I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I enrolled in a 6-month secretarial course at Rosebank Business College in Joburg. I was a fish completely out of water there – the college had been established in 1948 as a finishing school for girls, and it seemed to me that that was still its primary purpose. Most of my fellow pupils wanted to be secretaries, models or housewives, and we had little in common. So by the time Nina slouched into class about halfway through the second month, I was bored, frustrated and lonely.

Nina had had a somewhat spotty school career, and her mother had sent her to Rosebank College primarily to keep her out of mischief. Which just goes to show that, for some people, mischief is where you find it – because Nina rapidly derailed any secretarial ambitions I had (admittedly, very few) by cavalierly not attending any classes and taking me along for the ride.

I was no stranger to bunking, having been quite a keen class-cutter at school, but, unlike at school, Rosebank College had a ‘minimum attendance’ requirement that, if not met, meant you didn’t get your diploma. Since I was paying my own way (by holding down 3 jobs outside of college time), it would have been a big waste of my time and money if I didn’t qualify, but Nina’s fabulous disregard for rules and disdain for authority were irresistible to me. So my attendance dropped rapidly, and one day the principal, Mrs Kemp, called me into her office and informed me, in frosty tones, that if I missed one more class, I wouldn’t qualify for a diploma.

By then, however, the Nina Bug had bitten me badly, and when, one Friday, my brother came back from the army on a weekend pass (those were the days of 2-year conscription for all white South African boys), I didn’t think twice before cutting classes in favour of hanging out with him and some friends. Fortunately for Nina, she wasn’t with us that day – on the way back home, in a summer thunderstorm, we had a catastrophic car accident. I cracked my spine and my brother’s chest was crushed.

We all survived, and the silver lining was that Mrs Kemp felt so sorry for me that she not only overlooked my dismal attendance record, she organised for me to write all my final exams at home, and I graduated with a sterling mark.

Nina didn’t graduate (surprise!) – in fact, she remembers that all the books she’d been given when she arrived at the college were still sealed in their plastic wrap long after she’d left there. What she did manage to do, however, was burn down the flat she shared with another guy – not surprisingly, she was swiftly given her marching orders from there, too.

I moved to Cape Town about a year later, and set up home with two wild boys, Andy and Terry. We first shared a flat above the Coimbra on the corner of Lansdowne Road (the Coimbra was justifiably famous for its amazing chicken pies, and the bakery is still operating today), then we moved to a house in Rondebosch East.

Terry and I in 1985, moving
into our Rondebosch East house.
Terry and I on Thursday morning (posing with the Porsche!)
Although we were all very young (in our early 20s), we were all working – in fact, I met Terry at Albert Moore, a stainless-steel works in Bellville (which, at the time, was under constant threat of being closed down, and at one stage was put under judicial management, but is apparently also still going today), where I was putting my secretarial diploma to use as an admin clerk and he worked in the factory as a fitter-and-turner.

As the only girl in the Rondebosch East household, I fought an uphill battle to maintain some measure of domestic order – Terry remembers that I used to frequently call house meetings and raise issues, and then bossily present solutions, which I would foist on my unwilling housemates. In my defence, I do recall that just keeping enough dishes clean to have a morning cup of tea was a practically impossible task, and of course our house was the ‘party house’ (most of our other friends being either students or still living at home), and Andy and Terry would quite happily have lived in the debris of ongoing all-night jols, while I, well, wouldn’t.

Terry was always the smoothie – he drove a beach buggie and had an endless string of girlfriends. Andy appeared to be the sensible one – perhaps because he had a steady girlfriend, a nurse (who he eventually married), but they had a very volatile relationship (I recall a shoe being thrown through a lounge window late one night…). Andy was, in fact, extremely wicked, and involved me (unwittingly, of course) in many of his bizarre escapades. Without going into details (because I don’t know what the statute of limitations on these things are), he once robbed a restaurant of its entire seafood stock – the restaurant actually belonged to a friend of ours, and I made him return the swag the next day.

Another time, he asked me to go with him into Claremont to buy beer for a party – he asked me to drive the bakkie, which I thought a little odd, but I did it; and then he asked me to wait in the car while he went to buy the beer, which I thought even odder, but I did that too. The next minute, he came running out of the bottle store, lugging a crate of beer, which he hurled into the back of the bakkie before leaping into the passenger seat and screaming, ‘Drive! Drive!’ He had robbed the liquor store.

Once, we all ended up at a guesthouse in Paarl (I can’t remember how or why). In the living room, there were about 5 residents watching TV. Andy, by then many sheets to the wind, casually wandered over, unplugged the TV set and took it out to our car, where he put it on the back seat. Obviously, everyone there asked why he was taking the TV, and he just mumbled something about repairs. (I made him put that back, too.)

Andy also had a rule: we never bought toilet paper. I don’t know why I never questioned this, but instead did what he required: stole a roll of toilet paper whenever the opportunity presented itself (from public toilets, office cloakrooms, restaurants, etc).

I really have no idea how Andy (or any of the rest of us) was never arrested – we must have had the luck of youth on our side.

Nina, who had stayed in Joburg but visited me in Cape Town, also became friends with Andy and Terry (although, inexplicably given what a shutterbug I always was, I don’t have any pics of her from that time).

Our Rondebosch East house broke up (not literally, by some miracle) towards the end of 1986, and we all lost touch. In the 26 years that followed, I got married and moved to Botswana, then moved back to Joburg and then to Cape Town, had 2 children, got divorced and moved to Riebeek Kasteel. Nina got married to her high-school sweetheart, and is still happily married and living in Limpopo; she has 2 sons. Terry got married, had a son, and then got divorced; he still lives in Cape Town.

And on Wednesday evening, for the first time in over a quarter of a century, Nina, Terry and I got together. The most amazing thing was that, although so much time has passed and so much has happened in all our lives, we all feel we’re exactly the same people. Nina is still irrepressibly irreverent and wicked; and Terry is still a smoothie, although he’s swapped the beach buggie for a burgundy Porsche Carrera.

And Terry brought something very special – a bottle of Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon that was bottled the last time we were all together, in 1986!

* Terry is still in contact with Andy, and our next get-together will include him.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tracey! That was the tamest description of the wildest party ever!!!! Enjoyed the read though!!!