Pinky’s Parking

Everybody who has to do work in the Joburg CBD needs to have a secret parking place. Mine was in the middle earth underneath a building opposite the Johannesburg High Court.

After nosing through the tides of jay walkers, office workers, groupies, and the Methodist Church refugees undulating into the street for the spectacle of the convoy that deposits court celebs like Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma or Jackie Selebi, Pinky’s parking is a welcome refuge.

With the large security gate firmly shut at the top of the ramp, in Pinky’s parking I could breathe out, remove my cellphone from its hiding place between my thighs and wind the window all the way down.

A small person with big hair and dangly gold hoop earrings, she always began our conversations with a request for an update on the Case of the Day, with her commenting “ooooh that Malema, or “oooh that (fill in appropriate name)”.

After inquiring after the health of each other’s children, their progress at school, their level of defiance, and the soaring cost of school requirements, she would produce a printed card on which she would write the date, and note that I had paid R20 for parking for the day. 

A small price for a safe spot in the middle of the city, and no risk of parking tickets.

All I had to do was catch the lift up to the ground floor, leave the building, cross the road, and I was at the court.

This arrangement has worked perfectly for at least seven years and I have had no trouble claiming the R20 back from petty cash on production of the “ticket”.

On payment of the R20, there would be a slight pause as Pinky gazed into the distance and announced which bay I would be using.

The bays were usually in the strangest of places – a cubby hole space at the top of the first ramp, or up against the furthest wall to the back after twirling down the ramp so deep into the basement I might run over a hobbit or something.

So, today I take an intern with me for a story and I generously share the secret of Pinky’s parking.

It’s not really Pinky’s parking of course. She is the official badge wearing garage security guard for the large building which houses the chambers of some of Johannesburg’s top lawyers.

But today, we are confronted by two male security guards who insist that there is no casual parking allowed and never was and demand that we immediately make a u-turn and leave. 

But Pinky always lets me park here, I wail. Where is Pinky?

“She was fired,” said the one guard, swiping his card to open the gate for our exit.

I ask why and he says “because she was selling casual parking”.

So, for seven years she sub-contracted the casual parking to herself, presumably without tender, until someone caught her out.

I’m thinking it was a turf war, or there was an argument about hush money.

So instead, Intern and I park on the road next to a lady selling dayglo orange Nik Nak knock offs and cabbages, and a man selling the most gorgeous hand made goat skin sandals and laugh over how Pinky managed to pull that little stunt off for so long.

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The Dadster

You can get used to not having a father but it takes a long time. Mine is “late” as we say over here, for more than 10 years now but this Father’s Day run up I feel it a little stronger. It must be something to do with the extraordinarily nice presents in the Father’s Day pamphlets. Everywhere you look there are advertisements for very grand booze boxes, triptychs of biltong, brandy and coke, decorated skottels, bowties. Young fathers are gushing left right and centre on radio and in blogs about walking their kids to school and other quite lovely things.

In my day (pass the gin will you Gertrude), we looked around the house for them and awkwardly gave them a box of hankies with their initial on. Then we left them in peace with Prince Valiant and the horses. Now it’s quite a gala for the fathers. And about time.

My dad was a very quiet cautious man. If the speed limit was 80, he would drive 60. He would never circle the block to look for parking, choosing instead to infuriate us by driving very far away from where we needed to be to avoid any sort of parking impatience. We used moan “why do we have to park in Roodepoort?” as we circled the outskirst of Krugersdorp again looking for easy parking. If we needed anything, we saved. He fixed things, he made things. He built the additions on our old house. He admired good welding and bricklaying like an art critic admires a good painting – standing back slightly, head tilted, murmuring approval.

He spoilt me. Not in the “pink BMW when you turn 18” way. In the “be there for you no matter what” way.

He was not huggy, he rarely said I love you. He smelt of Old Spice and Chesterfield.

He got some things wrong. But not things that would drive me to a therapist’s couch for years. I did that all by myself. But my brothers and I knew that even as an adult if we called him at four in the morning from some godforsaken place he would come and fetch us.

There would be lip. On the phone when we called, and in the car all the way back, there would be more lip. But he would come. I know people who have never experienced that unconditional support and so don’t know how to give it.

He terrified boyfriends who brought me home late by switching off the lounge lights and then when we tiptoed in thinking we were safe, he would emerge from the shadows. Six foot four with sideburns. And a gat. On safety and pointing down of course. “Oh it’s you,” he would say. There were skidmarks. In the driveway too.

And he was right about most of them. At a curiosity dinner with one, some 15 years later, I was stunned to watch food and wine being chosen for me and to hear he put out an internet search on me. “They’re illegal of course,” he said. Nice save Dadster.

Whipped out of school at a young age shortly after his own father died, he lost all career choices as he was sent off to work as the eldest boy to help support a large family. His mother signed him up to be a boilermaker, without him having any say, and that’s what he qualified as, and worked as, until, one day when we were little he came home in his DKW, aka “The Deek” and announced: ‘I am sick of spending half an hour every night scrubbing my fingernails clean”.

He had the most beautiful fingernails. He could have modelled them for GQ. They were always clean, clipped square, buffed and with his dark skin, they set the standard in male grooming for me. It’s still one of the quick scans I do on men I’m interested in – fingernails: check. If a boilermaker could do it, what’s your story then office man? He wore tweed jackets, slacks, Hushpuppies, always a broad tie, and he prided his sideburns, or sideboards as we called them.

He went to night school and became a draftsman and changed careers when we were still small. The excitement in the house when he got his first “new life” job!

When I went to university in my 40s the memory of what he did inspired me. Exhausted, working on an assignment at two in the morning, or dragging Miss J round the Wits library with promises that we would visit the koi afterwards, I would think, Dad did this, keep going. But of course it was more than the fingernails for him. 

He was a very intelligent man and one of his hobbies was, wait for it, going through maths books he bought and doing the calculations they set. For fun. When the first Hewlett Packard calculators came out, it was like he had come home.  When we went shopping we would leave him at the calculator counter at Dions and fetch him when we were finished. He once said that if he had had a choice he would have liked to have been a scientist of some sort. If he had lived long enough he would be lost now in a happy world of apps, rushing out only to shout, “Quick Marge, come look at this…. ooh was that the kettle?”

He had a midlife crisis and moved out for a while. Upgrading the polyester slacks and deciding that he would join my brother Bren and Barbs at skydiving. He famously panicked when he decided his chute hadn’t opened properly and gave hurtling down to earth with the pumpkin-sized reserve, seemingly unable to steer. He landed on a power line, dropped down, dangling. The moment loosened the chute and he landed on his bum. The club looked on from a distance in dismay, thinking he was dead. He got up and dusted himself off and his doctor later told him that he had crushed one of his vertebrae and would henceforth be a quarter of an inch shorter than his 6’4.

I’m going to say it. He was quite a paradox when it came to women and men. Some call it protective, some call it sexist. My brothers got small motorbikes when they were old enough so that they could get around. I begged. I learnt how to ride one. I begged more. I got a hair dryer. I too wanted to learn how to service a car like he was teaching my brothers. I was the one pressing the brakes while the fluid went through, or trying to find the number 13 spanner while they dug around in the engine. There was an unspoken rule that girls did not light the braai fire. But on the other hand, I was allowed to work when I wanted to, to study what I wanted to, where I wanted to, to travel, and I always knew he had my back. I think my mother may have been on his there.

He loved cowboy movies, terrible best sellers, jazz, cheesy crooners, and early Disney cartoons. He wasn’t materialistic. When he died I inherited his slide rules and a box of drafting stationery, which I cherish, and his lang slap Mazda six two six. The one he used to lend me with endless instructions and threats.

He hated my politics but stopped on the side of the road and stole a 1994 ANC election poster for me from a lamp post because he knew I would like it.

He taught me so many things. How to cast. He took my brothers and I with our rods to the grass which is now Key West in Krugersdorp, and made us practise until we weren’t catching each other’s eyebrows anymore. How to drive. I am one of the best reverse parkers I know because of him. How to drink Jack Daniels (slowly, out of a decent glass. Not that I took his advice). That it is possible to have cabling in the house that doesn’t look as though it needs a sauce and some parmesan.  To put a coin into a beggar’s cup. To aim for integrity. Looking for a picture of him to post, I can’t believe how young he looks when he was doing such grown up things. How almost boyish, my Dad, Oom Tom, Mr Evans, looks.

 

I miss him. RIP The Dadster.

Yugo Stores Lives Again

There’s a funny little shop in Linden called Yugo Stores, branded with the Coke sign you expect to find in a berg village. Here you can find the smallest possible packets of sugar, puncture repair kits, bulked packed blue and white mugs for funerals and yellow kettles that you can plant bergrosies in.

It is not a beautiful building, and the people that walk in and out do not have sunglasses perched on their heads. Here, you can buy a loose xxx mint or creme soda in a bottle (not the organic kind). They also sell small packets of koeksoda which I still think is the best name for a chemical that eradicates cystitis.

Recently a large red white and blue auction sign was erected over the shop. Oh my god, it’s going to become a franchised restaurant. This is wrong, being opposite the best biltong in town, according to some or other neighbourhood survey. I am surprised Biltong Man has not dropped dead yet he is so biltongly large as he strides behind the counter of cholesterol encrusted salamis and forces handfuls of tastes on anyone gazing up at his signed collection of rugby team photos. He is next to a pawn shop, a hardware shop and a shop that sells large floral dresses. I can imagine him in one.
Anyway, Mr Yugo – I don’t know his name but he has a large hairy mole on the left side of his jaw that wobbles when he speaks – told me a few months ago he was doing blerry everything to keep the business in the family after the Recent Sad Death. Details of which I don’t know. Jasmine always insists I speak Afrikaans to him for some reason while I’m buying her a R20 plastic toy that costs R120 in Cresta.

There is also a block of flats cobbled on to the building. I looked at one once. Vast. Parque floors peeling up like lichen. Why didn’t I take it? Too big I thought at the time.

Well, I’m pleased to say the auction sign is down, and Mr Mole is happily still offering rainbows of lighters as he hopes that he will be there for at least the next 10 years.

Beanlet and the uniform

Today Beanlet and I had an exciting wake up – she has lost another tooth! Remember that? The shrieking – the inner sense that it is a milestone – the waiting for the tooth fairy?

 

It is such a gift being with this little girl while she grows. We went from tooth, to chilling, to playing Solitaire on the computer. Then we went and bought her new Big Girl School Uniform – a sweet red and white checked dress. She will be in grade one next year. Oh my God, Grade one! I remember grade one and the nuns at St Ursula’s. My little green dress. Ha ha, and the spiritualist church next door that auntie Petro visited to talk to who knows… and the prison down the road… and the flat where my friends and I bunked in later years. That’s Krugersdorp for you.

I’m pleased that educative styles have moved on and that teachers are more understanding and compassionate. She is a well put together girl, knows what she wants, knows how to care, knows how to love. Is still working on simply listening and being still. Please God may she not doubt herself when around people who don’t know this yet. We had lunch, she made some new friends, we came home and ran through the sprinkler (me naked).  Now we’re watching Win Dixie which has a Dave Matthews cameo – nice.

Highveld Rain

The rain in Johannesburg is exquisite. We live through months of ashen sinus-ridden dryness for this and it is worth every minute.  A quick wind blows and you can smell all the scent of flowers and grass whooshing past your nose. It is intoxicating. Then big fat plops of rain fall on you – it’s like a beautiful gift to your mind and body as it splashes on your face and releases its peaceful scent. Your cheeks or your arm are momentarily cooled.  And then of course, you run for cover.

The Security Guard’s chair

The chair project

Have you ever noticed the chairs that security guards sit on?

They are our “first line of defence”, in charge of public places.

Their job is to scare people off, ward off an attack, guard the palace.

But when they rest their feet, they do so on chairs with stuffing oozing out, or three-legged chairs stabilised with an old paint tin.

I want to take pictures of these people on their chairs and tell a short story of their life and how they found the chair and how they feel about it.

Through this I hope to tell the observer who is interested a small story of humanity and survival. Who knows, one day I might even buy the camera to do it with.

Back of the bakkie people

This is something we see every day in South Africa. This is with love to the “construction workers” who help build our cities and towns.

Back of the bakkie people

Huddled

Warm bodies

Remembering the comfort of

snatched sleep

Toes curl onto the bakkie floor

trying not to fall of at the brakes

Thinking of half past four

 

Head down

hands in pockets

A wave for a child

An encouraging, bright word, for a child

Walking through gravel

Stones spitting out

rising sun creating silhouttes

Eight rand taxi fare saved

 

Blowing out puffs

of morning steam

Hands in armpits

So this

Is our Jozi dream

 

The waiting men

Waiting for tea

Waiting for lunch

Waiting for that good life

to come your way

 

Back to the shack

The shared room

The newspaper curtain

The row of spotless takkies drying in the last heat of the day

Not a nameless casualty today

No paramedic calling me buddy

Buddy? Can you breathe?

What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?

Faceless and nameless

In Jozi