There were a number of amusing incidents I can recall as a child, many of which pointed towards my unusual way of looking at things.
When it came to taking things literally, I know the feeling. I imagined that a place named Kidd’s Beach was named after all the children that holidayed there, and that it was specially dedicated to the needs and whims of children. An area called Walmer was so named because it tended to be a few degrees milder there than elsewhere. And it was very unlikely to rain on Sunday.
“This didn’t happen on a Sunday, did it?”
When I read in one of my mother’s old Enid Blyton books set in the 1940’s I read the following words about a governess, Miss Lawson who had come for an interview:
“The words Perfectly safe were written all over her.”
I studied the accompanying illustration, trying to see if the illustrator had incorporated the words perfectly safe in her dress pattern, being under the illusory and literal impression that they formed a motif on it in the same way flowers or red dots might.
I still find it quite amusing to take a literal interpretation of a phrase and imagine the implications. For instance, a marine take-away establishment named Fish Finders may equip you with a map, GPS and net, and direct you to a large tank to find your own fish. And does a No Parking sign found on a postbox built into a wall, imply no parking permitted in their postbox?
As a toddler I recall entering my paternal grandmother’s house for the first time and hearing a noisy fridge motor starting up amidst various other domestic sounds, and asking “Does everything in this house make a noise?” in a genuinely curious little voice.
I modelled my idea of what God looked like on one of my schoolteachers, who was blissfully unaware of the honour thus bestowed on him. Strangely enough, it was not the elderly teacher with glasses and a little white beard, but a younger, large, dark haired and equally distinguished looking individual.
When I heard that my biological father was buying things irresponsibly on hire purchase without considering the monthly costs I understood it as Higher Purchase and imagined a much more elevated form of buying.
At seven, I had evidently read enough commercial cards to make my own version of a rather original card for my mother’s birthday. It read:
Happy Birthday to a 28 year old on the front, and inside its message read:
You’ve waited and waited and waited and now it is here. Aren’t you lucky?
The words on the cover were accompanied by an illustration of Stone Mountain, one of the villages in my creative mind. A smaller picture of the village appeared on the inside left page.
At the school concert, a bunch of us 6 year olds laughed as an unfortunate local soprano hit the high note at the conclusion of her aria. The teacher let us know on the next schoolday that we had been extremely rude and insensitive but I must confess that I could not help myself as it was the first time I’d been exposed to opera music and the high notes.
The first time I had to visit the headmaster’s office was because of some pages that inexplicably went missing from my exercise book. The mystery of the truant pages was never solved. On this occasion we sat down to discuss the issue and there was no danger to my behind. Oddly enough, the head’s name was Stickells, which sounds like someone who would grab the cane on a whim. However, on the next occasion, the teacher went out of the classroom for a lengthy time and the class began to get rowdier and rowdier. Another teacher popped his head in and sent all the boys except two evident favourites, to the headmaster. This was a new one, and his name, Light, sounded good to me. What reason would we have to fear a guy with such a name? However, on this occasion we were all lined up for three strokes of the cane. I was once again expecting this to be a discussion session, with us all sitting around the office analyzing why we had been noisy. I hadn’t been one of the noisy ones…. Being disillusioned by the strange swishing sounds I was hearing from the office, I struggled when it was my turn and was half carried in by his powerful arms to get my share. On her eventual return to the classroom and hearing what had happened to the class in her absence, the class teacher simply remarked “I’m glad!”
After my mom remarried when I was almost 9, we moved into a maisonette, which refers to a type of double storey townhouse. An aunt from my stepfather’s side of the family came to visit, a particularly prim and proper one who lived in a large double storey house on the river bank. As she entered the front door I decided to play a little prank on her and shot her with a rubber arrow from my bow from a strategic position halfway down the stairs. I was not expecting her to start crying. Her fright at the unexpected missile was probably quite normal but I had no idea at the time that a grown woman would cry like that.
Apart from the aunt on the river bank, I had an aunt who stayed in an upstairs flat all on its own, situated between two banks on the main commercial street. I often wondered how easy it would be for her to tunnel through the walls on either side to help herself to the cash.
I had a bedside lamp in the form of a pixie sitting against a tree. I once put a little plastic dog up the “tree” and a few minutes later was puzzled to see a little wisp of smoke emanating from it. Calling on my mom to help, I found that a small hole had been burnt at the bottom of the hollow little dog. He survived the ordeal otherwise unscathed.
I also had a yellow plastic poodle whom due to his skinny girth I named Narrow. I made up cartoons in which Narrow was a character who went to bed early, woke up for the day at midnight, and had a maid named Lily. She really was a lily, tall like a lupin, who came to life and when she was done for the day, she went to sleep in the flower bed.
My invented word for the opposite of a smile (downward curved mouth) was “smoor”.
I wrote a lot of doggerel at this time and remember one of my less successful efforts at poetry produced the lines:
Saturday sixpence for cleaning a car
Spended (sic) on a beer at a bar.
On describing a train:
Sheep stare as she passes
While they chew at the grasses.
There was a time we were asked to prepare what was rather quaintly referred to as an “oral” – a short speech explaining whether you thought anything was better than gold, and then expound on what you felt was worth more than gold, giving reasons. My choice was “water.” One girl stood up in the front of the class.
“Nothing is better than gold,” she stated, and went to sit down again. I doubt she really believed that – she just wasn’t up to making a speech that day. One day we had to pretend we were speaking over the telephone to someone else in the class. I decided it was time for a bit of comedy so when my classmate “rang up” to discuss silkworms, my answers, although not prepped with him beforehand, became increasingly bizarre! I began by asking if he was referring to the ones with pink stripes.
I had a friend who came to visit fairly regularly in order to play cars. We used to draw streets and buildings on a large sheet of paper, or a rock instead, and whenever I approached a set of traffic lights I’d call out “What colour are the robots?” ( a locally used term for traffic light) and he would invariably respond “Blue” leading me to imagine how a motorist would respond if faced with such a thing. There were probably only about two or three sets of traffic lights in my home town, as there was no need for more at that time. We had great fun with my little cars. All my Matchbox cars had drivers. The Mini was driven by one Minna del Oopio, and the Passat by Dawn Wavyhaira. There was also a VW Beetle driven by the young Miss Karen Kissing Lips. The blue Cadillac, which was much larger as it was not a Matchbox, was the car of the Boo Prime Minister. I have no idea why I selected this name but my friend was always worried we’d get in trouble if anyone heard about this nameless Premier. I can’t recall the names of the various male drivers of the other cars. Sometimes they went to a forest, represented by a bright red sheepskin on the floor of my room.
My maternal grandmother told me that the devil drank all the water that went down the drain, which she referred to as a “gully”. I had a little green plastic parachutist toy at the time, and for some reason began associating him with the devil – a green, slimy one who satisfied his thirst with waste water. A sort of semi-human sewer rat dripping with green ooze.
Actually my gran, who had spoken only German as a young child growing up in a largely German and English settler area of the country, had a few unusual words of her own to refer to things. When playing Ludo and having converted a triple of three counters into four counters this was a “fobble”. She sang in the church choir and referred to the chorus theme as a “ref-rin” (refrain) and an auction sale was an “oction”. I remember her with great fondness and she was always very good to me. I’ll never forget her Marie Biscuits. Her fruit cake and her Sunday roasts (usually chicken and roast potatoes with several vegetables) were awesome and always something to look forward to. Everything she did was performed with an extra touch of love and she put extra effort into even her smallest actions. Her pets, her garden, everything was treated with her own special touch of magic. She made the best of a very ordinary old house and small garden. The house was subdivided after my grandpa’s death and my gran took the smaller section, renting out the larger portion to an elderly couple. The pantry was turned into her kitchen, and the dining room became her lounge. A large room at the back was her bedroom with en-suite bathroom. Here she made herself very cosy with her little dog, her canary, Twinkle, and her collection of African violets.
My food dislikes as a kid included cheese in both its natural and toasted form, and jelly. I declined it at birthday parties and left it on my plate, eating the ice cream only. Perhaps it was the texture of both cheese and jelly that I disliked. I am still not overly fond of jelly, I think the texture still gets to me, especially if the jelly has set some time and is too hard and gelatinous, although I am quite fond of cheese, especially grilled or toasted.
I also recall us seeing the holes in barbequed chicken that had been cooked in a rotisserie and thinking tthat was the bullet holes where the chicken had been shot before being prepared for barbequing. I actually thought it was quite a clean, neat and merciful way of dispatching them to chicken paradise. Instead of my current and accurate view of an abattoir as a highly disturbing, smelly and noisy place filled with the anguished sounds of frightened livestock, which I never wish to see, I imagined something more resembling a live-target, clucking shooting range.
“I feel like a cannibal, dear. I wonder why?”
Even in high school I had an answer of my own for things I wasn’t sure about. I remember at age 13 we had a general knowledge quiz where in response to the question What is a Rhode Island Red? I wrote the reply “An American Communist.” This explanation made a lor of sense to my mind. Much later I learned that it was in fact a breed of chicken. In response to the question Who assassinated Prime Minister Verwoerd? I put down “a madman” as I had no idea of the guy’s name and had simply read somewhere that he wasn’t in full control of his faculties. We were also asked what the headmaster’s hobby was. I wrote down an answer which rhymed with his name, as I had no idea of the real answer, which was something quite different.
We spent a great deal of time at the beach because relatives on my mother’s side ran a beach resort with chalets (rondavels) and a tent site. There was also a café / tea room. I have very fond memories of the times we spent there. At Christmastime I still recall the constant high-pitched buzz of the Christmas beetles in the coastal woods. I just wish so many times that I had been kinder to Peter the Springer spaniel. He loved to paddle in the water, unlike my dearly beloved Miniature Pinscher who despite his attempts to impersonate a Rottweiler, and shows no fear of fearsome-looking dogs fourteen times his size, has no intention of getting so much as his toes wet when we are at the beach.
I’m the boss….get that straight will you?