Across the road from our house in Chromer Street, Selukwe were three tennis courts, a sanitary lane and the government buildings. The government buildings included the post office, police station, telephone exchange, police yard and holding cells as well as the magistrate’s office and courtroom.
The sanitary lane was a feature in our town left over from a time when everyone had a toilet at the bottom of their garden. The toilet itself was a seat over a removable bucket to collect the waste. A man would drive along the sanitary lanes and manage the waste. He would open the flap at the back of the toilet, pull out the bucket and empty it into the container on his vehicle, then replace the empty bucket, ready to collect more.
Going to the toilet during the day was never an issue for me, but I did not enjoy going at night. There was no electricity in the outside loo or dunny, in Australia. We carried a torch to see where we were going. The light from the flashlight attracted all manner of flying insect, who’s shadows on the wall and door of the toilet often resembled giant monsters. I think I was around 7 when we got an indoor bathroom with a septic tank. I recall the delight at being able to go to the loo at night without having to go outside.
My mother had a photographic studio, and her darkroom was through a door leading from the dining room. The new bathroom and toilet were built onto the wall of her darkroom, and so if you wanted to go to the toilet when mum was working in the darkroom, you had to count with her as she finished developing pictures before it was safe to let light into the room and the door could.
We counted the seconds like this ‘one thousand and one – one thousand and two’ – one thousand and three’ and so on.
If you were desperate, then you had to run next door to our service station and use the public toilet there. Nobody liked to have to do that because we didn’t like the idea that ‘other people may see’ and know that we needed the toilet.
It amuses me greatly now whenever I remember how much we hated the thought that someone may see us using the garage’s toilet. Seriously why would it matter? Mum would point out that everyone needs to use the bathroom.
In my child’s mind, there was a worse thing than being seen using the garage’s toilet, and that was if you were seen walking home with a roll of toilet paper that we had borrowed from there because we had run out.
Unlike today where in most towns anywhere in the world there are convenience stores and toilet paper and other essentials can be bought easily when and if you run out. In Selukwe when the shops closed in the afternoon, that was it, there was nowhere else that you could obtain emergency toilet paper supplies.
With the advent of septic tanks and indoor toilets, sanitary lanes continued use as a short cut to friends and family or a gathering place for children. Children would meet there and enjoy raiding fruit from tree branches that overhung the lane: Mango pip fights, yet another a fun way to enjoy an afternoon.
The sanitary lane that ran between the police yard and the tennis courts had a wall on one side and a high fence on the other. The fence was to keep the tennis balls inside the court. One tennis court had a huge Jacaranda tree in the corner. On the diagonally opposite side of the court were about five smaller trees that were cut back in an attempt to slow their growth. The top of the fence had tree branches through it, and we created a fabulous cubby house in the tree branches by bending the fence wire into hummock shapes we could sit in. We didn’t play much tennis; instead, we erected a ‘foofie’ slide or flying fox that ran from the large tree, across the middle of the court and into our cubby house.
Our ‘foofie slide’ was made from a length of wire with a piece of metal tubing that slid over it. To slide down the wire you merely held onto the tube, and your weight and the angle of the wire allowed you to slide along the wire down to the bottom.
Robin, my elder brother, was the oldest and heaviest of us all.
Over time the wire stretched and whenever it was his turn, he only just managed to clear the net in the middle of the court, usually accompanied by loud shouts extolling him to ‘lift your legs, Robin!’
Sanitary lanes were also a great place to race bikes. Having the doctor’s surgery close by was helpful on the odd occasion one of us misjudged the corner, slid in the gravel and went over the handlebars crashing into the wall.
Kids those days received a tetanus injection whenever we got badly grazed or cut.
Minor cuts and grazes were washed, dried and if no stitches were required mercurochrome was applied liberally. Mercurochrome is no longer used these days and banned in some countries. The larger the area of red the more significant the glory of the injury applied in my day.
I recall painting smiley faces on my own children’s knees whenever they grazed them. Magic stuff that makes young kids rush back to playing and showing off their injury with pride.
I was a tomboy, and I much preferred to play with my brothers and their male friends than with girls. It seemed to me that girls did boring things. Playing with dolls and pretend tea was no match to being outside with the boys, building a fort, riding bikes and climbing trees? Having two brothers meant I was never alone.
Most days we played like angels, but on occasions, we fought like mad. Fighting with boys is interesting, and mum had a standard response to anyone who went telling tales of being hurt. “there is no blood, come back when it’s bleeding”
One year at the beginning of the six week Christmas school holidays we were driving mum mad with our constant bickering. She called us all together and rolled up four newspapers, one for herself and one each for us kids.
‘We have a new game’ says mum – ‘ the only rule is no hitting near the head.’
‘Right’ she says – ‘you want to fight? – Well, FIGHT‘
In the beginning, we gave each other little taps with the rolled up newspaper. mum whacked us with hers saying ‘do it properly, or I will do it.’
The next few minutes we whacked and hit each other with the newspapers until mum called a stop.
She says it was the most peaceful six weeks ever and wondered why she had never thought to do it before.
Funnily enough, she never had to do it again.
The Anglican Church was on top of a small hill in town. We built elaborate bike tracks through the bushed area at the bottom of the hill. We very seldom wore shoes and had calloused feet as tough as leather. We were great friends with the Craukamp family Dad Walter, Mum Pat, and kids Gillian and Robert. We would often sleep over at each other’s homes. We took to telling my parents that we were going to stay at the Crowcamp’s for the night and their parents that they were coming to visit Hosie’s place. Then we all went up into the koppie, granite hills that surrounded Selukwe.
We took supplies of food from our pantries and set up a camp. We cut down young saplings to make poles, stripped the bark. We used that to tie the poles together and created a lean-to shelter against one of the larger rocks. We were snug in our camp. We made a fire to cook our dinner then kept the campfire going all night. We thought we were pretty damned smart. Not sure how many times we did this, but on one occasion one of the garage
We were at their gold mine in the north of Rhodesia. Cyanide is used to extract gold, and the slimes dam was full of it. One day we went swimming in the slimes dam. It was like swimming in thick mud or molten chocolate, and we got covered in the thick slimy stuff. Again – caught by one of the workers – but this time we were hosed down and whacked with the hose as they did it. Eish! I do remember that day – not sure if the punishment was worse than the distress it caused our parents.
Parent ‘don’t you know there is cyanide in there?’ Us ‘err – yes.’
Parent ‘haven’t we told you not to go near there.’ Us ‘err – yes.’
Parent ‘don’t you understand what cyanide is?’
Us ‘err – yes – it is used to get the gold out of the rocks’ Parent – ‘it is a bloody toxic poison – it can kill you.’ each word emphasised with a whack of the hosepipe
We didn’t swim there again.
On another occasion, Robin drove the Croukamp’s vehicle into town to pick up supplies.
He parked in front of the general store so that he could load things up etc. I, in my excitement, jumped out of the car and went ‘shopping’.
When he finished loading the vehicle, he moved it around to the back of the store. I came out – saw they had gone, ran to the post office as I knew they had to collect the post before going home.
No Robin, no sign of the vehicle so I did my usual thing and jumped to the conclusion that he must have forgotten me.
I began walking in the direction of the mine. A lady picked me up and asked me where I was going. I told her what had happened and that I thought they had just forgotten me. I was alarmed when she turned the car around and headed back into town – she was going to take me to the police station (sensible lady). I was not at all impressed with the situation and very relieved when I spotted Robin at the post office. I managed to persuade her to stop and that he was my brother otherwise he would have got into so much trouble from my folks.
He thought I was still in the store and was planning on going back there to look for me.
In hindsight, I realise that this situation is typical of how I have lived most of my life – ‘oh a problem – deal with it’.
It never occurred to me to go and ask someone for help.
I am a slow learner, but happy to report that at 68 I often seek advice before plunging headlong into my next solution.