Beware giggling

2010-02-27 00:00

YESTERDAY evening I sat staring mindlessly at the telly, as is my habit, and there in a programme on ancient motor cars I beheld a split-windscreen Morris Minor, an exact replica of such a vehicle owned by my mother in 1957. In such a vehicle, were there any justice in this world, we should both of us have been drowned in the Msunduzi River. In reverse gear. And it occurred to me to tell you Maritzburg folks this baleful story because amongst you are a number of ancient seniorburgers who went to my mother’s kindergarten called Principia, who always seem anxious to know what happened historically to the old dear and her pre-primary infants. Maybe for good reason. One can always recognise one of these old Principians, they don’t swing their arms when they walk and their eyes are focused at infinity. Many became architects.

Anyway, what brought mother and son to the very gates of Hell was my teaching the old girl to drive at the age of 63, in Alexandra Park. I’ve got as advanced as Second Gear! she would proudly declare to her neighbours. So let’s do reverse next, said I, and gave a demo. She had to do it via the rear-view mirror, of course, having become full in the flesh and stiff in the swivels. With a white-knuckle grip on the wheel she put voet plat in die hoek and totally released the clutch in one swift movement. The Morris leapt in the air and off the road and down the bonny banks o’ Dusi with me yelling against the screaming 850 cc engine to unfreeze her hand on the gear lever in the name of God. Hauling on the handbrake I shoved across her rigid body and switched off the ignition. We stopped on that little floodplain below the bank, maybe a metre from the swift bit of the river. She got the horries about reversing, evermore.

A Principian called Bobby Buckett grew to become the traffic officer who took her eventually for her driving test. He and my ma drove round the streets of Maritzburg remembering old times and giggling when he should have been putting her through the rigours of reverse parking. And the reason for this giggling and sentimentalia was that when six years old he’d been put on the City Hall stage by my ma, all made up and dressed in a satin costume as Prince Charming, and a wee small girl called Joyce ­Ellerker had been done up also in satin with a lot of lace, and between them they gave a rendition of Stay in My Arms Cinderella which knocked the populace of PMB flat so everybody stomped feet and clapped hands and they had to sing it again.

My ma, you see, was ever a battler. In depression days, being a woman of little education, she made soap and baked scones for a living, and taught folks Afrikaans, and certain other folks with a bit of money the piano. At the gate in Boshoff Street stood a sign saying MADAME PHOEBE, TEACHER OF THE PIANOFORTE, tastefully done in gold on a nice piece of mahogany by a tap dancer called Pieter Potgieter, who’d busted his leg in the frenzy of his art and now also was battling. Perhaps she wasn’t so good at the piano bit but she was bloody good at the forte, fit to give you the chicken skin, man. Then she decided to open the pre-primary and Pieter put up another sign saying PRINCIPIA KINDERGARTEN, since by now he’d busted his other leg as he rose to dancing fame.

Well in this spirit of whatthehell she took to renting the City Hall each December for a kids’ concert, and the PMB populace would jostle each other for entry like this was a World Cup football match, you wouldn’t believe it. It was here Joyce and Bobby struck the PMB heartstrings, and here the fatal bonding between traffic officer and seniorburger struck root. All of which bears on my modest research into family history. My ma moved to retirement in Richmond a bit later where, thrusting her foot at the brake on entering a filling station, she missed Brake and hit Loud Pedal and wiped out a petrol bowser which against all probability failed to ignite in spite of the steel-on-steel sparks, probably because she was on her way to church.

All of which was still okay; but it was when she hit that fatal pedal once more and wiped out the bicycle of a small Indian boy who had climbed a handy jacaranda when he saw her coming that things went into crisis, so to speak. To her the crunching up of the bike under her wheels was the sound of his poor little bones getting crushed and she fell into a deep faint. Thereafter the citizens of Richmond put out a petition for my ma nevermore to drive within Town Limits, a very hurtful thing which could have been originally avoided, you see, but for the giggling and sentimentalia.

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