2015-08-07 10:47

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MY elder sister Pearl, now, in the early fifties, took off from Maritzburg for the central African copper belt as a schoolteacher, to a place called Chingola, a few miles from the Congo border, and from there she took off with a nice new handsome husband for the other side of the Earth.

By my reckoning, if I were to drill a hole straight through the centre and out the other side, I’d pop up in her house in Vancouver. So I can’t really say I ever really knew her as a grown-up, the occasional letter, or later e-mail, could never be enough. But I remember her vividly from my youth, especially in the matter of love-education.

You see, at the age of 14 I schemed to kiss a certain girl name of Cynthia, and Pearl at the age of 16 surely must understand all the techniques of approach, thought I. I mean we’d seen Nelson Eddy kissing Jeanette Macdonald at the movies, where he was a Canadian Mountie in a red tunic and she was the beautiful sister of a criminal Red Indian whom he was pursuing, and he got round to the kissing bit by singing first the Indian Love Call, which went like this: When I’m calling you hoo hoo hoo, hoo hoo hoo, will you answer too hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo? But my voice was already croaky and I didn’t know any Zulu love calls anyway, and it was at this point that I turned to Pearl. No no, said she, all you need is a careful approach, try not to alarm her, just move slowly and see that your lips are pressed in proper kissing position. And dry, so she doesn’t get spit on her face.

Dead easy. Piece of cake. I slowly advance on Cynthia with my lips all pursed up like I’m drinking vinegar through a straw. What’s wrong with you? she cries in some alarm. Er ... say I, I thought of maybe kissing you. Well why can’t you just do it? says she, presenting a cheek for kissing, which is the only place where she’s ever been kissed before. I move towards her mouth. No no, says she, your nose gets in the way. Now I must admit, in poor lighting conditions certain persons have asked me if it’s a carrot or a banana I’m eating, so I back off and do the cheek process anyway. I report back to Pearl, who falls to serious thought.

But whatthehell. We are a happy family, life carries on. We have good neighbours. Next door is Louise whom I observe hanging out her laundry in the morning. Louise has observed me observing her. Louise is a v. juicy young lady with a small boy called Billy and her husband is away trying to kill Adolf Hitler in North Africa and one morning she runs out of clothes pegs and beckons me over to ask my ma if she could lend her a few. My ma sends me through the hedge with pegs and Louise takes me indoors for a cup of tea and in the kitchen grabs hold of my hair and plants some serious oyster kisses upon my face. I am taken all over dizzy and have to sit down a bit whilst the kettle is coming to the boil.

I report back to Pearl. You mean ... says she, you mean ... spit? Indeed, say I, and teeth. Teeth! she exclaims. Indeed, say I, and tongue. Tongue? she gasps. Indeed, say I. She sits down a bit. She falls into a sort of reverie for some days. Then she comes to me one morning and says I’m going to try it on Norman. Norman is a top cricketer at an all-boys school, you see, and proper manly, so she lays the oyster on him and ol’ Norm has to lie down a bit with some aspirin and a glass of water.

It has become clear we have a good system of conference about the art of love but need some place of peaceful contemplation. I undertake to teach our Pearlie the art of tree climbing; girls don’t climb trees, you see, lest somebody catch sight of their Parts. But now up top in our loquat tree I have established a private little pozzie of my own with a comfortable branch to sit on and another for the feet and a small sort of cupboard for my personal sentimental things; I reveal this little nest to her up amongst the dark leaves and glowing golden fruit. There she espies the little secret cupboard. She opens it. Here stands a bottle of beer; my ma buys her beer by the dozen and when she’s down to nine or so I nick one for myself. So that becomes our HQ. Pearl tells me up there how much Norman looks like Nelson Eddy and ... and ... and I blow kisses to Louise at her washline.

Hell, man, I’m not supposed to be 90 years old. I’m supposed to be 14 and blowing kisses to beauteous women from the top branches of a loquat tree

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