With Harold Strachan
SO young Ludovic takes his sabbatical in London and moves into my block of flats on the Durbs Berea so he can get a firsthand view of our developing democracy. Nice young bloke, irreverent. None of that dreadful dreamy bunkum that went with African liberation in the 20th century, none of the mindless Marxist blather of yesteryear, yet disdainful of the high priests of globalised capital and their cocky assertion that socialism is dead.
But hang on! Why should I call him young? He must be well into his sixties. Because he comes from the Punk generation of London kids, that’s why, and the habit of defying stuffy respectability has stayed with him. He still has holes in his earlobes where in the days of green Apache hairdos he used to have great big nappysized safety pins. Presently he wears a modest piratical gold earring in good taste. And he still affectionately wears a frayed black leather weskit.
Strange thing about the Punk Generation; they didn’t come from the British working class, they didn’t cultivate that dubious prole image of other groups, they came from comfortable families, and insofar as individuals were political, they were socialist without a whole lot of sanctimonious baggage. They just wanted the poor struggling sods of this Earth cared for, so we Punks could get along with our disobedient lives without a load of guilt. And lo! they expected their parents to cough up the cash for the caring. The cultured part of what you might call London Socialism, this.
Now at this point, a certain Cilia, whom I haven’t seen since old varsity days, she phones me out of the blue for some sentimental reason I can’t imagine. Pretty, back then, I remember, she would spend much time at her lookingglass. This is one of my pretty days, she would murmur. Her lover was Rodney, majoring in English literature, and he had a speech impediment, had Rodney; he couldn’t talk, he could only elocute while dragging on a Benson & Hedges Gold fag, and never was seen to notice people looking at their wrist watches. C and R were known at varsity as Lace Knicks and Old Arse.
Now Cilia tells me I simply must come to luncheon at her sugar farm. A longish silence follows, I’m a city lad, I don’t know how to watch sugar cane growing. How’s ole Rodney? say I, to shift the focus of this conversation a bit. The dear soul departed this life recently with the help of Messrs B and H, says Cilia, and I go deathly cold at an intuition: maybe she has me in her sights for a final fling. Aah umm, say I ... But wait! there happens to be Ludo. Chaperone. Can I bring a friend? say I. Your girl friend? says Cilia. No, say I, a most intelligent fellow from London who’s studying modern sociology in our new South Africa. But of cauhse! says she with her most polished Tory pronunciation. So Ludo and I sally forth in my stink dirty Veedubs beach buggy and meander mindlessly mongst the changeless cane fields of colonial Natal like Livingstone in search of the source of the Nile. We are as like to find the Durban City Hall in this jungle as Cilia’s house, but there it is, finally, nestled in a little hollow full of the delightful wafts of Sunday Lunch, Natal style. Apologies. Neveh to wurreh, says Cilia, the luncheon is in the ahven.
We settle down companionably. White starched table cloth. Starched serviettes — oops, table napkins — in silver rings. Flowers. Nice. A ceiling fan gently wafts down upon us. Cilia tinkle tinkles on a little glass bell and a respectfully doubledup smallish Zulu lady creeps in with a whole lot of dindins on a tray. Ludo rises respectfully and holds out a hand. Will you introduce us? says he. Luckily, the Zulu lady has just put down the tray, she leaps back with a small squeak as if he’s going to get hold of her throat or something. That was Justina, says Cilia, as the Zulu lady disappears backwards into the kitchen. The Zulus are a very proud people, you must beware of condescension. Says Cilia.
Justiiiina! she trills in a genteel sort of way. Letter low pumpkin yearner corner pagarty low pot larper low back plate gu low stove, s’il vous plait! and Justina takes the pumpkin long way round the table this time, walking sideways, eyeing Ludo. But it’s a great old trad Sunday noshup, for sure. Nice wine, too. Ludo gets up to stack the dishes and help with the washing up. Ludo! Cilia exclaims, I told you, these are proud people, you must allow them their dignity. Yeah, but doesn’t she want Sunday afternoon off? Yes, and it will come, says Cilia, but she has her principles, you know.
Well we made departure with the utmost etiquette, also friendship, smiling. Nice old duck, said Ludo as we hit the cane again, lovely grub. Chrissakes, said he, but doesn’t she know 94 has happened? Try 1910, said I. No, make that 1880. You know, Crown Colony.