An older friend of mine recently regaled me with his enthused tales of youthful yore. With all credit to “Coop”, here is a grand trip down a slightly more senior South African memory lane…
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a different world to the one that we currently endure. Although the entire 70’s passed in a neon daze of disco, huge medallions and belt buckles, excessive makeup and big, big hair. And produced little in the way of great fashion, great music or great achievements by mankind in general. I think that the 60’s were so radically different from any previous decade that people were perhaps trying a bit too hard. Glam rock, platform shoes, bellbottom trousers and disco music — yuck. We see few revivals of anything from the seventies unless it’s for a joke.
Personally I didn’t enjoy the seventies too much and spent most of it getting into trouble in various ways. I was boarding in an all-boys grammar school for much of it so while I was taught excellent table manners and enunciation, I managed to collect few social skills. Back then I danced like a drunk who has accidentally blundered into an electrified fence* so the local discos became a source of tremendous amusement for my peers only. I had no transport, no money, no dress sense, bad skin and no clue how to approach girls. We had no cell phones or email and could only use the house phone with special permission. We used to go for a week at a time without communicating with our friends. I used to send gifts and letters through the POST to people, often.
* I still do, and only work up the courage when either extremely hammered or coaxed by a nearly naked woman of dubious character.
The eighties and nineties were a lot better for me, I worked up some confidence with the girlies. I got a paying job. I fell in love with American V8s. (I dreamed for the past 30 years of owning a 1967 Shelby 500 Mustang. I even have photocopies of many of the original magazine road tests, and the full Haynes workshop manual. They were always JUST out of my price range. Eventually that stupid Nicholas Cage film starring Eleanor made them really desirable and priced them permanently out of my reach). My mates, of course, all wanted an Escort 1600 Sport, Datsun SSS, Toyota Sprinter or another silly little car. But it was usually my car, one of two Fairlanes, that ended up taking everyone to drive-in, the car show, the faraway pub on Brakpan, even Durban quite regularly. We’d all pile in after work and vote on where to go by shouting and whining the loudest. We’d sometimes end up crashing (metaphorically) on Durban beachfront on Friday night after belting down there from Jhb after work, singing along to the cassette player at the tops of our voices. No toll gates back then either and fuel was cheap if five or six of us were sharing. We’d all sleep in the car, or next to it, the seats were like sofas and the boot was enormous.
And of course, I was the one they called when they needed a tow. And the only one that could tow a proper caravan, and/or a boat trailer, or on one memorable occasion — two caravans. V8 power, I couldn’t get enough of it! Until I discovered superbikes and real, mindblowing power.
We still had the big hair and the questionable fashion but things were improving and people were becoming a little more sophisticated. At least I like to think so. Drive-in movies were cool because you could cuddle up with your date and get more cosy than at the cinema. And smoke and drink and take your own food and even your dog. And we used to sit next to the car on deck chairs and enjoy the evening, chat to the other moviegoers and wander about checking out the cars/babes/drunks/buses etc. Kombis had to park at the back so when I was much younger I couldn’t ever see a damned thing from the back seat. And of course it was half the cinema price for two movies. And you could cram all of your mates in with their dates too. I sometimes even squeezed a few into the boot. There was a choice of around ten drive-ins within a 30 minute radius and another ten within an hour or so. They were all over the place. And if you travelled the country then you’d find one on the outskirts of almost every town no matter how small, demarcated by very distinctive signs that were instantly recognisable. …
Until Fontana and Bimbo’s in Hillbrow eventually introduced 24-hour business to SA then almost everything simply closed at night (and Saturday afternoons and all day Sundays) and, if we wanted to stay up late then we’d usually arrange a get-together at someone’s house. A few pubs and clubs stayed open late too but were usually expensive and outside my working class budget. The roadhouses often stayed up serving food until an hour or so after the last movies ended. They, like the drive-in movies, were almost everywhere. You could just drive down most main streets in most towns and there’d be one. Pull in for burgers, chips, milkshakes etc. No booze served, but we used to get tanked up before then and usually stopped at the roadhouse to wind it down again. The better ones would play music over the Tannoy system and some of the guys and girls would dance around the cars. It was pretty cool, most of the time anyway. Occasionally there would be a disagreement and sometimes a bit of a punch-up. But regular trouble-makers would be evicted by the staff and the regular customers would always back the staff up and assist them.
The roadhouses were a great meeting place for the custom car scene too, usually Sunday evenings were a guarantee to find a meeting of one or many clubs. They’d park in a row on one side of the car park and open up their bonnets to show off. The cops used to be lazy on Sunday nights after a busy weekend and make themselves scarce so the car drivers used to peel away one by one and meet up elsewhere for street drag racing on a quiet back-road somewhere. Great fun once they got to know you and let you tag along. Further down Ontdekkers Road it was the Americano, this end was The Springbok, in Alberton it was The Casbah and the far end of Jules Street down Malvern way was the Pure & Cool. A terrific number of second hand car showrooms used to proliferate down Jules Street, attracting lots of browsing car lovers and lots of “dicing” between the lights. Great fun, cheap and mostly harmless late at night. At the entrance to Melville was Pan Burgers, where all of the items on the menu had a Peter Pan connection, if only by name. They made the best french fries in the whole universe. I was arrested there by the security company while trying to get to third base in the back seat of my mum’s borrowed Audi in a dark corner of the car park. Bastards.
There are still a few of them around, one is not far from my current home. But being served by an overweight, middle aged […] woman named Mavis shuffling over to the car, swollen ankles forced into tired slippers is somehow not the same as the memory of those mini-skirted, roller skating, honey-tanned teen waitresses of my youth.
We had to plan everything well ahead of time in those days. It was impossible to buy petrol after hours, cigarettes, bread, etc. For some bizarre reason you could only buy batteries at a pharmacy. And not after 6pm, they were locked away, even at the late-night chemist. Heaven only knows what the government of the time thought that we would do with after-hours batteries that we couldn’t do during office hours! And only pharmacies sold meths too, you had to show ID and sign a ledger when buying it, in Cape Town where I grew up, anyway. I only realised this when I wanted to buy some for my little Mamod steam engine. I know that hoboes drink it but I never saw how that would stop them, or even control them. These days, of course, buying meths is almost as easy as buying cocaine or LSD ;p
There were no ATMs either so if you ran out of cash you were in big trouble. One evening the staff at Mike’s Kitchen in the centre of Jhb city made me leave my date there as surety while I went home to get my wallet. Really.
FYI: The Author did return for his Date and they went on to enjoy a long and memorable relationship. Now that’s Love for you.
Of course if you were in a new town then you could find out where the local “spots” were by making a quick callout on channel one nine That’s when CB radio was really in demand, we had no internet, no cell phones, pretty poor communications all round really. CB was brill and filled a gap perfectly. And it was soooo cool, lol. And of course it was perfect for the bacon report. We used to refer to the old Gatsometer speed traps with the pneumatic lines across the road as “spaghetti”. So we would call in for regular spaghetti reports when in a hurry but wanting to avoid the plod. The post ofice used to control the licencing and operation in those days. They would have monitoring vans cruising around all over the place listening for illegal, high-powered and unlicenced radios. If they caught you with a radio exceeding 4 watts (IIRC) or an unlicenced radio or using the CB to help commit some kind of crime then they would track you down and literally jam a spike through it and turn it into a colander. And yes, giving a spaghetti report was considered to be a crime, I believe. Although I never knew anyone that was prosecuted for it, or even arrested.
I sometimes used to make up a temporary fake “handle” if I was speeding or up to any mischief, otherwise I was “Grabbit” or just Coop. And often, as a courtesy, you would arrange to meet up with someone who had been helpful with directions and offer them a drink or a Coke or a plate of chips. And often they (and sometimes other listeners) would meet up at the place where you were directed to and have a chat or speak face to face. Sometimes to be social and others to get the real directions of a secret or clandestine location that they didn’t want to broadcast on air. I fear that these days some people may use CB to locate and mug the strangers in town, but maybe I’m just being too cynical. Generally speaking CB users were always very helpful and willing to go out of their way to help.
I’m a product of a later generation, but I thoroughly enjoy indulging in the ways of the past, as presented to me by those who lived it.
After all these years, and with all that we have at our beck & call today, I still can’t help feeling that somewhere, somehow, society has gone horribly wrong. No matter how many older than I tell it, it seems to me that, when viewed in comparison, perhaps the best has been; and gone?
What say you?