Living in Rivonia in the late ’40s and the ’50s, we needed education. Initially. we were subjected to a horrible Belgian governess by name of Melita. She soon left.
A short time at a local school (my sister Vicky remembers is, I don’t) and then to Pridwin, and my two sisters to Kingsmead (both private schools in Rosebank). Despite the excellent headmaster, Colin Melville, I don’t think I learned much at the school. I was, I now think, an undiagnosed ADHD sufferer.
One of clearest memories of Pridwin I have is of a report I got at the end of one term: “Peter would do much better if he stopped trying to be the funny boy of the school.” Not amused father.
Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the newspapers my father brought home from the office. I used to read both The Star and the Rand Daily Mail from cover to cover every weekday, and also poured over the Sunday papers.
Whilst we were in Rivonia we travelled to and from school in a bus that went past the top of our long driveway. It was driven by Ben, a man with many little holes in the back of his neck (war shrapnel?). Ben was kind. If we were late he would hoot and wait for us to run up the road and climb puffing aboard.
The golden goddess
Ben’s bus also returned in the afternoon. But I went through a phase during which I kept on missing his (the only) bus. The cause of the bus missing was a delicious, long-haired, golden blonde, skinny goddess of a girl – Gillian by name. She was the daughter of the deputy headmaster Gwen Long.
We sometimes spent hours after school just standing next to a big gum tree innocently chatting, and chatting. As a result, I missed the bus, again and again.
The solution seemed clear enough: hitchhike!
Admittedly, it was a much safer world then, than it is now (I cannot recall stories of rape, women and child abuse in the newspapers) but perhaps such things were just not reported on back them. Anyway, it seemed safe enough, and really like a free Uber today.
Free in the sense that I got a lift within minutes of sticking out my thumb! AND, the drivers invariably dropped me at the top of our long dusty driveway.
But still, hitchhiking many miles through wildish countryside was not perhaps the greatest plan – and so thought the caring people who stopped to pick up this 10/11 year old hitchhiker. Much of the conversation en route was about the safety of youngsters hitchhiking. Many asked: “do your parents know you do this?” I always answered yes, but tried to cross my fingers when I did so.
They did not. They found out. I was in trouble! Clearly my parents felt the same as the people who had been giving me lifts.
But I missed the bus, again and again. And I got lifts quickly, again and again. And then we left Rivonia.
I guess we were sad when we had to leave Rivonia, but Melrose and a house with a swimming pool beckoned. Also being to cycle to school and living closer to school friends were additional attractions.
Soon after we moved to Melrose, a cat discoverd my birds’ egg collection, smelt something interesting, and walked all over it, breaking most of them. I was heartbroken.
I am not proud of the all those birds nests that I had disturbed – nor of the many birds I had shot with my pellet gun. It was a different era. Birds were plentiful. But still! In a rather destructive way, through egg collecting and climbing all those trees, I developed a close bond with nature – a bond I never lost. Nowadays I am happiest when walking along a river bank, an uncrowded beach or through a forest.