After rural Rivonia, we moved to more urban Melrose – Victoria Avenue, to be exact. I think we rented there for a couple of years before moving to Natal and dairy farming with his brother W.E.S Mansfield (Tony) outside Ixopo (Lufafa Road).
We lived in Melrose from approximately 1952 to the end of 1955. I was about 11/12 at the time. Almost diagonally opposite us was a large tract of very overgrown, undeveloped land – must have been quite a few Melrose acres. A place for boys to have fun (and get into trouble).
Opposite us lived the Lensveldts (sp?), next door were the Rosettensteins, and the house beyond that was the Bradlows. The Rosettensteins were special. The father, Leo, ran a sports fishing shop in town, and I was good friends with his sons Billy and Royce. Their whole family regularly went off to the (then little explored) islands off the Mozambique coast. They used to catch many large fishes and always came back with plenteous supplies of fish biltong. (I was jealous of them and so wished they would invite me to join them, just once.)
Billy and Royce were also into falconry and used white mice as bait to capture falcons which they trained and flew. One weekend they helped me catch a black-shouldered kite. Ah, how I loved, and cared for that bird. One weekend we took our birds flying near Vereeniging. At some stage, my kite decided to land on a high-voltage electricity pylon, and its harness got caught in the wires. We had to leave it hanging there overnight.
The next morning it was still there. Still stuck. It was agreed that I must be brave. I went back to get my pellet gun. Then I shot my beloved bird. Its body plummeted to the ground. My bravery dissolved and my tears flowed. Those moments come back every time I see a kite hovering.
Melrose was great. My sisters, friends and I used to cycle up the road to school every day. Pridwin (boys). Kingsmead (girls). Much of the time was spent riding to and from our friend’s houses. I recall Terence Reid, and Chris Durham was good at cricket. His father had promised him a tub of Brylcreem hair styler every time he scored 50 runs. I remember the radio advert well: “Brylcreem, Brylcreem, A little dab will do ya, just rub a little in your hair.”
I have vague memories of one of them having a tree house and an underground house where we smoked the odd Springbok cigarette and drank Cokes, and later felt ill.
Alan Dashwood was the brainy one. One school report accused me of being the funny boy. “Your son would do better if he stopped trying to be the funny boy of the school.” The report did not go down well with my parents.
A couple of streets (Bute Avenue) down the road towards the Wanderers Club, lived Penny and Joan Davis and their parents. There were often a bunch of kids at their house. Quite often we played a game called Kissing Catches in their garden. I rather liked catching Penny, and she seemed to like kissing me.
The game and the kissing was totally innocent (it was many years before I would discover sex). Nevertheless, Mrs Davis was perturbed, by the kissy turn of events. Penny was a competitive swimmer. Her birthday (her 11th?) was coming up and she really really wanted to be given a swimming tracksuit for her training and races.
Mrs Davis gave Penny a choice. Stop playing that game, especially with Peter, and you will get a tracksuit for your birthday. If you don’t: no tracksuit! Perfidious Penny did not hesitate and chose the tracksuit! (At least, that is the way I remember it). For a while I was inconsolable.
Charles Atlas – Mr Universe
Most boys at that time (and now?) discover the need to prove themselves in some way. Many chose the Charles Atlas route. The former Mr Universe’s promise of ‘biceps like mine’ was widely advertised in the Superman and other comics at that time. They wrote off for more information. Not sure what happened next, but no one I knew ended up looking like Mr Atlas
Swim every day 365
I chose another route to prove myself. I don’t know what came over me but I publicly declared that I was going to swim four lengths of our short swimming pool every morning for a year. It must have been summer and I had forgotten that autumn and winter followed summer!
At first, it was a breeze. Then the water steadily got colder and colder. Near the pool was a fishpond – on many mornings the pond was frozen over and there was frost on the lawn. Often my teeth were chattering even before I jumped in for my morning swim. I did manage to swim every day and by the time the year was over it was summer and the water warm again.