Mischief, Mishaps and other Memories of days gone by … Part One

What mischief could a child get up to in a rural town in the sixties, you may ask? Weren’t children supposed to be better behaved then than now? The harmful attractions of today were little known of and mischief was mostly the “innocent kind”. When I think of my town in terms of mischief, I have visions of the postman, the town’s two dams and the nearby forest, cheating on the garden irrigation system, and the water fiscal… the town meanie who chased children when they so much as looked at his dams, playing “toktokkie” (knocking on people’s doors and running away), stealing neighbors’ fruit…

The town’s dams supplied domestic gardens with irrigation water. Most houses had orchards and vegetable gardens. We had 23 apricot trees in our backyard, as well as pomegranate, kumquat and lemon trees. My father planted broad beans and potatoes and onions and there were neat irrigation rows in between everything. At the back of each garden was the “sloot” (cemented irrigation channel) and each end had a sluice stopper made of thin cast-iron. When it was your turn, you opened the sluice to the right, and closed the one on the left, and the water streamed into the garden rows via pipes built into the channel. Each house got 15 minutes, that was the law!

Fiskaal : The fiskaal was an officer of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope in the 18th Century. The modern equivalent is a police officer. In some rural towns the person controlling irrigation and all that goes with it, is still called the fiscal.

Toktokkie : Various species of African beetle of which the males strike their abdomens on the ground in order to attract mates that respond with their own tapping, thereby making a rapid tapping sound (“tok, tok”). Sounds like knocking on a door.

Mischief : The postman wore khaki shorts, had a bald head and rode a bicycle to deliver mail. His name was Towie Lip. We added the “lip” because his lower lip stuck out like a lip we’ve never seen before. We sat waiting for him, on sturdy branches and hidden amongst the leaves of the oak trees in front of our house. We were loaded with bags of acorn ammunition and I still feel sorry for his scalp to this day. Yet he never complained or tried to figure out what was going on.

Mischief : Old fashioned foefie slide : Ropes tied to tree branches, swinging, letting go and falling into the forbidden dam on a hot summers day. Kleilat – using mud from the forbidden dam wall to form a lump of clay, moulding and adding it to a bendable twig, a mighty swing of the arm and hitting your target with such a smack it stung like a bee sting. (Usually the girls were the ones going home with red bruises all over.) 😦 Getting caught in the act by the fiskaal and running for your life – falling over tree stumps and stubbing your toes against rocks and stones all the while sobbing with fear and wiping snotty noses with shirt sleeves …

Mischief : Playing with matches. Setting alight a whole field of dry grass and bushes and kindling, all the neighbors putting out the fire, waiting for father to rush home from work, waiting with dreaded anticipation for what was sure to be a painful punishment. (My brothers, not I) 😉 😀 The field was opposite our house. Our street was the last in that block so there was a tar road, the field, the dams and then the forest.

Trivia : I remember feeling sorry for the rice ants or white ants (they’re termites not ants, but they look like pieces of dry rice.) They build these fantastic mounds out of soil and their nests underneath, almost a meter down. There were quite a few on the field across the road. They are famous for “air-conditioning” their nests.

I remember my dad telling me all about a book that was written by a famous South African writer, Eugene Marais. The Soul Of The Ant. He compares the termite nest to an animal, the organs of which are not “united” like those of a human being. Some form the mouth and digestive system and operate as a unit. Some form the defence force unit and they have claws and horns. Some form the reproduction unit and operate as such, independently. Fascinating stuff, the book is available in PDF Format and was translated into English.

Mischief : I’ll never forget the day my youngest brother gave the neighbor’s little girl a small hot pepper (must’ve been a habanero or something) and told her it is an old-fashioned orange. She took a big bite and screamed and screamed and screamed. She screamed till her father came home from work. She screamed her way into our house, clinging to her father’s hand, waiting for justice. I remember my father apologizing and being polite, I remember the tiny smile on his face as they left (he didn’t like the neighbor much and neither did we). My brother was only 7 or 8, I don’t think he knew better… or maybe he did! 😉

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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