“4 Hillside” was a lovely big old communal house in Parktown, Johannesburg run by teachers (or former teachers) in the Hillside Road cul-de-sac on the corner of Empire Road. Hillsdie still is a leafy lane completely engulfed by big old Plane or Jacaranda trees, a lovely spot. The house was a lovely old white single story gabled family home with a circular driveway that had seen better days.
The inhabitants were:
Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire – Alpha Romeo, sort of red, I think. Yellow?
Mike Doyle and Shale – faded blue Land Rover before the word Defender was invented. Or needed.
Granger Grey – always searching – grey VW beetle. Six-foot-plenty he was shaped like Obelix and towered over all of us. The only time he looked normal-sized was when his younger brother ‘Tiny’ visited and towered over him.
Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins – and various, including part-timer the slender ‘Vaalwater’ – VW beetle, I think.
Jos Den___ and the lovely Brenda – Alpha Romeo.
Hangers-on included Norbs – Norbert someone or someone Norbert? I forget. A bearded character who would mimic Charles Fortune the cricket commentator to a T and have the crowd on the grassy knoll at Castle corner in stitches as he chose the most exciting moment (and cricket has few of those) to talk about the birds, the trees and the shadows falling across the ground. I still sing Norbs’ John Denver song “You Philip My Dentures . . Like a Night in the Florist . . .”
The house was run by our Malawian butler, chef and character, the smiling Gerald or ‘Gerrard’, whose ambition was to be a tycoon. He called Coolsie ‘Boss Donut’. Never forgave us for thinking his duties included lawnmowing. Decent people would have hired a gardener and placed him under Gerrard’s command.
You would think teachers would have brains, but no, they allowed an optometry student into their hitherto blissful existence: Clive Nel of Kokstad and the ever-suffering Sandy Norton. Clive was allowed in as he offered to take a run-down tin shed annex and convert it into habitable quarters. And he did just that! Soon the shed was carpeted in fine vintage carpets, Rembrandts and Monets on the corrugated walls and makeshift shelves stocked with fine wines. He was generous with his wine was Nel so soon the teachers were (very) happy to have him! Also Norton was an asset which (almost) balanced Nel’s faults. White Mazda R8 CCW some numbers. I’m not kidding except for the Rembrandts and Monets.
The rot having set in, the next student to sully the joint was the inimitable Glen Barker, non-farming sugar and jersey cow farmer from Umzinto and Dumisa. Green Toyota Corona NX 106, inherited from Gran. They also had NX 101 and 102 and 103 and 104 and 105 – you get the picture: Old money in the Umzinto and Dumisa district. “Alexandra County”, Glen would remind us, knowing that behind the boerewors curtain we didn’t have counties, we had “distriks”.
Then they let me in – grey and grey Opel Rekord OHS 5678. I was given a shoe cupboard next to the spare bathroom and the second back door. So now it was down to four teachers and three students – a delicate balance.
Leibs was ‘doing up’ an old Jeep Station Wagon in the backyard. Mainly that meant squeezing a V8 engine into it. – (internet pics). This bad habit brought another optom student in as a day visitor. Achim Scholtz who would have been more welcome if he’d brought the fine German dispensing optician Eva along. But she was too wise to get greasy under the Jeep. Achim parked his Jeep next to Leibs’ so they could get greasy and talk ball bearings together.
The problem of seven men all wearing boring black socks was ‘solved’ by building a long shelf in the long passage where all socks were placed after washing. Help yourself.
The problem of feeding seven hungry men was solved by Gerrard cooking and placing the food in the oven. First man to crack and start eating had to divide the food onto seven plates and only then was he allowed to eat. This led to lots of circling around and cagey watching while pretending to be unconcerned, hoping someone else would crack first.
On steak nights the potato and veg would be in the oven, the uncooked steaks high up on a shelf. This led to the memorable night when Granger cracked first. He was ravenous, so he divided the veg into seven and cooked his steak and ate it. Then he ate just one more. Then one more and then he finished the seventh and last steak and was overcome by remorse. Jumping into his grey VW beetle he roared off to Fontana in Highpoint in Hillbrow, bought three roast chickens off their famous rotiserie to make good, and rushed back, flattening one whole chicken by himself en-route. This caused him to reflect, so he joined Weight-Watchers and became a regular at the weigh-ins. Getting back from a weigh-in one evening he sank down onto the couch in the TV room with a huge sigh and, reaching down to his shoes with difficulty, removed a thick wad of newspaper from each. He had made himself taller so the nazis at Weight-Watchers would give him a higher target weight!
Dorianne Berry used to read the news and one night she came on in a strapless dress. The camera stayed above the dress line making her look maybe naked! The bachelors got all excited “Hey! Maybe we’re going to see Dorianne’s berries!”. The camera zoomed out and disappointment set in.
We had a student braai next to the pool one night and Granger arrived home pickled and ravenous and came over for a beer. Staring hypnotically at the meat on the fire he started swaying. We formed a wall round the fire, keeping a close eye on the large man as we knew he had needs. His eyes glazed over and we watched in fascination as his swayed in gravity-defying fashion! He swayed forward till you just knew he was going to platz on his face, then slowed, stopped for long seconds. Then swayed back till he passed vertical and leaned backwards where you just knew he going to crack the back of his skull but no, the pendulum slowed, then stopped. A long pause and the cycle repeated. An amazing spectacle was Big Granger!
Others also got involved in unorthodox car-restoration at 4 Hillside, but of a very different, alcohol-fuelled nature!
The old house is gone now – Hannover Reinsurance’s expensive headquarters now fill the space! Bah!