We had asbestos heaters on the walls in our Louisa Street residence in Doornfontein, Johannesburg. The res was in the shadow of the not-yet-completed Ponte tower – the 50-story residential cylinder up on the hill that became famous and notorious for varying reasons over the years.
Ponte loomed above us. It was still being built then.
Late one night we woke up to yelling and cursing. Thick smoke billowed into our room, so we rushed out to see wassup. Glen Barker and Louis Slabbert’s room was on fire! Glen’s clothes, his bedside table, the linoleum floor and the ceiling were ablaze. We soon put it out and, coughing and spluttering, opened up the windows and doors to let the acrid, foul smoke escape.
To the amazement of the non-smokers amongst us, Louis then sat down on his bed, lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply!
One dark night in Deepest Darkest Doornfontein in the New Doornfontein Hotel pub we were playing darts.
Actually to be more exact, we were engaged in a very important international darts championship tournament, and we were in the final. We had made it through to the final by skill and courage. And imbibing. See, it was The Official Inebriated World Darts Championships of The World. Our opponents were the Sicilian Mafia who had materialised out of nowhere, tapped one of us on the shoulder and announced darkly in a sinister growl: “We play you next”. That’s how they got into the final. We didn’t dare to do anything but nod nervously.
It was like:
We were not fooled when during the important ceremony of ‘diddle for middle’ they missed the bull’s eye by about three metres and we hit bull to go off first. We knew they were simply lulling us into a false sense of security and had in fact wanted us to go first as part of a dastardly plot. This plan was executed faultlessly as we continued to whip they asses and beat them by a mile in all three rounds. Something was afoot. We got even more nervous when they appeared to accept their defeat in good spirit and retired to a corner of the bar conversing – sinisterly for Sicilians – in Portuguese.
Our lives were saved that night in that we ordered beers when the barman called ‘Last Round!’ and the Mafia didn’t. So at closing time the Mafiosi left and we stayed behind to finish our drinks, huddled in a corner as far away as we could get from the door in case it suddenly shattered and splintered under sustained machine gun fire.
The barman then escorted us out the back. Behind the bar counter, through the kitchen and out the back door into the courtyard of the New Doornfontein which was even darker than the unlit streets. We scurried home to our lavish quarters in the plush Doories residence of the Witwatersrand College for Advanced Technical Education a few blocks away, keeping to the shadows.
Once safely inside we opened the large door of the old off-white Westinghouse with ‘Fridge Over Troubled Waters’ written on it in cokie pen. Finally we, The Official Inebriated World Darts Champions of The World, could relax.
I once got mugged in Louisa Street. By Louisa Street.
Lightly inebriated, I was walking back to res from a trip to Hillbrow to spend some of my Barclays Bank student loan.
The normally dark and deserted Louisa Street in Doornfontein was dark and crowded, with parked cars lining both sides of the road. The Arena Theatre across the road from res had a show on.
Quite unexpectedly, Louisa Street suddenly leapt up and smacked me right in the face, breaking my glasses.
For some unfathomable reason it was very important that I gather all the little shards of glass from my shattered lens, so – as luck or Murphy would have it – I was on my hands and knees when the theatre ended and happy patrons streamed out into the street, their minds filled with the moral of the story (or more likely, flashes of boobs and skin – the few shows we went to had actresses acting daring) to find their cars and drive home to more salubrious areas of Johannesburg. The Arena was surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned houses, so they were probably in a bit of a hurry because of the shady reputation of the neighbourhood – and here was proof!
I was not to be put off my search though, so people had to walk and drive around me,
grovelling searching diligently in the middle of the tarmac. Next minute someone bent over me and said “What’s your name?”. The affrontery! It was Mnr “JJ” van Rensburg of the Doornfontein koshuis who was trying to help by getting one of his charges out of harm’s way. “Shwanepoel” I slurred. I spelt it out in case he didn’t know: “S – W – A – N – E – P – O – E – L” . Explaining that I probably didn’t need to gather every tiny piece as the School of Optometry would likely replace my lenses for me, he coaxed me back to the safety of the res grounds. He was weird, but had a good heart, ole JJ. We gave him sleepless nights.
As students 1974-1977 we would frequent the Casa Blanca roadhouse at the foot of Nugget Hill below Hillbrow when the pocket money arrived from home. Squeezed into Joz Simpson’s lime-green VW Beetle or Steve Reed’s beige Apache or Bobby Friderich’s white Mini Cooper S or Glen Barker’s green Toyota, we’d ask the old Elvis-looking guy with a cap, flip-up sunglasses and whispy whiskers for a burger n chips plus a coke; Or a cheeseburger chips n coke 70c, or – as Steve reminded me – “if we were flush, the Dagwood with everything including the runny fried egg. Sheer luxury. Messy, but worth it!”
This is the Casbah roadhouse
Every so often you’d be asked “Move forward” and you’d inch forward to make room for new arrivals behind you, till you reached the “finishing line” where you handed back the tray Elvis had clipped to your half-rolled-up window and drove off under the big sign on the wall: QUIET. HOSPITAL.
Many years later (OK, twenty six years later!) work took me back to Jozi and I had time to kill in my hired car so I drove around Doories and Yeoville and Hillbrow. Lunchtime I pulled in to the Casa Blanca and I SWEAR there was the exact same oke who had served us 26 years earlier, with his SAME cap, his SAME flip-up shades and his SAME whispy whiskers! Astonishing!
I told him cheeseburger chips n coke and how long have you been here?
“36 years” he said “but I’m just filling in now”.
Charged me 70c. Plus 26 years worth of inflation.