“Welcome to your new home,” said Claire Neithercut, the warm-hearted and efficient manager of Berea Gardens, as she opened the front door of our comfortable little apartment here at Berea Gardens. “. . . and may your stay be a long and happy one,” she added with her happy smile.
That was nearly seven years ago and, really, we couldn’t be happier.
We discovered that the entire length of the wall in our bedroom opposite the expansive plate glass window, which overlooks the beautiful gardens of The Valley complex, is covered with built-in wardrobes on top of which is ample storage space for suitcases etc.
On the extreme left of this broad stretch of cupboards is a small stand-alone section comprising half a dozen small shelves and limited hanging space.
“This will be yours,” proclaimed Her Majesty, “and be sure to keep it tidy. I don’t want to have to rearrange your stuff every second day.”
Of course, she didn’t say anything of the sort!
For something to do in this capricious weather we’re been having lately, I decided to use the opportunity to stay indoors and take down an old trunk from the storage space above and clear away some of the hoarded sediment of time.
Needless to say I was distracted and failed miserably.
I am afraid I have not the quality of non-attachment required for this type of work. For most of the time I was overcome by sentimentality while browsing through this archaic assortment of clutter. It is really amazing the unlikely lumber a man gathers in his journeying.
Here is a picture of the school u15 cricket team and there we are, third from the right in the second row. Lying there are the letters written to Mom from boarding school. How can we burn them now?
Then in a puff of ancient dust, I extracted a tattered old rugby photograph in the accumulated junk which brought back nostalgic memories. It depicted a rugby team for which I played some 60 years ago when working for a newspaper in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha). Next to me was a colleague and friend who was later severely injured in a match. We met up some 25 years later when we both worked in Queenstown (now Komani).
He still walked with a limp.
Alas, he is long dead now along with many other members of that team, all sitting in that faded photo with arms folded, so young, so full of the joys of living.
Then I picked up and dusted off my Dad’s old Natal cricket cap.
With a jolt it brought back an incident long ago when I wore it while playing for Ndola against one of the mining teams. I was brought on to bowl.
At the top of my run-up after handing the cap to the umpire, I noticed the umpire and my captain deep in conversation before being summoned.
“Did you earn this cap,” asked the captain. “No Sir,” I replied.
“I had nothing else to wear in this heat,” I explained lamely.
“Then don’t ever let me see you wear it again. Do you understand?” Point taken.
A couple of other old photographs caught my attention — both connected to rowing. One was of the 1904 Durban Rowing Club crew pictured with the Grand Challenge Trophy, won at East London’s Buffalo Regatta that year. My dad, rowed bow that day.
The other was of the crack 1980 Selborne College coxed four crew, which swept all before it that year.
Smiling up at the photographer from the slim craft are Pierre Tilney, son of well known local industrialist, Corder, who was stroke. Another of the oarsmen I recognised was Graham Shelver, son of former four-time Buffalo Regatta winner and legendary Leander Rowing Club oarsman, Trevor, now a noted academic living in America.
My late son, Perry is also there, smiling out of that dusty old frame.
He later became an advocate (SC) of the High Court. That was 40 years ago! Where has the time gone?
But most intriguing was the rediscovery of an old two-shilling piece (an English florin) which has a bullet hole right through the middle.
My mother always told us that dad took it out of the top pocket of a fellow soldier killed in the trenches during WWI’s East Africa campaign.
Dad was a major in the Natal field artillery a regiment of which his father, Lt-Col RW Beningfield, was commanding officer.
It brought to mind again the utter futility of war, especially at this time when the brutality, anguish, pain, total destruction of infrastructure and the suffering of the brave people of the Ukraine in this terrible conflict thrust upon them is seen nightly on our television screens. They remain in our thoughts and prayers.
So there they repose at the bottom of a battered old trunk — these long forgotten pathetic relics of my past — a stark reminder not only of the perils of war and manly sport but that life is short — enjoy it while you may, it’s later than you think.