Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Where does the time go? A blog update is definitely overdue, so here goes.

I've been slogging away at my book for the last couple weeks and I think it's getting there. Wish I had an editor to reassure me, though. One of these days I may opt for a professional, but money's tight.

Haven't been doing too much that doesn't involve aggravated carpal tunnel, but I have just finished reading a book I loved. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow. You'd wonder how anyone could make the story of two home-bound hoarders so gripping, but he pulls it off brilliantly. Check it out. Talking of writing, below is a little vignette from my long-ago childhood in South Africa:

Mention tickies or tackies to any South African of a certain age and a look of nostalgia will sweep over them. Doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, English, Afrikaans, Indian, Black or somewhere in between. Tickies and tackies sound a lot alike, are uniquely South African, but are otherwise completely unrelated.

Tackies were our footwear of choice – usually our only footwear – growing up. They were white, rubber-soled canvas shoes – at least mine started out white when we brought them home from Cuthbert’s Shoe Shop. It didn’t take long for them to change color, coated with mud from the hand-dug pit that was our clubhouse, droppings from the chicken coop, and coal from the coal heap. George, our houseboy, would sit in the sun once a week, scrubbing at my tackies and applying a thick layer of white, toothpaste-like goop in a vain attempt to return them to their former glory.

When they eventually gave up the ghost, my mother and I would catch the double-decker bus into town to visit Cuthbert’s Shoe Shop. I’d get an extra spit and polish, knees scrubbed, hair brushed and a dress instead of shorts. My mom would wear her hat, matching gloves, handbag and heels. She’d drape her fox fur over her shoulder and its glass eye would stare angrily down at me from its resting place on her bosom.

The best part about Cuthbert’s was the X-Ray machine. Once the saleslady had helped you ease into a new pair of tackies and tie the laces, you could run over to the machine in one corner. It was the size of a large jukebox. It had a couple steps to climb and then you grabbed onto two handles on the sides to steady yourself, and slid your newly-tackied feet into a gap at the bottom. At eye-level, there was a screen with padded edges to rest your face against. As you peered into the screen, a magical shimmering green image of your very own foot skeleton appeared! There were all the little bones joined together in five neat rows, surrounded by the soles of your new tackies! That way you could tell how much wiggle room your toes had. ”Just make sure there’s at least an inch between your big toe and the tackie!” my mother would caution. “We have to allow for growth.”

I always hoped the first pair I tried on wouldn’t meet her exacting standards, so that I could get another chance at the X-ray machine with the next pair. By the time I left the shop with my new shoes, I would probably have sent a geiger-counter into apoplexy.

Well, that’s tackies. Then there were tickies (no relation).

Tickies were little silver coins, about the size of a dime. There were two tickies to a sixpence. There was even a dance named after them. The tickie-draai was a sort of Afrikaans square dance where you had to do tight turns. Literally translated it meant “turn on a tickie.”

Keith and Peter from next door and I each got a tickie allowance every Saturday. We would hike down the road to the corner Koolie shop to spend our tickies. The Indian shopkeeper lady, with the red painted dot on her forehead, would wait patiently as we dithered between the Suchard Sugas, the Smarties, and the Lucky Packets. I really loved Smarties but I was seriously collecting the colored plastic charms that came in the Lucky Packets, so it was a difficult choice. I had a cigar box half filled with charms: Pluto, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Pinocchio, Donald Duck, and Cinderella. I would take the box to school and swap the doubles with the other girls. Of course Keith and Peter wouldn’t be caught dead playing with charms, so it was an easier choice for them.

When I graduated from Kindergarten, my father decided I was ready for an educational trip to Pretoria, the capital city, which was about an hour’s drive away. He wore his fedora and good grey flannels with the cuffs and suspenders, and I had on my new pink candy-stripe dress with lace around the collar. It was the first time just my dad and I had ever gone anywhere together. We climbed into the big white Chevy and I knelt on the front seat with my hands on the dash to get a better view. We left the town behind and drove past small farms, then the Snake Park, the dynamite factory, the Willows Picnic Grounds and finally into the city of Pretoria, with purple Jacaranda trees lining the streets.

We toured the Government offices in the lovely Union Buildings, high on the hill above the city. It had walls of sandstone and a red tiled roof and its graceful curving architecture glowed like a crown above the city below. I loved the buildings and the aloe gardens, but the Government part was pretty boring!

Next we visited the Voortrekker Monument. The design of the towering square monument reminded me of our big wooden radio at home, but of course way bigger. All around the walls of the monument were carvings depicting the Great Trek by the Boers. Covered wagons pulled by teams of oxen, women and girls in long dresses with big sun bonnets, bearded men with rifles fighting off the attacking Zulus who were only wearing animal skins, even dead bodies with
assegais sticking out of their chests.

Finally, we went to the mint to watch money being made – literally. There were guards at the door and we went on a guided tour so they could be sure we didn’t steal any of the money. The guide had to shout above the noise of the huge machines that cut and stamped the coins – half-crowns, shillings, sixpences and tickies. Water sprayed to keep the metal cool, and the newly- minted coins traveled on conveyer belts that dropped them into big bins.

When we got outside, my father was grinning. “Guess what,” he said. “I think I’m the first person to steal a coin out of the mint!”

He bent down and felt in his trouser cuff. Sure enough, there was a buckled blank tickie that must have shot out of the machine, missed the conveyer belt and landed in his trouser cuff. He’d felt it land, but didn’t say a thing. He handed the tickie to me. “You should keep this tickie to remind you of today,” he smiled.

And I have. I wear it on a silver bracelet so I’ll never forget the first excursion I ever took with my father.