The previous entry in the diary contains a response to a question posed some time ago by my informant David Rastall. I searched out David’s address to let him know about it and was absolutely mortified to find that he had written in in 2009 with some of his memories and that I had never posted them. Site regulars will know that the timekeeping around here can be pretty lax but three years of forgetting is extreme, even by those loose standards.
Unfortunately, David’s e-mail address is no longer current*** and I haven’t been able to contact him but here, at last, is his contribution:
Here are some reminiscences of my days in Durban circa 1954 to ’59. They are memories of childhood: Durban through the eyes of a twelve-year-old.
When we first moved to Durban (from Johannesberg) in 1955 we stayed briefly in a flat in Greenwood Park (“Glenwood Heights”), and shortly afterwards we moved to an address on Marriott Road: No. 7 Lugano Court. Living on Marriott Road we had a panoramic view of the racecourse, and the rest of Durban all the way down to the sea. It was a more “flat” vista than today, as most of the tall buildings hadn’t yet been built (typical childhood impression: do you remember a hotel just to the north of the beachfront hotels and a few blocks inland, which was the only one painted blue?). Off to the right we could see the tip of the Bluff.
So, boyhood memories…I remember riding my bike to school up Marriott Road to the top of the hill, turning right, then along Musgrave road, to Innes Road (I think…) and finally down Lambert Road to Clifton Preparatory School (I remember every nook and cranny of that place!).
I remember West Street, with three big department stores: Payne Bros., Anstey’s and…I’m blanking on the name, but I think it was Henley’s. [It must have been Greenacre’s surely? Ed.] I remember there was an arcade right next to Henley’s (or whatever it was), where there was a sports shop run by the cricketer Roy McLean. I actually got to shake hands with him. At twelve years old, that was a high point! I remember when they took down the old Payne Bros sign, and replaced it with a much more modernistic facade. That facade is my chief memory of the look of West Street. I also remember there was a shop on Smith Street, right near the entrance to the Sanlam building, called Gelmar’s. That place had the most complete collection of Dinky toys and Tri-Ang train set accessories in Durban! A very important place to a twelve-year-old.
Other memories were, of course, the cinemas on Smith Street: the Princes, Playhouse, Metro (?), 20th Century and Embassy. And wasn’t there also the Picadilly, round the corner from the Embassy? Going to the pictures in the evening was a very big social occasion, I recall: it was a way to enjoy a bit of the Durban nightlife. The closest equivalent I can think of today would be going to a Broadway show. I well remember watching Lawrence Olivier in Richard III at the Playhouse, Saturday Matinees at the Princes (we sat in the one-and-fivepenny seats: first ten rows) and the Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur at the Embassy. Wasn’t the Embassy the first to introduce Cinemascope?
We used to go down the coast to Salt Rock on Sundays. There was a huge natural lagoon ringed in with rocks, where swimmers were protected from the surf. I remember on one occasion I got bored with the lagoon and went into the water from the beach, and the backwash was so strong that I was swept out to sea. There were no lifeguards there, and someone on the beach saw me being carried out, swam out there, and in classic lifesaving fashion conveyed me back to shore. To this day I’ve no idea who it was who saved my life.
Do you remember Springbok radio in the 50’s? I used to listen to Eric Egan first thing in the morning. I remember my mother listening to “Portia Faces Life.” Also a program called “Pick-a-Box” on Thursday nights, which in my childhood judgement was a silly show but tolerable, whereas Adventureman and Superman were the more sophisticated listening choices. That is, until a few years later when I discovered girls and rock ‘n roll, at which time I turned from Adventureman to Peter Lotus and the Radio Record Club! I also remember a courtroom-drama program, each episode culminating in a very cultured English voice inviting you to “considaah your verdict.” The program used as theme music, as I later recognized, the same theme music from the Perry Mason TV show.
My friends and I used to go fishing off the pier down at the yacht basin. We also found some good fishing spots on the bluff side of the harbor, nearer the back-bay area where a fleet of whalers were tied up. I was fascinated by the size of the harpoons mounted on the bows. You can imagine that to a boy whose head was filled with thoughts of derring-do, those whalers represented the ultimate in high adventure! Also a number of Sunderland flying boats were kept in that part of the bay. It was a common sight to see those flying over Durban, and also the Harvard (or possibly Hurricane?) trainers from Stamford Hill practicing formation flying.
In 1958 two things happened: we moved to Durban North, and my parents packed me off to boarding school. We lived at 37 Monteith Place, which was a moderate single-story home surrounded by mansions. I made some good friends there, but my memories of ’58 / ’59 are mostly of Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill. We lived in South Africa until November 1959, when we emigrated to the USA.
It was the end of an era for me. My memories of Durban in the old days are of a moment in time, but memories of a place which was in the process of change, resulting ultimately in the amazing city that Durban is today. But you may be certain that all the intervening years in the New World couldn’t possibly succeed in erasing the memories of boyhood in Durban.
There is already quite a lot of stuff on the site about the cinemas, beaches, music and other things that David remembers, Some of them are linked from this page.