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Out and about in town
By Allan Jackson - 20 June 2009

The disco era had already started by the time I was let out on the town and I spent many nights having my ears bashed in one or other smoky disco. Our crowd spent a fair bit of time at Swingles at the Los Angeles Hotel, which may have been the first Disco in Durban, I'm not sure.

We also went quite often to El Castilian, at the Lonsdale Hotel, Travolta's (later Club Med) at the Killarney Hotel and Cats Whiskers. Conversation and, therefore, picking up girls was difficult due to the volume of the music played at those venues.

We often went to the Diamond Circle at the Malibu Hotel which was a lot quieter, had no couvert charge, and was often frequented by upcountry holiday makers of the female persuasion. It was quite strange how members of the group seldom seemed to get lucky when other members were around to witness the feat.
“Met this cool chick last night.....”

It has to be said that we were not total fans of discos and that we went along almost solely to meet members of the opposite sex. We were dense teenagers but it eventually seeped in our minds that we were not disco animals and highly unlikely to impress the opposite sex enough to be able to score on anything more than on an occasional basis.

We then took to going along to bars which provided a blend of popular music and comedy, including an early favourite venue, the Jolly Roger, at the Cumberland Hotel. I remember that Les Hanslo was the entertainer and I learned the words to a lot of songs, including Dinah Show Us a Leg, The Ball at Kirriemiur, and the German Officers Crossed the Rhine.

This was in the late 1970s and we in Durban were truly spoilt for choice when it came to music and comedy. One of my favourites was Joe Parker, at the Lonsdale Hotel Pool Deck, and many other places, whose classic comedy sketch, aimed at us younger guys, was a graphic warning of what to expect when we got to the army.

“The corporal checks you out, says nothing, and you can feel your underpants getting chewed away.....” Not quite as funny when it happened to you but, more cheerfully, remember how he always ended his shows singing The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, with appropriate sound effects?

Clown and Glam appeared at Father's Moustache at the Malibu, Alan Gold at the Robert E. Lee at the Los Angeles, and there was a regular parade of British acts at the Cockney Pride. Chart-topping band Copperfield made regular appearances but, even without any comedy at all, the Blarney Brothers were undoubted kings of the singalong scene in Durban.

I saw them here and there around town but mostly what I remember was going to the Barn at the Athlone Hotel, where they appeared a couple of times a week for many years. The Barn was great because they would allow you to buy beer by the six-pack and sing as loudly as you liked.

I also remember that the Barn played host to the Sunday night film shows which were, for so long, a feature of our social scene because you couldn't get a drink in a hotel on a Sunday unless you had a meal as well. I seem to think that the Barn sold braai packs which you cooked for yourself before settling down to the film and inevitable dash to the pub, whenever they changed the reel on the projector.

We also regularly attended the Sunday evening film shows at the Berea Hotel which was a favourite stamping ground of ours’. The Berea had been a family favourite ever since early childhood, when I had been horrified to discover the existence of monkeygland sauce on the menu.

The hotel was cheap and cheerful and, because it was located in the suburbs, seemed a good bet to our crew when we discovered beer and had to grapple with drinking and driving. Not that we had anything against driving while intoxicated, you understand, it just seemed more prudent to do it closer to home.

The pub at the Osborne Hotel, across Berea Road, was also popular and we also paid occasional visits to the beer garden at the Los Angeles Hotel and to the veranda at the Caister Hotel. For one reason or another, we didn’t often visit the Milner Gardens Hotel, but I can clearly remember one occasion when a friend said the wrong thing there, and I really thought we were going to have to fight.

I know that there was a section of Durban youth society that was involved in gangs and fighting and I even knew a couple of people involved in that scene, but I can hardly remember any violent incidents at any of the venues or house parties we went to.

Drinking was an important part of our social activity but it didn’t often get out get out of hand [mum might disagree] and, although we were undoubtedly noisier that we should have been, everyone more or less behaved themselves. There were exceptions, of course, with one friend having been observed vomiting on the veranda of the Malibu and another casting up his accounts under a table at El Castilian.

Food was almost as important and the choice of what to eat on the way home from a drinking session was often hotly debated. First on the list was usually a stop at Hansa’s Food Market in Grey Street, where we would order bunny chow all round, red mutton sausages and milk to cool the resulting fire.

The bunnies were generally consumed at the yacht mole before we set out for home and I regret to say that we often threw the mutton bones at the moored yachts. On other occasions, we would stop off at Leyden’s in Berea Road, which catered to the late night trade.

They offered a variety of pre-made foods, like hamburgers, wrapped in cling film, which they would reheat in a microwave. These were known to us, and to the staff, as sweaties and were pretty unappealing, but they tasted great after a skin-full of beer.

Thinking back on it, we led a charmed social life in almost complete safety and, although we must have kept our parents awake at nights, very few of us came to any great harm. There were practically no drugs on the scene and there was no such thing as having to make sure that our drinks weren’t spiked, for example.


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