Reminiscences from Tim Pullen

12 December 2010

Tim Pullen wrote:

Hello Allan, All I can say is WOW! What a wonderful website.

I have read some of the posts on your website with great interest. I was born in Durban in 1959.

For much of my childhood until 1970, I lived in my grandparent's home which was number 11 Shearer Road. As a youngster, I can remember the wrecking ball coming to Shearer Rd, and one by one demolishing the lovely old houses to make way for high rise blocks of flats. Eventually our 3 storey home was in constant twilight totally closed in by the high rise buildings.

From our front verandah, we could see Addington Hospital's rear, diagonally opposite us was the police cell block. To the right and looking down Shearer road was Point Road and endless numbers of harbour cranes mostly with big dark green flat window panes.

Point Road was very much "The Working Girl's" territory, and I remember these brightly dressed women passing our front gate, on the way to work. Sometimes we would see the same people with blood dripping from them, being taken back up Shearer Road towards Addington Hospital. The jailbirds used to yell at the brightly dressed girls as they passed the jail cell-block.

My grandfather was a dockyard stevedore and worked at the end of Point Road well within walking distance. This was before the days of containerization, when stevedores were essential to the offloading and loading of ships. I remember my grandmother inviting the Castle Line Passenger ship staff to come over and have great parties in our lounge. There was always a band, and the fun seemed to go on all night. I would have been a pre-schooler in those days and was not allowed downstairs to watch, so I used to hide on the landing upstairs and peep though the wooden slatted banisters.

As a child, I remember the female taxi drivers driving around the Point / South Beach area. These women mostly seemed to look quite strong and able to handle themselves. I seem to remember hearing a woman taxi driver called Merna had shot a passenger and killed him for some reason.

Money, or the rather the lack of it for a 10 year old boy in 1970 wasn't an issue. I could walk as far as I liked, but had to always have a coin for the "Tickey Box" in my pocket and had to be home by Noon and again at 5:30 pm

Living in the Point area was interesting, but very safe for a junior school child to explore. I had the full run of the area from the Whaling station, which used to produce the most awful horrible smell when the whales were being "processed.", all the way up to the Ocean City Ice Rink / O'Connor theatre complex.

My grandmother was a short small woman who was very fierce, and I was told by her that I was allowed to go anywhere and everywhere, but not into 1) The ocean 2) Public toilets 3) Men's bars. Funny how some things just stay with you.

The bus service was frequent and cost 1c to catch a Number 1 from South Beach or a number 2 from Point Road into the city centre. There were two sets of buses and bus-stops, right next to each other. The signs at the stops said WHITES - BLANKES and NIE BLANKES on a sign where the lettering and background colours were reversed. Very well made enamel signs those were. Everything rusted at the sea, but the enamelled signs never seemed to change.

Sundays were great, if we timed it right we would see Zulu gumboot dancers practicing for the competition. There were also Zulu "House workers" who had beige or white uniforms often with red piping around the seams. These guys also often wore huge coloured disks in their earlobes, which were stretched. Then there were hundreds and hundreds of rickshaws, some were adorned with shiny bits, and others just had a basic seat and footrest with two poles out the front.

On the South Beach, there were trampolines, with rusty old springs. Wooden deck chairs with extra thick canvas to cope with the annual influx of Transvaalers' rotund bodies. Ugly black floating lilos, stood in rows with huge white numbers painted on them. The fence along the pavement was "a government issue green" painted wooden structure, which NOTHING ate. It was impervious to wind, sun, ants, rats, cockroaches. Talking of which, I had a "Soft-Serve" at the XL tearoom, halfway though eating the cone, looked down and saw 1/2 a roach in it. What a terrible experience!!

My uncle was a life guard and I thought that every lifesaver was going to report me if I even put a toe in the water. I was given a small red floppy plastic tube, with a metal rivet on either side, a metal stick poked through the fueselage, and two rotating flimsy wings pushed onto the rod. A ball of string and a gust of wind and with the same noise of an egg beater, this red and white toy went up, stayed up until the gust of wind died down, then rapidly fell to the ground and usually broke. If I ever find the person who invented that, I'm going to do something to him.

The signboards kept people of colour off the beaches, with exception of the Indian "Peanuts Popcorns and ToffeeHapple" sellers. Cooldrinks came in glass bottles, Ice cream was A) Cup B) Eskimo Pie c) Rocket. The Rocket was good, because it had 2 sticks and cost less than a cup. There were also a few Zulu carriers, who used to collect the rubber lilos from the waves, and carry the things back to the storage. These guys also had to carry wooden umbrellas and chairs around, but were not allowed to sit on the sand.

The LIDO - someone mentioned a homosexualist, who played a Hammond organ elsewhere on your site.

This was correct. Harry Shakespeare was his name, he played a Hammond organ model M3 and had it squashed against an upright piano, so that he could play both at the same time. Harry had a huge collection of hats, a huge personality. When he eventually got old, he went into an old aged home, where he appointed himself as entertainment director, organising bus trips and outings. The legend goes that Harry died on one of these outings.

You couldn't mention Harry's name in music or theatre circles for decades afterwards without everyone erupting in a loud roar. Harry would have been called outrageous, even by today's more enlightened norms. I never met Harry, but anyone who mentions him does so with kind words and laughter. What a hell of a way to be remembered.

I worked for Hammond Organ years later, and had to replace keys on Harry Shakespeare's Hammond M3." The sea sand blown in over the years had worked like sandpaper and worn right through the bakelite / plastic keys.

The beach photographer was some guy called SCOTTY. He was very much part of the landscape to the point where in my minds eye, I can still see him standing next to the wooden planks cut-out in various shapes to put your head though.

Next to Scotty's studio at the Lido, was a kiosk that made Durban Rock... These were tubular red and white sweets that had WELCOME TO DURBAN all the way though the sweet. How did they do this?

The highlight of any child's year in those days was a visit to MARJORIE CHASE ON ICE - Pantomime at the ice rink or the children's Christmas show at the Alhambra theatre.

Whilst many things have changed, there is the wonderful circular neon light COCA COLA advert attached to a hotel side wall, blinking away year after year. It is so distinctive, that it can be seen all the way to beyond MINI-TOWN and SNAKE PARK.[It was on the side of the Fairhaven Hotel but had gone when I last looked. Mind you, so had the Snake Park. Ed.]

Some of the live bands are also mentioned on your site, I think that special mention needs to go to THE BLARNEY BROTHERS who are still as popular as always and going strong. Durban had a live entertainment second to none. One could go to hear Geoff Kearns at the Diamond Circle at the Malibu Hotel, then pop into Fathers Mustache to hear The Blarneys, then down to Club Med and heard one of the big bands of the time, Thyrd Eye, Ballyhoo, Bite, jeees the list just goes on. I was part of the entertainment circuit during the 80's and 90's with various bands including "Larry and the Lounge Lizards"

Having been lucky enough to have travelled internationally very often, nothing anywhere compares with good old Durbs.

I was told once that Durban is the worlds best kept secret. How true.

Tim followed-up with a second update:

Hello Allan, I forgot to expand a bit on the "Little Top"

The original "Little Top" was a wood and blue canvas structure that had to be assembled every time it was used. If I arrived at the little top early enough I would get front row and stand a good chance of getting a free ice cream cup. I guess that part of the excitement was watching the platforms being wheeled out and the tent / stage erected.

"Uncle Cyril" was the compare and sort of leader of the proceedings. Uncle Cyril used to also have his own spot with an authentic "Punch and Judy" show. (Which I hated as a child and would probably still hate now.) Cyril Sugden lived until a very old age and only died a few years ago, and was a singer / performer right until the end, performing with other veteran musicians like Josephine Du Bois.

The little top had some top artists and musicians working for them, one name Jack Dowel (Pianist / Organist Conductor Arranger) comes to mind. Who was imported from England to play the great Wurlitzer organs in the movie houses, where the organ used to rise up out of the pit.

There were talent contests, fattest person contests, lucky legs contests, ice cream feeding contests where 2 people used to team up and then feed, or rather attempt to feed each other.

Once Clover very kindly replaced the rickety old tent and stage with the new permanent structure, something about the Little Top died, and it was never the same. Perhaps the angles of viewing were too steep, because the stage was higher, or perhaps the time had just come. TV in South Africa was still to arrive, and gobble up a lot of the way of life as we knew it.\

14-09-2013: There has been a response to this article and I have put it up here.

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