1976. Briefly, Sheila and I lived in the farmhouse that she had rented from pig-farmer, Dr Blumenthal, near East London, Eastern Cape. After the long road-trip from the Northern Transvaal, we had unloaded our two pigs, Emma and Ferreira, at Sheila’s dad, Christopher Maling‘s farm not far away and swept the trailer clean, but Mrs Blumenthal smelled the trailer and screeched at us:
“Where’re the faeces!? Where’re the faeces!”
Which was fair enough, considering the possibility of spreading disease, but somehow it was so funny! She was very attached to her pigs. She used to sit on sows backs to see if they were on heat.
We moved out and rented a farm called Kransview, in the bend of the Kwelera River in the Mooiplaas district. We installed Emma and Ferreira in the pigsties which I repaired, bought a hundred day-old broiler chicks, and cut the existing chrysanthemums and dahlias for Saturday market in East London. The income was scant.
Sheila made use of her Artificial Insemination certificate by inseminating for dairy farmers on her way into East London before her work as an architectural draftsman for John C. Parkin, Architect.
Often, John could not afford to pay her, so gave her a bottle of whisky from cases given him by satisfied customers. When the tax-man came to visit, Sheila and the secretary would keep him occupied while John left by the secret panel door that exited in the passage opposite the stairs and made his escape. Charming as the man could be, Sheila’s little bakkie could not run on whisky, so financially, things were very tight.
With this in mind, nobody could blame Sheila’s anger when I went to a farm sale to buy a tractor with our meagre reserves and came home with a piano. Its case was beautiful rose-wood, but it had a wooden frame and no tuner would touch it. The latest tuning date was written on the frame in pencil – 1898.
Ever tried ploughing with a piano?
Sheila was, and is, a music fanatic, and I felt that I had to make up for the fact that I had taken her away from the instrument that had been maybe the best part of her old life. But the romantic gesture reinforced the fact that I am not a real farmer’s backside.
I had put mesh across the open shed and was raising broiler chickens which I would take to sell on the roadside in the township of Mdantsane, the second largest township in South Africa after Soweto. But 1976-77 were turbulent times, and one Sunday a black man stopped his jalopy next to me to warm me to get out of there as the residents were rioting. They had overturned a veggie-vendor’s lorry just down the street and were setting it alight.
I never went back to Mdantsane, and for a while crossed into the Transkei to sell the chickens in Butterworth. When I got a job as a salesman for a small factory in Queenstown that made stock-licks, it made sense to move to the centre of my district. We hired a farmhouse in the hills fifteen kilometres from Cathcart. With us went our four dogs, two cats, two cows and Sheila’s two boys, Nicholas Simkin (4) and Timothy Simkin (3).