The Militant Nurse

1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, saw the inevitability of the re-unification of Germany, as Communism failed with the bankruptcy of Russia. Exciting times, indeed, on top of our own South African political metamorphosis.

Reichstag 1990.

Reichstag 1990.

At St. Vincent’s Hospital where Sheila worked, her fellow nurses held a meeting. Their grievances included having to work in their days off due to illness and they had no medical aid, among others. Sheila attended and took notes for the meeting, but admonished them for going behind her back and not inviting the Matron, Sister De Potter, a Belgian nun, to the proceedings. Sheila was asked to inform De Potter of the outcome, but Sheila refused, pointing out that she never got ill and, as the only white among them, was thus privileged under the Apartheid system. Unbeknownst to her, they submitted the meeting’s notes to Sister De Potter. The original, in Sheila’s handwriting!

Furious, De Potter called her into her office to accuse her of being a member of the ANC! Sheila’s contract at St. Vincent’s Hospital was not going to be renewed, she said. Although De Potter later recanted her decision, Sheila, feeling betrayed, refused to retake her post.

Her herd of milk cows kept her busy, but she now added attempts at making, cheese, beer and ginger-beer. Milk sales were a daily chore. Without her income, our finances were stretched. I sold our breeding pigs. I had bought a 4- ton truck with the idea of renting it to my company, Basil Read on a sub-contract basis. However, it had developed some mechanical problems and was now a hunk of useless metal which needed repair before I could sell it. I sold all the antique weapons that I had collected down the years: a sword, two bayonets, a Chinese knife, a Ghurkha kukri, my Mannlicher 7.9 rifle. I sold a big lighting plant that I had never connected.

We survived. Nicholas and Timothy visited for school holidays, but were now at school in East Cape, living with their father in East London.

Zen_motorcycleJanuary 1991 saw me reading Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of those scruff-of-the-neck-shaking experiences.

The Iraq war vs Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait, started 17th Jan. The Allied Forces ground attack started 25th Feb.

The Basil Read team on the Naboomspruit contract where I now worked was quite social. I missed the Naboom Games where we took on a team from Head Office, Boksburg under Jimmy Johnson, due to having carpal-tunnel surgery on my wrists. I later went to Johannesburg for a game of in-door cricket, which was becoming a popular sport. I was so exhausted after batting that I could nearly not fight my way out of the netting around the court/pitch!

Then in March a group of us representing Naboom went to take part in the Tugela Raft Race from Mandini to the mouth of the Tugela in Natal. Basil Read alone had 8 rafts from various contracts and Head Office. The rafts were taken down by truck and basically consisted of polystyrene sheets with seats. We went by bus and took chalets at a resort at Chaka’s Rock.

It had rained heavily so the banks of the river were soggy. With about 300 rafts of every description, it was chaos but great fun. Mudfights ensued. Then someone let off a thunder flash and the race was on. Everyone was laughing and splashing each other. Some rafts had catapults that fired flour-bombs. The raft I was on was the first of the Basil Read craft to finish, but not the first overall. The beer-tent was reward for all.

Sheila’s mother, Vicky, and brother, Neil Maling, had moved to the farm he had bought near Uniondale in the Southern Cape, just over the hill from where we live, today. Sheila drove down for her 80th birthday on April 10th 1991.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 6 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom - #1' 'Medicinal Purposes Only - #2', and 'Children Apart - #3; and 'Tribes of Hillbrow'; all from Southern Africa.
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