The Pope

Pope

The air had warmed. In fact it was that terrible time of the year when the Highveld waited for rain. The rain was always expected at the end of the second week, or the beginning of the third. It was either true, an urban legend, or just tradition.

But today was 9th October, and it would be any day now. Oct 9, 1958.
What’s the panic for rain? The weather was consistent in those days. Well, no – as consistent as it is these days, but one thing I have learned is that people are creatures of habit and want everything to be consistent. Sort of makes them secure.

So when anything like the weather does happen to be “unseasonable”, then the immediate reaction is always, “Didn’t used to be like this. Always predictable. Regular as clockwork, things just ain’t wot they used to be.”

July was winter, well that was unavoidable, although we could have warm winters or cold winters (“Didn’t used to be like this, regular as clockwork it used to be.”) Winter was dry. Round about the end of July was veld fire season when clouds of white smoke billowed into the sky, and you could smell it. You didn’t feel the ash, but your lungs did. Mixed with twenty Cavalla Kings a day, the combination was often fatal.
But it was another time and another place.

The dust came from the mine dumps. No one had thought of grassing them, and the winter wind skimmed the tops off the mountains of cyanide sand, lifted the fine grains heaven-wards, and dropped it down onto Johannesburg. We would rush into the kitchen for a frying pan and bucket of water. Outside we’d gather the sand from the stoep, and pan it looking for gold. Silly arses, gold is heavier than sand and would never fly through the air. We didn’t know that, or if we did, we wouldn’t have cared. We were going to be rich, that’s all that mattered.
So winter in the Highveld was a near to hell as you would get outside of Australia. By the time August and September came, if you hadn’t the guts to last it through until the first rains in mid-October, you killed yourself.

September – suicide month.

So it was the 9th October, we were staring out of the classroom windows wondering when the first rains would come, when Brother Christopher burst through the doors. “His Holiness is dead.”

He just stood at the door looking desolate. We just stared at him, looking equally desolate.

“Who the hell is His Holiness?” was all our thoughts could muster.
We were to find out soon enough, the Pope, Pius XII, whose photos with his hands together in sanctimonious prayer were hanging all over the place. In fourth place, if you took the number of pictures.

The most went to His Holiness Jesus Christ, solemnly hanging from nails through his hands from a wooden cross (one in every classroom, and other rooms.)

Second place went to Her Holiness the Virgin Mary, Mother of what’s his name. She had portraits and statues; the statue was always midway as the stairs turned on the way up.

Third place went to His Holiness, the Blessed Marcellin Champagnat, founder of their Holinesses the Marist Brothers.

Fourth place went to His Holiness Pope Pius XII. He only got to fourth place because he was a hated Italian.

The Marist Brothers were a French order (it does take many brains to see “Marcellin Champagnat is French), and couldn’t for Chrissake see what the Pope couldn’t be French.

I mean for Chrissake, there’d been 17 of them so far. However, since the last one was Gregory XI who died in 1378 – we were told this at least once a month – it was obviously a conspiracy that kept the ‘Eyeties’ in the Vatican. In fact, dare we even think it, it’s possibly some satanic victory, after all, don’t most Italians look devilish?

But Armageddon will come, and with that the Day of Reckoning, which may come before or after the Last Judgment (which came after the Last Supper), and justice will be restored. The ‘Eyeties’ will be banished from the Vatican, and great and glorious French will be victorious and once again put their tootsies in the Shoes of the Fisherman, hold the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The dead shall rise, sins will be forgiven (thank God), and hark the herald angels sing.

That gives you the background. Brother Christopher’s shock was not that of the bereaved, but that of the hopeful.

In a blink of an eye, as His Holiness Saint Paul would say, we beheld that religion was a simile for politics. That the value of a Catholic education. We learned deep and spiritual values, and I was only 12 years old.

School closed, well, it didn’t close, but there were certainly no Brothers in the classrooms, just the lay teachers (the ones allowed to have sex, and accordingly didn’t drink as much as the brothers did.)
There weren’t enough lay teachers to run each classroom, so they ran from class to class giving us yet another 20 pages of the history of the Unification of Germany to read.

The brothers stayed in their private common room, ears glued to Radio Vatican, and lips glued to crystal glasses of Mellowood.

Black smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, the place with Michelangelo’s painted all over the ceiling. It was supposed to last about three days.

It happened bloody 19 days later, longest holiday we had ever had. Sitting in class, lifting the tops of our desks to sneak in another bite of a peanut butter sandwich, and learning all about Otto von Bismarck. And when we had done with that, it was Giuseppe Mazzini, not to be confused with Giuseppe Verdi, who invented operations.

Twenty days in which I laid the foundations to the exhaustive general knowledge that I have today.

But, worse was to come. On the 20th October, the smoke came out white. Mellowood was swallowed from the bottle in anticipation.
Mellowood was emptied from the bottle with grief when the news came out. Another Italian, some fat drub called Angelo Roncalli. Within days, testimony to the efficiency of the Vatican bureaucracy, photos of His Holiness John XXIII had replaced those of Pius XII. Although in the interests of cost-efficiency, the same frames were used.

The next day, everything was back to normal. The brothers caned us for anything they could think of, just as they had done for all the past 700 years of the Great Tribulation since the last French Pope.

Life went rushing on as if nothing had happened, except that we all knew how to spell Giuseppe Mazzini. Not to be confused with the guy who invented Cinzano.

I saw a girl friend after school, who went to the girls’ convent school in Yeoville. I told her about the new Pope. She said, “I know. Sister Ignatia came and told us all about it. She said it was a great and glorious moment. They talk rubbish. She was just glad it was another Italian.”

“The Brothers were devastated,” I said.

“It’s just politics,” she said dismissively. “I’m hungry. What should we do?”

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The time of my life

TimesLR
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness.

When I first read these lines; the book was prescribed reading in Standard Seven, I sort of blanked out until I got to the last lines: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

They are all I remember from The Tale of Two Cities. I didn’t get good marks in English that term – or any other term.

But they were the fifties and sixties.

Thinking over the past sixty years, I can see six distinct ages, each lasting ten years. They never start in a “0” year, but seem rather to start in a “3” or “4” year. Like the forties. They didn’t start until the war was over in 1946. There was nothing during the war years. I wasn’t born yet, but my parents spoke about it a lot, mostly to each other. They told us kids how awful it was.

I heard about Lili Marlene, Vera Lyn, Flanagan and Allen, and Victor Sylvester. My parents and their friends didn’t seem to do much. The women sat at home and moaned about shortages and rations. The men fought in battles so that they could make them seem a hundred times worse when they were having hard drinking sessions with their mates years later.

The nearest I came to the war was at Sappersrust, my fathers ex-serviceman’s club near Rustenburg. I was about ten. “Monty” was coming to visit. They were referring to of course Field Marshall Lord Montgomery of Alamein. During the war he was God. After the war, he was someone you could slap on the back, call Monty and bitch behind his back about how incompetent he was.

On that Sunday, at the ceremonial parade, the Field Marshall stopped by me, sat back on his haunches, and asked me if I was proud of my father. I wasn’t sure what it was all about, just that I was supposed to like this “Monty”.

Back in the bar, usually partially drunk ex-servicemen were teasing my father, “Well, your son cannot fail, eh Charlie? He’s been blessed by old fucking Monty.”

Those were the forties. I think the fifties started about 1955. No actually, it was April 12, 1954, the day Bill Haley and his Comets’ Rock around the Clock was recorded. So the Rock n Roll age started in South Africa in 1955. Always behind the times – still is.

That song was something. It knocked the hell out of “Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Tennessee Ernie Ford; “Earth Angel” by The Penguins; “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” by Somethin’ Smith And The Redheads; and of course Check Berry’s “Maybellene”.

Elvis only broke onto the scene in 1956. By then the fifties had already begun.

The fifties were the decade of suburbia, black velvet (a toxic cocktail of champagne and milk stout), G&T (gin and tonic, otherwise known as Mother’s Milk) and Sunday school. They were the years of the Korean War, Suez and the Cold War. The years of the A-bomb scares and stories about nuclear shelters in the USA.

The fifties were the hey day of Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Johnnie Ray, Kay Starr, Perry Como, Georgia Gibbs, Eddie Fisher, Darin Kerns, Teresa Brewer, Guy Mitchell and vocal groups like The Four Lads, The Four Aces The Chordettes and The Ames Brothers.

At the café bios (or the Plaza, Savoy or Bijou) we could see The Day the Earth Stood Still; Invaders from Mars, Them!, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Thing from Another World, This Island Earth, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. That was high culture.

Religion was portrayed in Jimmy Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Sex came onto the screen with Gidget in 1959, and of course A Summer Place. We saw all these films. You could if you know the usherettes like Gertie at the Plaza.

But for high romance and fantasy there was Davy Crocket battling it out at the Alamo, High Noon, and of “Bridge over the river Kwai that someone blew up in Commissioner Street.

We don’t mention Marlon Brando in The Wild One, not even to this day. To discuss this is like calling Bernadette at Lourdes a Coke salesgirl.

The fifties meant Springbok Radio. Sundays starting with the Kolynos Show. After that there was a spiritual Afrikaans programme, ’n Rusplek langs die Pad. Simon Swindell followed with From the Bell-Tower.

Then my father would start twiddling the dials, and scrape through all the “eee-yooor” of shortwave interference until he heard the Big Ben chimes (the same incidentally as you hear from the Union Buildings).

Through the haze of hissing disappearing into the background and rising again into the foreground, we would only just hear, “This is London”.

The sixties started in America on November 22nd 1963, when Oswald fired a gun. South Africa was just for once ahead of the rest of the world where the sixties started on March 21, 1960 when we were all ordered home from school because there was “some trouble in Sharpeville”

In 1963 we were 17, and teenagers had done a whole lot of growing up.

By the time January 14, 1967 came, we were 21, and Timothy Leary had told us all to “tune in, turn on and drop out”.

But you can’t glorify the sixties. Someone, lots of people, said, “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there”. They were an hallucination, a dream that you suspect may just ne a nightmare. They were culture wars more bitter and bloody than Bosnia.

Somehow I don’t think they were all that enjoyable, but this I do know: to have been young person in the sixties was a God-given privilege.

In 1969 in South Africa, cigarettes cost 25c a packet of 20, and petrol was 25c a gallon. A Coke and sticky bun cost 5 cents

So when the Sixties start? When you wanted them to start. They ended when you wanted them to end so that you could enter the 1970s glorious times of “Good Times and Bad Taste”.

For us the seventies started with Easy Rider when we sort of got the idea that acid tripping wasn’t really worth aspiring to.

Besides, we had started working, and having to face something called Income Tax, and rent, and that sort of thing. Also there was Erich Segal’s Love Story in 1970, where we all blubbed with Ali McGraw died.

We also started to be green after the oil crisis of October 1973. We really did start siphoning petrol out of other people’s tanks. That was the year they invented lockable petrol caps.

We all hated the 1978 Grease, because we knew what the fifties were really like.

The 1980’s were shit, especially Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. So the Berlin Wall fell, but that only showed you that the USSR was never really Marxist in the first place, we all agreed. Really – ten years of world civilisation squandered on Dirty Dancing, Chariots of Fire, and ET. Satan took over the world under the nom de plume of Milton Friedman.

The music was shit too. The Hammond organ, which always managed to sound like blowing over the top of a Coke bottle, gave way to the Moog synthesiser, which sounded like blowing over the top of 100 Coke bottles. They also invented a travesty in recorded music called compression where music forgot what “nuance” meant.

I didn’t hear much of it; I going through a rebel stage and listening to classical opera. I imagines myself at Bayreuth or La Scala. Bayreuth, in the wicker seat, watching Wagner’s Ring Cycle, certainly the most boring musical events ever written or staged. Der Ring des Niebelungen. Das Rhinegold; Die Walküre, Siegfried; Götterdämmerung. But Wagner was no fool. Maybe he was like Nostradamus, and could encode his foresight. Maybe he knew what was to happen 100 years later.

• The seventies: Das Rhinegold – dreaming of wealth while we pretended we were there.

• The eighties were the “Birth of the Capitalists”. Die Walküre

• The nineties were the “Rule of the Capitalists”. Siegfried.

Then came Götterdämmerung. The death of the capitalists. Starting with the dotcom bubble, then Enron, then God knows what until the depression that started in 2008.

The Twilight of the Gods. The death of the respectable banker, “Oh, you mean THAT two billion dollars”.

Twilight always seems nice, full of contentment and omnipotence. The end of 2009 was the Death of the Gods. Now this is freaky. One of the few times my father spoke to me (nicely) he had just finished reading The Death of the Gods by Dmitry Mérejkowski. This shows just how weird my father was. This book was written in 1897. Mérejkowski was little read; in fact three people had read his books: his proof-reader, his publisher and my father.

This weirdo book, subtitled Christ and Antichrist sort of said that Nietzsche was great, but Mérejkowski was better. But in the form of a novel all about Julian the Apostate.

There’s a line in it that applies to the last months of 2008. “Unhappy people! If life weighs on you, is it so difficult for you to shorten it for yourselves?”

If you like Superman, you’re going to find Mérejkowski unreadable.

I misquote Dickens now and say, “I do far, far better things that I have ever done; it is a far, far better place that I go to, than I have ever known.”

By that, I mean the future.

Life was worth a tickey

Tickey
When the time came for me to buy insurance, I didn’t hesitate. I knew the value of paying for protection. I had learned young.

I didn’t have much to do with the Lebanese boys at school until about 1958 when I was 12.

I was riding on my bicycle down Raleigh Street in Yeoville. My favourite sport was, just as I was passing the Post Office, to wedge my back tyre into the tramlines. When it was in the groove, I would speed up, and then wedge my front tyre into the same line. This meant I had to go faster if I needed to keep balance.

The Duckies used to loll about outside the Apollo Café, which was opposite the municipal swimming pool.

We called them Duckies, short for Ducktails. So called because of the sideburns, and long forelock they would pull forward with a comb. It stayed there. It had to with all the Brylcreem smeared on it. ”A little dab’ll do ya” went the Springbok Radio ad. The hair swept straight out over their forehead, back and into a little curl up the back – just like a duck’s tail.

Duckie haute couture also included white socks and black winkle-picker shoes. Buffed up with Nugget Shoe Polish. “When here’s a shine on your shoes, there’s a melody in your heart. What a wonderful way to start the day.”

They also worshipped Jimmy Dean. “Rebel without a Cause” was the cause celebre of 1956, and we only watched the scenes with James Dean in when we sat through the long boring hours of “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, who, in the film, grew old with lots of silver dust in her hair, and nothing else. The pseudo-Western musical theme by Dimitri Tiomkin dominated the radio, for a short while, until it was ousted by Paul Anka singing “Diana”.

Duckies also had fun swirling bicycle chains in the hands, like drum majorettes and their long drum sticks.

This day, one of them let his chain fly through my spokes.

My back wheel jammed and I fell onto the road, tearing my blazer arm and scraping my elbow. As they said at the time, “Arse over tea-kettle”. The fork of the bike was buckled. As I limped away, I heard them cackling, like old witches in the play the older guys had told us about.

I bent the fork of the bike straight and “wobbling” rode back to school. The Lebs were leaning against the stone gateposts.

“Been fighting?”

“Nah. Duckies got me.”

“How so?”

I told them.

Morrie got down on his haunches in front of me. “Listen Kiddo, you don’t have to do this you know.”

I didn’t realise it then, but they all sounded like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney or Edward G Robinson. There sort of films were run and rerun in Fietas and Sophiatown. This was the fifties when if you hung out with some of the coloured guys, you would go to the movies at the Star Cinema in Fietas. We didn’t call the suburbs Vrededorp or Pageview. You didn’t smoke tobacco in the back row there.

Years later I tried to found out where the name “Fietas” came from. Never could.

Morrie unfurled untold stories of the outside world. I would pay them a tickey a week, and they would see I wouldn’t be hurt, or nothing.

Seemed sensible, although where I would find a tickey a week was beyond me. When we went decimal in 1960, a tickey would become 2½ cents. Nothing today, but a rich boy’s weekly pocket money then.

“Where do I get a tickey a week? I don’t even get pocket money.”

“Lexies are 1 shilling and a penny for 10. That means three ciggies will be worth a tickey.”

Where do I get ciggies?”

“From the shop.”

If I haven’t got pocket money, how do I buy your ciggies?”

They then told me how I could get ciggies in bulk from the back of the Tobacconist shop “after hours”. And the currency was flexible – you could trade anything. That’s where I learned economic re-distribution.

I would get the ciggies, bury them in a tin the garden, and dig it up once a week to retrieve three to pay my protection money.

The next day I was little nervous of cycling up past the Apollo café. The Lebs had told me not to worry, but then the Chinese had always warned me never to trust a Leb.

That day I learned that when you pay protection money, you trust your protector. When someone rubbishes your protector, you don’t believe them.

The Duckies were still there. But this time there were no bicycle chains. Cigarettes dripping out of their lips, they looked sullen, with their arms in slings, and heads bandaged.

No chain this time. They didn’t even see me. Maybe they didn’t know why they had been beaten up.

You don’t ask questions. Especially when you are being protected. You pay. You have no trouble. You don’t ask questions, because you didn’t see anything. You learned quickly to watch, but never to see.

There was honour on the streets. A guy’s hand was his bond. Not like our parents. They had to have contracts and things. That tickey was the lowest insurance premium I ever paid.

The Birds

Plaza

We were poor.  The only reason why we were at a private Catholic School, was that even though the holy brothers constantly reminded us that we were poor, they didn’t throw us out because fees weren’t paid.

They let us know in public. At the end of each school year, all 800 boys were lined up in assembly in the quadrangle, and only those whose feed were paid were given the school magazine.  After the first five years, I got immune to it.  We used to talk about it a lot, and fantasised how we could get the money to pay our school fees, just at that part of the year.  The rest of the time didn’t matter.   It was just that time of the year, the looks from the other 799 boys all at once.

But, the best studies were outside the classroom.

Classroom studies also included staring our of the window at half past two in the afternoon and seeing the clouds darken for the quarter to three cloudburst that always seemed to last until three o’clock.  After all, this was Johannesburg.  Things were different then. Predictable. Little change.  Unless we made it happen.

We experimented a lot.  Controlled studies, which were conducted with planning, forethought and discipline.

Like when Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was showing at the Plaza Cinema. It was the year Dionne Warwick was singing, “Anyone who had a heart”.  And the year even the brothers at school encouraged us to listen to the Hit Parade because top of the charts was The Singing Nun with “Dominique”.

“The Birds” was a spectacular horror movie. The pièce de résistance was when these rogue birds dropped down from the sky and pecked our Tippi Hedren’s eyes. These shrilling feathered monsters dive-bombing to leave this gorgeous chick in bloody blindness.

We knew that most of the school girls were sitting in the stalls.  They didn’t like the front row, as it was too near the screen.  They also didn’t like the back row, as the boys sat there, smoking Lexington and coughing.

In those days, there were ashtrays on the backs of seats so that you could smoke.  They were circular, and there was a little window at the top you could close to stop the smoke getting out after you had dumped you stompie in there.  To empty the ashtrays, the cleaners would come around, the swivel them right over so that all the stompies and ash fell out.  We would do that as were leaving the rows after a movie. – let the ashes and stompies fall to the floor. Well it gave the cleaners something to do.

We figured it was easier for the cleaners to sweep it all off the floor instead of going to all the trouble of turning over each and every ashtray.

We were only thinking of them.

The girls sat in the middle, just under the edge of the circle, which was a good 20 feet above their heads.  The seats were just right.  Not too close to the screen, nor to far.  Exactly right for the best horror effect.

We had found a live chicken.  Not difficult in the area where we lived.  As I say, we were poor.

We put it inside a paper bag to keep it quiet.

Then we took our seats in the front row of the circle.

These were pricy seats, but we knew where the fire escape was, and there was always only one usherette upstairs.

They wore uniforms like the Salvation Army, and carried a tray in front of them, with choccies and sweet we could never afford.  And some melting Eskimo Pies. The nice one, Gertie, always let us in.  We gave her cigarettes so that she too could sit in the back row and smoke with the other guys.

However that day, we were in the front row of the circle.  We had seen “The Birds” a week before, and we knew exactly when the part came for the birds to dive out of the sky and de-eye little Tippi.

Just at that moment we emptied the chicken out of the paper bag and let it drop to the stalls below.

Squawking, onto the girl’s heads.  We leant over the circle and studied the behaviour patterns.  They seemed to be random. Fright, panic, hysteria, distress, laxativic. They scattered in all directions, regardless of the chairs, they seemed to be walking, not on water, but on the backs of the seats. The screams weren’t like Tippi Hedren’s, which sort of rose up the scale.  Morgan, on of us,  thought that Tippi’s screams were in a major key. He should know, he was learning piano.  The girls’ screams were erratic, sort of all over the place.  No musical sense at all, Morgan concluded.

Gigs and bullets

Johannesburg tram, 1960's

Johannesburg tram, 1960’s

I think I was 14 when I gave up smoking for the first time. That would be 1960 or so. We used to smoke behind the swimming bath. It was safe there as it backed onto the rifle range, and no one in the right minds would be smoking cigarettes with bullets flying over their heads. Well, we weren’t in our right minds. But we had to smoke.

We were at a Catholic school, where the bothers were very strict, when they weren’t in the Brothers’ Common Room doing whatever teaching monks did in the Common Room.

We smoked Lexington, why? Don’t know. I suppose if we had smoked Texan, none of us would manage it, and Lexington, well even the name sounded cool. And we were cool. We were all the boys from poor families, allowed in because it made the school look good, like the Catholics were doing their bit. They did their bit.  We got a good education, and our parents got out of paying fees. Good deal. Everyone was a winner.  Those were the days of high apartheid, and the school had special permission to allow in “Second Class Citizens” – the Chinese.  The school made the application to the government because almost all Chinese in Johannesburg were Catholic.

The school also welcomed the Jewish boys, because they all paid their fees. So some people paid, some didn’t. Those that paid hefty fees, were the Jews, the Chinese and the Lebs.  There had been trouble in Lebanon, and South Africa housed a large Lebanese refugee community – all Catholic of course.  And the Chinese.  They might have been “Second Class Citizens”, but they certainly weren’t poor, not like some of us whites.

It was nice to be “in” with the Jews, and Lebs and the Chinese, because their fathers all did interesting things. As a rule the fathers of the Jews were bookmakers, the fathers of the Chinese ran Fah Fee rackets, and the Lebs’ fathers were all in boxing – well the gambling side of boxing.

For a country where gambling was banned, there was sure a lot of gambling going on. The horse races on Wednesdays and Saturdays were a sell out.  I didn’t have first hand experience of it, but I knew my grandfather was there regularly.  He never won. He studied form, and that’s the worst thing you can do, you know, bet on the horses scientifically.  If he ever went to the races with my grandmother (she didn’t go with him very often because she hated him – had done so since the day after their wedding in 1914.)

But then she did go, she always won.  She betted on the colours worn by the jockeys. She also never bet on a jockey with a bad acne – she said there was too much wind drag. The old man (my grandfather) would always abuse her verbally, “ That’s not  a horse, that’s a cow.” But the cow came romping home, and the old man would tear up his tickets in a rage as my grandmother went to the tote to collect her 7:1 on the two shillings and sixpence she had bet.

I used to hear of all this from my mother. She loved telling me about her in-laws, especially stories like that because she hated both of them.

Very close family.

Anyway, I suppose it was a combination of the gambling families of our smoking companions, and my grandfather’s hopeless failure as a punter that was the sort of thing that pulled the gang together.  That’s about all we did.  Smoked behind the swimming pool.

Oh, yes, and after the bullets from the rifle range had stopped flying, we’d go onto the range and collect the spent cartridges, which we called “doppies”.

We’d take the precious matches we had left over from lighting copious cigarettes, and insert the heads into the doppies, jamming them in hard to the doppie was crammed full of match heads.  Then on our bicycles up to Rockey Street in Bellevue to the tram lines.

We’d sit on the pavement, our feet firmly played in the gutter waiting for the next tram.

You could hear them coming all the way from Raleigh Street in Yeoville with the beating rumble that echoed through the tramlines. We heard it long before we saw the single headlamp that eyed it’s way ahead.  That gave us enough time to dash into the road and line up doppies (charged with match heads) onto the tramline.  Carefully positioned maybe two or three feet from each other.  Then we’d back off to our original seats in the gutter.

As the tram passed over the loaded doppies, they went off, a little like rifle shots.

The sweet old ladies in their hats and gloves would “whoop” at the sound, which I’m sure they soon decided was a car backfiring.  Very common in those days, all cars backfired, even the big Dodges, Buicks, and Hudson’s. I mean those  old engines were crap, the petrol was crap, and the cars were so heavy they had the same pistons that you had on the Windsor Castle passenger liner.

Then we’d go home.  Satisfied. An afternoon well spent.