Next door to us lived Leslie Tiffin. She was the same age as me and I was always over there visiting. My uncles and arts used to tease me that she was my girlfriend. They used to say am I going to marry her. the thought of marriage, at the age of seven, hadn’t even occurred to me. The mother was very relaxed. She left her baby out in a pram in the rain and it nearly drowned once. The pram filled with water. Nel Tiffin would not let anything bother her. I was so often at the Tiffin’s house that I was a bit like another brother. There was a hedge between the two properties and we cut a hole in the fence and just went through.
Nel had adopted two children from a distant relative. The boy, whose name was Rollo, was an outright bully and his eldest sister Verna was his main target. I once Rollo beating Verna with a large bamboo stick until it broke. He used to beat her around the legs. She had a lot of personality, and I would have thought that on occasion she would have answered straight back at him. They were both from one family. It was after the war so it might have had something to do with that. He wanted to be the boss man in the family group. Nel was very easy-going.
Because I was part of the family, if they went anywhere, they used to take me with them. They went to see Snow White at the movies. They walked out and I followed them. One minute they were there and then, they disappeared. They became mixed up with the crowds of people walking past. To me, they just vanished. So, I walked up and down the road outside for a few minutes and a woman asked me if I was okay. I explained my problem. She said I’ll take you home. I as eight, and had no clear memory of how to get to my home. I managed to remember enough of it to find my way to the back of our property. There was a pathway through to my house. The lady followed me back. Then I tried to find my mother, but she too had vanished. When I found her, she was working in the garden. I called out that this lady had brought me home. She just looked up and said okay. I do not think she understood the situation. my mother didn’t notice much of what I did.
Leslie and I used to walk up to a kopje at the back of her house. This was made of big boulders on top of each other. It became our secret play area. We were lucky we never saw a snake. One day we were playing round the rocks, Verna arrived on the scene, and she suggested we should do something different from just playing around on the sand. We should take our clothes off. Feeling slightly bored, we decided to try it. It gave us a feeling of uninhibited freedom but nothing else. Sometime later we were up at my house, playing around a new dog kennel that dad built. We were rather bored, so I suggested to Leslie we try the ‘clothes off’ thing, again. My mother found us and beat the hell out of me. We would have been about seven. I realized it was better not to hold a grievance. It stays with you, if you do.
Many years later at boarding school, matron told me to go outside and put my jumper on. So I walked outside followed by matron hurling abuse because I didn’t have my jumper on. When the housemaster, whose name was Vanasvegan pounced on me and sent me up to the sick bay. I think that was just a convenient place for him. Then he went out the room for a moment and came back with a stick. He told me to bend over and he hit me twice with it. On each occasion, he knocked me over. The stick he used was a cane wrapped in rawhide. He was hitting me for not having a jumper on as the matron had told me to. He should really have been reported, but there was no point in holding a grudge. The whole situation was disgraceful in many ways. The stick had cut my bum, causing an open wound. I do not know if other kids were getting hit.
It was a slightly sick world, but then it is a slightly sick world even today. In Australia these days, people would notice that something was wrong. later on, when some fairly innocent event happens, your subconscious is going, what if someone takes it in their head to start beating you again, then you don’t sleep and start to get nervous. There are many situations in life where you get very nervous and not altogether logically nervous. When you get nervous, it steals life from you. Life can be good, but if you are nervy, it’s stolen from you.
Leslie and I had many good times, even after I was beaten for playing in the dog kennel. We would play hide and seek with her brothers. Roldy was the younger brother. When I was ten, he would have been eight or nine, he had an elder brother John. They were okay but a bit immature. Roldy was the sort of bloke you’d play hide and seek with end he’d disappear and you’d eventually find him crying somewhere. He thought he’d been abandoned. (Roldy wasn’t the one left out in the pram. That was John. Nel had left him under a tree when a huge rainstorm came. When my mother got to him, his nose was about the level of the water. Nel had gone to town. My mother told the story repeatedly, to illustrate how things were more relaxed in the olden days. My mother thought it was okay to be relaxed, but not quite that laid back.)
In the meantime, life went on. We had horses and the Tiffins had a few too. They decided to go into it in a big way and they bought a farm at Umwinseydale. They decided to ride their horses to the farm. They asked me if I wanted to go along for the ride, so I said yes. In the mean time, they built a house at the farm. It took them a few months. I went to stay with them the farm until they were ready to ride the horses there. It would have been a couple of months.
One morning at the farm, when I was starting to develop a crush on Leslie, it had been raining. The sun was out and hot. We walked down to the stables. The Tiffins kept twelve horses and five cows. The servants had been told to collect all their dung and pile it up. When e got to the stables, there was a pile about six feet high. Despite my protests, Leslie ran up this dung heap to the top. The heap had gone all mushy inside, with an outer crust that promptly crushed when Leslie got to the top. She found herself up to her armpits in cow dung, whereupon she begged me to join her, but I could not see the sense in it. Nowadays, I would have run up and joined her at the top: you can get more out of life by sharing than by being safe.