climb

134 jack bushman paintingsIf Jack was a ‘cold, unemotional man’ then I did not find him so. I can trace no memory of regarding him with anything other than love. He was a holiday parent, which gave him the advantage of never really having to discipline us to do things like homework, but this can’t have been his only source of attraction. If he did not hug and cuddle us as such, he was generous with his body and intellect. Jack loved children, and his presence on the beach served as a magnet for them. Big and fit, he was able to provide rides: piggy-back or on his shoulders, an ‘aeroplane’ in which he held us by an arm and leg and swung us around, or a whirligig, where we were swung by both hands, and a ‘tick-tock’, where we were swung like a pendulum between his knees and right up over his head.

Holidays with him did not involve consumerism, and we were not bought treats or taken on special excursions, but the use of public amenities – the museums, galleries, planetarium and aquarium, the dunes, the harbour and the dirty oil-burning power-station on the foreshore – all provided happy times and material for our watercolour books, which alternated sheets of cartridge paper with tissue. Every holiday we would climb the mountain, covering all the easy ascents within walking distance of Clifton: Platteklip Gorge, Africa Face, Blinkwater, Woody Ravine, Woody Buttress, Kasteel’s Poort. We would take a small knapsack containing chocolate, sandwiches and Moni’s Grape Juice (which we only got on these excursions), and sometimes binoculars and Mrs Stevens’ two small books illustrating inedible and edible fungi. He taught us the etiquette of the outdoors: the names of plants and mushrooms, never to litter or make fires, always to greet other hikers, never to throw stones down the mountain, never to trust one’s weight to an untested rock in the scree, always to add a modest stone to a cairn, always to respect and assist the natural world.

133 Jack Mike beachBack at home, he read to Raymond and me daily from myths, stories and fables, as well as Dickens, Stevenson, Carroll and all the other classics of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. But on the beach, especially around a braai fire at night, he invented fantastical stories of ghosts and ogres, daring escapes and wild quests, many of them rooted in the Zulu tales that he had heard around other fires in his own childhood on the farm at Mooi River. In the early evening, with the sound of the surf in the background, children from all around the beach would gather and listen with big fire-lit eyes, full of fear, joy and awe.

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