Muizenberg, South Africa

 

Leonard Weinreich’s

Muizenberg Memories

 

22 June 2013

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 With thanks to Leonard Weinreich



I lived in Muizenberg for 22 years before departing for England in 1961.

I was born at ‘Clontarf’, Cromer Road in June 1939, youngest of Johnny and Fanny Weinreich’s four children. My three older sisters were Avra, Tamara and Rena.



My father, Johnny Weinreich, was born near Riga, Latvia and grew up in Kimberly, Cape Province. A Zionist from age 13, he was President of the Cape Jewish Orphanage, a prominent member of the Board of Deputies, in charge of Country Communities, a gansen macher of the Western province Zionist Council, founder of the Palestine (later Israeli) Maritime League, a member of the Dorshei Zion who spent his spare time raising funds for the Israel United Appeal. He died in 1956 when I was 17.

Fanny Weinreich (nee Gronitzki), also known as ‘Fay’, was born in Cape Town in the Cape Colony. Her family moved from Russia to London for a couple of decades before emigrating to the Cape. She became chairlady of the Union of Jewish Women, sat on the committee of the Cape Jewish Orphanage, the Jewish Girls’ Association, the New Education Fellowship and a member of Black Sash. She died in London a month short of her 100th birthday.

As well as my 3 older sisters, Avra, Tamara and Rena, my aunt Lily’s daughter, Teressa, was also close enough to be a sister and remains a favourite cousin. We were surrounded by relatives called Lily or Fanny, popular names at the beginning of the century.

When I was 2 years old, the family moved to ‘Yuval’, the house we built in Mount Road, a short cul-de-sac that marked the beginning of Muizenberg mountain. ‘Yuval’ is Hebrew for ‘spring’ and we had our very own babbling brook running through the garden, complete with a large population of noisy frogs.

The mountain loomed large in my life. The first time I visited the cinema (the Empire, Muizenberg, of course) to see, as I remember, a Sonja Henie, film was in 1944 and the newsreel showed the eruption of Vesuvius. I viewed Muizenberg mountain more suspiciously from that day on.

Our next-door neighbours were two elderly sisters, one a widow named Mrs Simpson. For years I associated her with the Mrs Simpson my family discussed in scandalous tones.

Like most white children, I had a Cape Coloured nanny. Sophie Dreyer (always known as ‘Nurse’) was a remarkable woman from Stellenbosch who arrived to be our housekeeper on the day of my brit and left after my Bar Mitzvah. I adored her. She was a remarkable baker, brilliant household nmanager and a lifelong influence. I remember long walks on Boyes Drive, the spectacular mountain pass above Muizenberg, with excursions down to Sir Abe Bailey’s grave on the mountainside near his Sir Herbert Baker-designed mansion (actually commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes). A deeply religious woman, Nurse occasionally took me to church in Lakeside on a Sunday morning until I was expelled for pointing a wooden gun at the pastor when he preached about ‘...fellowship and friendship...’. “Don’t talk about ships or shipping’ I yelled, repeating the ubiquitous wartime anti-spy warnings that I’d seen posted in Barclays Bank. Nurse never overcame the embarrassment.

Along with most of my friends, I attended Muizenberg Junior and High Schools from 1945-55 where edited the school magazine. I also unwillingly went to Cheder at the Talmud Torah Hall in Wherry Road between ages of 7-14.

I was a member of 2nd Muizenberg (Jewish) cubs and scout troop founded by Bertie Stern who went off to join Habonim (possibly the best explanation why Habonim never caught on in Muizenberg). Our scoutmaster was Squirty Yudelman. Meetings were held at the Boat House, a wooden building with outside loos on the banks of Sandvlei, Muizenberg’s lagoon. Mr Kohler, the caretaker, lived with his wife inside the Boat House in a couple of dark rooms that reeked of pipe smoke, crammed with mementoes from his seafaring past, all stolen or wrecked later in a cruel break-in.

During Bob-a-Job week, exploitative householders would have us clean 14 or 15 windows and reward us with a shilling. And every year, 2nd Muizenberg entered the Gordon’s Shield, a competition for Western Cape scout troops. We were nearly always victorious, winning it more than all other troops combined.

Every year, 2nd Muizenberg went on 10 day summer camps to distant locations like Wemmershoek and Franschhoek (near Paarl) and Breerivier (near Worcester). We’d also spend weekends in places nearer home, like Glencairn (near Simonstown).

Political life started early. I was made aware of apartheid aged 4 when I asked Nurse why she wasn’t sitting beside me on the train station bench. She shook her head sadly and pointed to the sign: ‘For Europeans Only’, ‘Europeans’ being a euphemism for ‘whites’. As soon as the Progressive Party broke away from the staid United Party (the official opposition to the racist Nationalist Party) I joined the youth section and found myself canvassing among hostile voters in remote parts of the Cape Peninsula. During the Republic referendum campaign, we were apprehended by the police putting up ‘Vote No’ posters in Lakeside (the suburb adjoining Muizenberg, location of the louche hotel/roadhouse, the Blue Moon).

I remember waving a union jack in 1947 as the Royal Family’s stately Daimlers sped through the Main Road, late for an appointment in Simonstown.


MUIZENBERG SHUL


I sang in the Muizenberg Shul choir run by the chazan, Reverend Goldwasser, who pee’d in the robbing room sink and coughed heroic quantities of phlegm after clearing his throat noisily during the service. ‘I vos the chazan in Zurich’, he would boast, desperately seeking respect from the choir. The choirmaster carried a Browning automatic pistol in the back pocket of his sharp suit, the outline clearly visible to the choir when he leaned over the bima to accompany the chazan. The chazan’s massive ego received a massive dent when the Muizenberg and Kalk Bay Hebrew Congregation appointed an Englishman, Rabbi Weinberg from Edinburgh, who also took religious instruction at Muizenberg High.


I remember Friday nights at BAGOZS (Boy's and girls own Zionist society) where boys could meet girls and walk them home after an evening of folk dancing.

I remember ‘The Season’, the 6-week summer school holiday when Muizenberg was invaded and occupied by Jews (mainly) from Johannesburg.


Locals were ambivalent about The Season. Yes, it delivered income. But it also brought Johannesburgers who were regarded as flashy, overbearing and arrogant (coming from South Africa’s largest metropolis, they seemed to regard the locals as little less than unsophisticated yokels). However, as Muizenberg’s prime source of revenue, they were politely tolerated, though the occasional spat broke out.


EMPIRE CINEMA



Muizenberg tolerated its characters. 'Bunny' Bailey, the manager of the Empire cinema, who always wore a stained dinner jacket, had a penchant for fondling small boys. Then there was Ralph, nattily dressed in a smart grey double-breasted suit, an adult with the mind of a child, who spent his time hanging about Norman’s hairdressing saloon. The synagogue’s Reverend Frank swam in the sea every morning of the year, regardless of tide or weather. Paul Alexander, brother of ex-scoutmaster Darryl Alexander (who eventually operated a dubious sailor’s night club near Cape Town docks) was seldom without a venomous snake or strange lizard in his pocket.


Norman's, who also ran a good café, wasn’t the only barber in town. There was also the magnificently named 'I Shear', a barber in York Road.

York Road was Muizenberg's Regent Street: CNA (Central News Agency), Attwells bakery, the two branches of Kents department store: women’s (with haberdashery) and men's (the darkest store in the village), the Greek greengrocer, Cuthberts, the shoe store, Shagam's Pharmacy (and of course, there were also Reichlin's and Rosenberg's pharmacies, closer to the beach). Dankers sold Muizenberg school uniforms and Gitlins sold yarmelkahs. Kents later became Tonis, selling men’s and women’s clothes, harberdashery and toys. Porto Bello, owned by a Lebanese family named Raad, sold ice creams, fruit and confectionary on the Main Road, not far from Sindens, the electrical shop.



RHODES’ COTTAGE


Muizenberg had fame thrust upon it: Randlord Cecil John Rhodes died here. It was where South Africa’s first air-mail service was delivered. At the Battle of Muizenberg in 1795, the British snatched the Cape from Dutch control. Muizenberg also had South Africa’s oldest building (die Poshuis) after Cape Town’s Castle. It had South Africa’s only paper house (‘Yokohama’) brought intact from Japan. And, unusually for the Cape Town suburban train system, Muizenberg had two stations, Muizenberg and False Bay. Typically, Muizenberg station was right on False Bay, while False Bay station was smack in the heart of Muizenberg.

Shops nearby False Bay station were the False Bay Bazaar (groceries) and James Morom (hardware) on the corner of Mount Road, where I lived for 20 years (I was born in Clontarf, Cromer Road. The house was later bought by Mossie Gold’s parents. Cromer and Wherry Roads were the favoured address of Cape Town’s Jewish bookmakers). James Morom’s shop was unmissable to anyone driving into Muizenberg owing to the enormous brightly-coloured sign painted on the side: ‘James Morom for Rockgrip Paint’, very useful for guiding newcomers to our house.

Diagonally opposite James Morom was Robb Motors’ art deco garage, where I first marvelled at the sleek 1949 Studebaker designed by Raymond Loewy, my first intimation of streamlined design and branding.

Muizenberg’s confectionary shops seemed to be served by different wholesalers selling different brands. My sister Tamara was hooked on two American products: Bazooka bubble gum and Nibs liquorice, which were only available at a small shop near where Church Road met Alexander Road. And, because she couldn’t be bothered to take the 20 minute trip there and back, she’d bribe me rotten to do her shopping.

Narrow Palmer Road, in the heart of Muizenberg’s ‘shtetl’, was a bustling shopping centre. On the corner of Palmer and Church Roads, my mother's twin sister, Lily Trapler, ran a grocery store with her disabled husband, Harry, a First World War veteran from London’s East End. Close by were Hellig's Dairy, Lewenstein's poultry, the butcher (whose name I don't remember), Padowitz's fish and chip shop and various hardware and electrical shops. Opposite my auntie, on the corner of Church and Killarney roads, was Bornstein's the fishmongers.


HOTELS





Th
e hotels? My friend Frank Gordon’s father ran the stone-clad Belgrave on the Main Road (when Muizenberg tourism began to falter, he turned part of the ground floor into a butcher shop). The big name hotels were the Grand (tinder waiting to ignite), the Marine (full of airs, but only kept afloat by its joyless bar and bottle store); the Rio Grand (women’s organisations’ pre-Yomtavim cake sales); the Bay View (later owned by the Soboils); the Balmoral (owned by the Shirkins), situated nearest the beach, on what my Auntie Lily called ‘Pneumonia Corner’, where you could experience the unrestricted blast of False Bay’s never absent South-Easterly gale. Not far away was the Imperial, Muizenberg’s largest kosher hotel, owned by Mrs Kosover. All of them were serving Johannesburgers evershrinking portions in the short 6-week season. The decrepit old Park Hotel, on the mountainside behind our house, was a wartime hostel for servicemen from the north African campaigns. The Litvins, seriously frum, also ran a kosher hotel some distance from the beach front. Uncle Harry Trapler’s cousin, Moe Trappler (somehow with an extra ‘p’) owned the Alexandria, backing onto Muizenberg station and joking that his fire-buckets were filled with petrol.



No joke. In Muizenberg, hotel fires were not infrequent occurrences. The Sandown (at Rocky Beach) burned down regularly after poor seasons. Barbara Klugman’s parents took over the Victoria after a big fire, right on the station.











MUIZENBERG STATION


My classmate
Flippie Bothma’s father was station master at Muizenberg and Flippie took me up a rickety ladder to show me the view from the turret above the Ed



Many years later, at a polite tea party in Brussels, I learned that disembarking on Muizenberg’s platform was the most treasured memory of Sephardi Greek Jews who’d fled the nazi invasion of Rhodes. They’d settled in the Belgian Congo with its inhospitable climate, because it was the last country on earth that would accept Jewish refugees. When the unbearable Congolese summer hit maximum swelter, these Sephardim would climb aboard a train that took 5-6 days to get to Cape Town, no showers, no baths, no aircon, average temperature about 103oF and rising. Eventually, they arrived at Cape Town’s mainline station, crossed the platform and caught the suburban line to Muizenberg, emerging from the train into the full blast of the South Easter direct from Antarctica. As far as the Congolese were concerned, few experiences were sweeter.




I remember Vic Davis (placard outside stated: entry free, chairs 2/6), the highlight of the week. Davis presented the seasonal Sunday night entertainment, with a programme more immutable than Muizenberg mountain. The Ressel Brothers; the sharp-suited stand-up Konnie Hirsch ('I've got to go now. I have to be back in Phil Moss's window by 11 pm') whose shtick never altered; Dudley Sangster’s harmonica; Bobby Gien, the boy wonder jazz drummer down from the Transvaal. And Vic, the bandleader himself, playing the squarest possible music (disassembling his clarinet apart during a forgettable tune called 'I miss my Swiss'). If one invited a girl to the Vic Davis evening, folklore told that it was only permissible to put an arm around her after interval. Eventually, Vic became so old hat that even the municipality noticed and replaced him with Denis Hammond’s big band whose flamboyant English drummer, Mike Scott, much excited the local jazz-lovers -me, Harold Selby. And Ralph Schuman, who imagined himself Harry James, the famous virtuoso trumpet player and swing bandleader).

But back to Muizenberg and ‘The Season’. After nightfall, in spite of stern ratepayer disapproval, an outdoor bop floor was erected in the gardens alongside the promenade and, during my university vacation job at Gallo's record shop (33 Hout Street, Cape Town), it was my duty to choose the Decca 78rpm records for bopping. They'd be returned the following week, black shellac worn down to grey.



THE SNAKE PARK



And let's put this ‘Snake Pit’ issue to bed forever: only Vaalies called it by that name (after the lurid 1948 Hollywood movie). Originally, it was known as the ‘Triangle’, but locals quickly renamed it 'the Snake Park', after the rondavel hut at the end of the promenade where a large African man in thick gumboots used to handle lethal reptiles to amuse visitors.

Muizenberg’s beaches, regardless of the polite, prissy names (‘Sunrise Beach’) shoved on them by the ultra-conservative False Bay Publicity Association were all locally known, west to east, as Rocky Beach, Swing Beach (kiddies’ playground), Balmoral Beach (opposite the hotel), Snake Park (never ‘Pit’), Mixed Beach and Christian Beach.

All Muizenberg school concerts were presented at the old Pavilion, an elegant example of art deco. Our headmaster, Wally Gordon, a noted biologist and brother of the well-known advocate, Gerald Gordon, fancied himself as a dramatist and wrote innumerable playlets for pupils to perform.



THE PAVILION


Muizenberg’s Pavilion was probably the epicentre of cultural life, apart from the smaller Talmud Torah Hall, where am/dram by the South Peninsula Dramatic Society and occasional scout concerts were held. There was also the SAWAS (South African Woman’s Auxilary Service) Hall, where I played some of my first gigs with Hylton Ross’ band. The Pavilion was a vast, labyrinthine building (with secret entrances and forbidden corridors known to a few of us) with turrets, ever-present salty damp and full of echoes, all supported by reinforced concrete, decaying visibly, showing ominous streaks of rust on its sea frontage.

The Pavilion’s east wing held slot machines. The west wing had the oval-countered Pavilion Milk Bar where they always made more milkshake than they poured. Facing the sea and the perennial blast of ‘luft’ (so beloved of the Litvak population) from the south-east, was a palm court lounge sparsely populated by elderly folk taking tea and nibbling toasted tea buns to the accompaniment of a bored          pianist tinkling tunes in front of an Italianate painted canvas backdrop. I also dimly remember a string quartet.

Younger visitors fancied the burgers and hot dogs at Normans, though the arch-rival Maccabee, two doors away, served better hot dogs (two frankfurters on a roll, wrapped in greaseproof paper) and featured an impressive array of pinball machines. For a short while, in the basement of an apartment block close to Muizenberg, funk hit Muizenberg in the shape of ‘The Hamburger Hut’, featuring massive burgers complete with a slice of tomato, raw onion and lettuce. They sponsored a burger-eating competition which ended when a Transvaal visitor guzzled 18 monsters before quitting. It was never repeated and the Hut closed a couple of years later after residents in the block complained about the noise. It was a loss much-mourned.

On the beaches, Cape Coloured vendors (had they not been selling, they’d have been forcibly removed from the beach) wound their way carefully through the splayed limbs carrying trays loaded with paper bags full of lychees, plums and peaches. Peach stones were used for playing five stones in the sand. DOK orange juice in paper cones and Velvet Eskimo pies were sold from a kiosk in the side of the Pavilion, at beach level. When The Season ended and the beach was less crowded, we played bok-bok staan styf against the wall beside the kiosk. Heaven knows how it affected our backs in later years.




The Main Road to Muizenberg from Cape Town held three special delights for us children in the back seat of the Ford V8: Spotties, a cafe shaped like a large spotted dog about 3 miles from destination. Then Lakeside’s Disappearing House, which appeared to be in one position when approached, then seemed to shift to a completely different spot when the car negotiated the Westlake corner. The last memorable sight before home was the Welthagen’s lonely captive monkey that sat chained to a pole outside their house on the corner of the (old) entrance to Boyes Drive. During World War II, the Welthagens were enthusiastic supporters of the nazi cause and the Welthagen jugend, taking inspiration from the SS, headed for the cheder playground to terrorise Jewish children and steal their marbles. One day, two weightlifting Jewish boys explained to the Welthagen boys that stealing marbles from small kids was not to be encouraged and smashed their noses. The Welthagens made a rapid retreat from the public eye, though their monkey made a dash for freedom. It had managed to break loose, bite Shirley Singer, escape across the railway line through the bulrushes next to Pelican Park flats and jump into the vlei where it was executed by police sharpshooters.

My Muizenberg friends? I have no idea what became of Rael Linde who introduced me to both jazz music and Ivy League fashions. Rael’s greatest ambition was to be a drummer in the band at the Waldorf cafe in St George’s Street, Cape Town. To further his objective, he practised endless paradiddles on his schoolroom desktop.





The apartheid police state was responsible for mass departures. Henry Brown, soon to be Nelson Mandela’s Cape Town solicitor, now lives in Kent, England. Roger Tabakin is in London. Frank Lazarus, the actor, who worked with Maggie Soboil, my Mount Road neighbour, and wrote a Tony-winning Broadway show, also lives in London. Denis Herbstein became a distinguished journalist. Zolly Singer, champion miler, smoker and academic, died in Australia. Frank Gordon went to California. Some left and returned: Max Bennun became a gynaecologist. Cecil Frankel went to Australia but now lives in Cape Town, But quite a few stayed where they were: Dudley Werner became a noted oncologist; Ivan Zuck became a pharmacist, like his father; Harold Selby, who worked in the record industry, died young, as did Cyril Reichlin. Boris Lewenstein became an agent for French perfumes. Hylton Ross, from Fish Hoek, but an honorary Muizenberger, became Cape Town’s top society bandleader and a travel tycoon. Ralph Schuman, who had a moustache when he was 12, played trumpet and shared my enthusiasm for jazz, but I haven’t heard from him for years. From the age of 4, I was in love with Evelyn Sacks. I walked her back from BAGOZS, but we never held hands, let alone kissed. Frummy North lived near me in Mount Road and we met again in London, but she returned to South Africa, sadly dying very young. Dinky Kastan, ever enthusiastic, was forever a cheerleader. I remember Esther Garb, Miriam Friedman, Barbara Klugman, Linda Henson and Ellen Hirschfeld. Girls in my high school class included the Apter twins, Myrna Rakin, Barbara Cartwright, Jean Witz and Alice Glickman. Alan Sherman, head boy in 1955, was rated the most popular boy in the school.

And me? Aged 16, I went on to the University of Cape Town to study architecture, only to learn after 2 years that I wasn’t designed to be an architect (I did, however, manage to present a concert by the first American jazz musician ever to visit South Africa). Instead, I went off to work as a copywriter and designer in the advertising department of Lewis Stores Ltd., South Africa’s largest furniture retailers.

The move served me well. When I arrived in Britain in 1961, I eventually found a job in an advertising agency, scaling the dizziest peaks of the London adworld, only to be pulled back by a heart attack, aged 51. Then I wrote my book (11 Steps to Brand Heaven), helped edit a jazz magazine, contributed articles and reviews to many others (and even a book about Cape Town jazz musicians, edited by Lars Rasmussen), practised my clarinet, was invited to join the Jazz Development Trust by John Dankworth and started my busy freelance consultancy: www.wordbright.com

Did I mention my wife Frances, met on the Snake Park? And our children, Jonathan and Deborah, born in London? And our marvellous grandchildren, Jacob, Sarah, Joshua and Saskia? Perhaps not, even though they’ve all (except Sarah) visited Muizenberg at some time or other.

Anything else you’d like to know?

leonardw@wordbright.com

 
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