The Fifties

In 1956 I got my first colour film for my camera.

Back then colour film was rare and expensive. I was 15, and my mother let me use her camera, a 1936 model Exakta VP single-lens reflex. It was made in Nazi Germany. It took 8 pictures 6,5 x 4 cm on 127 film, and had an f4.5 lens.

My aunt gave me a Ferraniacolor reversal film for my 15th birthday. I took a photo of my mother with our new car, which she had got about the same time.

Ella Hayes with 1956 Wolseley 4/44

The car was quite pleasant , and had all kinds of fashionable features that were abandoned a year or two later, but in 1956 they seemed like an advance on our previous car, a 1948 Wolseley 8. My mother was then working for an estate agent, Arthur Meikle, and was taking a client to see a house when the car suddenly swerved off the road and hit a culvert in Athol Oaklands Road. The external damage was not much, but the chassis was bent (yes, it had a separate chassis) and it was uneconomical to repair. So when she got the insurance money she went to John B. Clarke Motors in Eloff Street and bought its successor, the Wolseley 4/44.

She brought it to school to show it to me, slightly giddy from standing on the revolving platform in the showroom while the salesman explained all the advanced features of the car. There were things like a split-bench front seat and steering column gear change, which meant that you could have three people in the front seat if necessary. A year or two later I and my friends would covet cars with bucket seats and floor gear levers — just like the old Wolseley 8. It made sense, too. The workshop manual for the 4/44 showed an exploded diagram of the gear-change mechanism, with its rods and levers, with 74 separate parts, from the knob at the end of the gear lever to where it entered the gearbox. The left-hand drive model was worse, because this all had to cross over to the other side of the gearbox.

The Wolseley 4/44 was also rather under-engined. It had a 1250 cc engine, a detuned version of one that had been designed for MG TD two-seater sports cars. The MG version had twin SU carburettors, whereas the Wolseley had only one, and far more weight to lug around, especially when fully loaded. To compensate for these disadvantages, it had an elegant interior, with real walnut dashboard and real leather seats. Unlike the Wolseley 8, it had a heater though it lacked the sun roof of the Wolseley 8.

So the picture was taken when it was new and before it acquired many scratches and dents.

Then I got my mother to take some pictures of me with my horse Brassie. He was called Brassie because of his chestnut coat, and the way it shone like polished brass when the sun caught it. I hoped that the colour film might capture that.

Stephen Hayes and Brassie

I had been told, or read in a book somewhere, that a colour photo should always have some red in it somewhere, hence the blanket on his back. Unless I was going a long way, I usually rode Brassie bareback, as soon as I was tall enough to be able to mount him without the aid of stirrups.

The pictures were taken in winter, which is why the grass was dead and brown.

They were taken in Sunningdale. The road is now called Ridge Road, and a little way to the right it crosses what is now called Long Avenue, along which I used to walk a mile along a rutted track to Fairmount School. The track had no name back then but there was a broken down barbed-wire fence somewhere along it with a bit of flattened corrugated iron on which was painted “Pad Gesluit” (Road Closed), so that was what i called it. On the corner corner of Ridge Road and Long Avenue now stands the Yeshiva College. Back then it was vacant. The Van der Merwe’s lived there in a thatched house, which bornt down one day when the paraffin stove caught fire, and they came and stayed with us for a few days.

The land behind in the picture, which was lined by pine trees on the frontage on Long Avenue and Ridge Road, used to belong to Mr & Mrs Groos, who ran a riding school and nursery school, but when the photo was taken the land was vacant and the house had been demolished. The Grooses had moved away to Bramley because their boreholes ran dry. Later their land was subdivided and houses were built there, and I think it is now called Glenhazel Extension something-or-other.

Stephen Hayes and Brassie

We used to live around the corner in what was later called Ridge Road, and the house is still there, though it now has a thatched roof, and when we lived in it it had a corrugated iron roof. It was a 5-acre smallholding, and we had cows and chickens and in school holidays I used to accompany my mother on delivery rounds in the old Wolseley 8. She used to deliver eggs, butter and cream to housewives in the nearby Johannesburg suburbs of Fairmount, Sydenham and Sandringham. Sunningdale was outside the Johannesburg municipal area then, and so did not have municipal light and water. At the time the photos were taken, however, we had moved to a flat in Sandringham, and the hourses were boarding with out former next door neighbours. In 1956 the place was rented by Howard Leslie, an amiable con man, who lived it up, threw wild parties to entertain the neighbours, and scarpered one night when the creditors got too hot.

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