Kensington Chronicles #4: chasing Max, the Mielie Lady & sweets from Spar

Chappies South African sweet

Back in the 90s, I lived in the coolest town in Johannesburg—Kensington. I worshiped every stone and sand particle of it…because it’s where childhood resides. You know all those 80s movies where kids with mullets, caps and Dungeons & Dragons T-shirts cruise the neighbourhood on bikes wielding walkie talkies, with synth swooning in the background? Well, the Kensington Chronicles is my version—only with Monopoly, techno, the smell of African rain steaming off the hot tar and my own bare feet to get me around.

Somerset Road runs parallel to Roberts Avenue and is the connecting road between Jeppe High School for Boys and Jeppe Girls. It was quiet, mostly. Our dog Max (given to us by my uncle after we had to re-home our Doberman Diana to a bigger, more appropriate garden) escaped out of the driveway most mornings before school, sending three smallish children careening down the road shrieking for the dog to come back. The dog thought this was the best game of his life and only ran faster. It was a frenzy—a doggish pied piper playing chaos with his minions. I am pretty sure one of us was supposed to hold him as my mom reversed the car out of the drive but he was a mad, untrained dog and would’ve pulled us with him on his escapade down the road. Not wanting to be drawn and quartered so early in the morning we’d let him go and the chase ensued. Or perhaps we just thought it was fun—and funny. I don’t know what dog he was – a young Boerboel/Boxer type – but he was cute. We gave him back to my uncle. 

Later on, when I realised that boys as well as Boerboels were cute, my best friend Winsome and I polluted the neighbourhood quiet by bellowing insights to the Jeppe boy borders who used to jog past my house every day—we’d shriek (in the way that 11-year-old girls do) “Oh baby, baby” with heart shaped eyes and then duck behind the short wall outlining the porch at the top of our stairs. I moved house before we grew tired of this game. 

And as far as noise pollution emanating from number 18, Christopher was always caterwauling or yelling about something or at someone (usually me or Winicia, or whatever object was not doing what he wanted it to) in his hysterical pre-pubescent way. He was (still is) an emotional guy.  

The only one to rival our cacophony of voice and spirit was the mielie lady, who advertised her wares with passion and purpose. We would echo her cries and laugh hysterically at our practical joke. Hilarious. Mom would sometimes buy mielies and it was an exciting moment when the elusive pedlar (always heard, never seen) stopped outside our house and skilfully removed the corn-loaded hessian bag from her head to spill out its contents for the madams to peruse and select. The white ladies of suburbia would pick the best looking mielies, pay, and then back the bag would go – onto the mielie lady’s head – and she’d continue on her way, hips swaying as she balanced the golden vegetable on her head, calling for tuppence. 

More exciting than mielies (who’d have thought?) was being given 50c to spend at the Spar on Roberts Avenue. With all the jumping, fussing, planning and frenzied chatter you’d think we’d won the grand prize on Telly Fun Quiz and were now embarking on year-long trip around the world, or to buy a Trellidor 

I was placed in charge (“the boss”, like Springsteen); Kate and the boys had to listen to me—our parents told us. Our grand expedition would start outside our houses on Somerset road; money in pockets, walking sticks (discarded by weeping Oaks and Jacarandas just for us)in hand, enthusiasm abundant. We’d head towards Jeppe boys; turn right into Good Hope, left into Roberts and then carry on straight down the main road, past the Marymount Hospital on Albemarle Street, where Roberts Avenue becomes Commissioner trailing into Joburg CBD – deep in conversation, constructing our respective shopping lists, with the occasional whack or shove to keep the expedition alive – until we saw the fizzer-pink elephant trumpeting outside the Jumbo Liquor store that neighboured the Spar shop. It could have been closer, I don’t know but point aside; the critical part of the journey (that had the potential to derail, break and destroy any future sugar-filled adventures) was crossing Roberts Avenue to get to Spar, which was on the other side of the road.  

There was likely a robot to guide us but regardless, there was usually a mad dash across the street—because we were excited to buy our sweets and because we did not want to be crushed by a speeding car or swerving taxi. On one of our adventures, Ali and Kate got stuck on the other side of the road. Chrisie and I had bolted across thinking the little ones were following. They were not. Their forlorn faces, all the way on the other side. I stood on the Spar side and bellowed across, telling my little my 4-year-old brother and our little 4-year-old neighbour when to cross. They ignored the cars whizzing past and listened. Total trust. We made it to the shop, as we usually did, and spent our money on “rollies” (Wilson’s hard-boiled sweets, 25c each—the Humbug, pink (maybe Rose?) and mixed-pack flavours were the best)—and Chrisie always bought a box of blue bubblegum instant pudding.  

Sometimes we never made it to the shop because we’d be lucky enough to run into one of the African Mamas selling Chappies bubblegum (best for blowing bubbles if there was no Wix around) and Wilson’s toffees—laid out on the side of the road on top of a blanket or cloth. We’d select our treats, pay our cents and scramble on…carefully opening the Chappies (never EVER tear a Chappies paper) along the way; shoving as many gums into our mouths as we could (mixing banana, grape, mint and pink with sacrilegious frivolity)blowing bubbles and spluttering out facts all the way home.


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

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