lion watermark

The room was angular. There was an old fireplace and the wooden floorboards had a musty smell that mixed with salt in air that wafted casually in from the coast. Not unpleasant. Homely, familiar. Long ago, it must have been a lounge – great settees and letter-writing tables. Today though, it’s a school and Mr André Swemmer is teaching twenty thirteen-year-olds how to praat die taal.

It’s warm, the sun is shining through the sash windows. Mr Swemmer – tall, funny, with a moustache – is perched on a school desk; one of those vintage ones that open right up. He’s only a desk in front of me so I make sure I am paying attention, mostly… something about skryfing gedigtes. Occasionally he gets up to roam as he speaks but he always makes his way back to this particular spot.

…more about beskrywende taal, and then the dogs start barking. A couple and then a cacophony. Swemmer powers through – Jack Russells yap, yap yapping – until he can’t.

“Ag nee, man. Mark! Asseblief, sê vir dardie hontjies te voetsek!”

Mark gets up from his desk and makes his way to the back of the classroom. He lifts the sash window, looks at suburban Stanger from the old-lounge-now-high-school, and shouts “Voetsek!”—and… nothing, not even a pause. The dogs carry on barking. Mark walks back to his desk.

Next thing; “Clare! This is ridiculous. Please tell those dogs to voetsek.”

So, I get up out of my seat and go to the back of the classroom. I put my hands on the ledge and lean out the window until I am practically falling out. I can see the house where the dogs are barking. I open my mouth, take a deep breath and I roar “voetsek!” at the top of my lungs. They shut up immediately.

I come back inside and go and sit at my desk, and we carry on with the lesson.

Later, my older sister Viola (a teacher at the school) tells me that I was the topic of conversation in the staffroom at break time. Apparently, Swemmer turned up in hysterics and proceeded to tell everyone how Clare Aitchison, the Principal’s daughter, told the yapping dogs to voetsek, and they did.


Storyteller: Clare Paterson

Author: Andrea Zanin

Clare Paterson grew up in Durban but moved to Joburg in her twenties, and is currently teaching history at Saheti. Her three children and 10 grandchildren live in England; she misses them lots but enjoys visiting her family and jolling around London and the green pastures of the UK. She also loathes boring tour guides. 

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