DONKEY BOY DAYS

When I consider the Christmas gift expectations of youngsters today, I can’t help smiling – ruefully.
These days, you hear stories all the time of moms and dads telling you how proud they are of Millie-Jane or Augustine, or Brinsley – and that their reward was going to be an entry-model Renault.
Brand new, I tell you.
I’m not complaining … Wait. Bloody hell, yes I am. When I was Millie-Jane’s age, my station in life was a spell over the Festive Period, working for the Post Office as a ‘Donkey Boy’.
Yeah, that’s what they called us in the coloured areas.
Our job was to help the postman deliver Christmas cards – and when I pushed my big, black bike into Chatham Road or Berry Lane, the riff-raff (some of whom were my friends) would chorus: ‘Oy, Donkey Boy’.
It was quite a sought-after Christmas job, but I always had an inside track because my father, uncle and cousin were postmen.
About a week before the work started, we had to go into the depot, at Plumstead, to sign a white form and to be briefed about honesty, punctuality, and the importance of having a reliable bicycle.
And then we were ready to go….
I had to arrive fairly early in the mornings to help my dad sort (mainly cards). There was usually a festive atmosphere in the office. With Christmas collections having started, there was plenty of money around for pies and other goodies from a nearby shop.
Noticeable about the annual ‘Christmas collection’: even in the coloured areas, was that people would ask: ‘Postie, when are you bringing around your list?’
I bet that doesn’t happen today.
There were some really interesting characters in the office. My dad was one of them, mainly because his lack of fluency in Afrikaans shocked me. Interesting too was a big guy whose surname was Moses. I think he played rugby. Everyone referred to him as ‘Perry Poep’.
Even the Donkey Boys, like me, had to call him ‘Mr Perry Poep’.
Then there was Willie-Max’, who played the sax in a langarm band. When he smiled, he showed the biggest pair of teeth I’d ever seen.
I also remember a guy called Kat Davids, whose claim to fame was that he was the goalkeeper of the Depot’s football team. I think that’s how he got the name ‘Kat’.
The work itself was vrek boring, especially in the coloured areas, where my father, who knew everyone would get invited into just about every second home for a drink (and I, for homemade ginger-beer). Today, I look back with great respect on my dad’s ability to hold a drink. Of course, I didn’t think so then. In my case, I almost drowned in the homemade ginger beer of strangers.
I hated the stuff – and it was only many years later, that I was persuaded to try it (with Med Lemon) as a cure for flu.
The other interesting thing that happened – quite a while afterwards – was that one of the houses that my dad popped in for a drink, Rotherfield Road in Plumstead, was the scene of a murder: The guy, a happy-go-lucky type of fellow, was charged with the killing. I thought his wife, the victim, was very nice, except for the fact that she tried to persuade me to have more homemade ginger beer when I had already said ‘No, thank you.’
I think the husband was sentenced to 14 years.
Last thing, when we were paid, my mother expected the big, brown envelope with the money to be placed in her hands – unopened.
And then she’d give me some cash in small denominations.
We obeyed our parents unquestioningly in those days. I guess that’s why my behaviour leaves much to be desired these days….
Trudy Rushin and Enver Mall
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