I was Victrix Ludorum

Que Que High School Swimming Team 1960

Que Que High School Swimming Team 1960 Back Row standing: Diana Hirsch, Erica Leonard,Wendy Corbyn, Leslie Ann Newton, Melody Hannaford, Diana Forester, Jennifer Baker, Patsy Papenfus, Maryalice O.Hagan.  3rd Row: Brenda Rees, Gillian Hulley, Kay Whittaker, Miss Midge Henderson (coach), Stella Fullwood (captain), Grace Glover.  Kneeling: Betty Botha, Lillian Stevens, Tess Banfield, Lynn Alcock, Shiela Varkevisser, Front Row: Dawn Brogdon, Charmaine Whittaker, Pamela Lundt, Lynette Samson.

I was Victrix Ludorum

In my baby book my mother wrote ‘I was quick and bright for my age.  At two I never stopped talking and was very affectionate, giving hugs and kisses indiscriminately, especially to men’.

I was Victrix Ludorum

But my brightness faded. I had a deaf ear at the piano.  I did not know my left from my right at ballet.  I could not remember even one line in any of my mother’s pantomimes.

My older brother, Brian, refused to leap up from Wolf Cubs to Boy Scouts and follow Baden Powell’s lead. Never-the-less he lived up to my mother’s hopes by being an outdoor boy, in the spirit of James Percy Fitzpatrick’ Jock of the Bushveld.  My younger brother, David, was winning the prize for the Best of Class every year while I sometimes won Most Improved.

I started swimming before I could walk.  We were sent to the paddling pool to cool our tempers, slobber over watermelons or suck on mangos.

The Dolphin Club at our big new Municipal Swimming Bath opened in 1953 and introduced us to competitive swimming.  Mr. George Eames was our first coach who taught the Tadpoles, followed later by Mr. Horricks from England, who was horrible.

I cycled over to the pool before school, got in through the back gate and did a mile before I cycled home for a quick Maltabella porridge and wedge of paw-paw. I did another mile or two in the afternoons after school.  Suddenly, I started winning all the club and high school events at the galas.  I was Victrix Ludorum in my age group until I went to boarding school.

Dressed in our school uniforms, blazers, felt hats and lace up shoes we would get on the train late on Friday, the darkness adding to the excitement, loaded with our duffle bags for the overnight trip to Bulawayo or Salisbury.  Each cabin accommodated six in bunks.  The steward came round and rolled out the bedding.  The sheets were starched crisp, the pillows plumped, but we hardly slept.  We had pillow fights and lost a few out the open windows. There was a wash hand basin in each cabin, and we played with that.

There was strict separation of the boys carriages from the girls. The coaches, Miss Midge Midgly and Mr. Peter Cox had their hands full because over the clickety-clack of the rails and Elvis we plotted and schemed of ways to straddle the coupling link and invade the boys quarters. We discussed our latest crushes and pashes and the merits and demerits of the one we were ‘going with’.  My mother hated ‘boy madness’.  Her antidote was Girl Guides. I had ‘flown up’ from Brownies reluctantly. I knew I would never be champion there.

Early in the morning the uniformed steward came round, rapping on the door sharply, with a steaming hot stainless steel pot balanced on a tray. Coffee in a thick china cup and saucer was served.

I cut my long hair to a short bob for swimming. There were strict rules about school uniform and personal conduct. Girls could win deportment girdles. Vanity boxes were left at home: no make-up allowed.  I didn’t possess a vanity box. They wailed over every pimple and scrubbed and scrubbed with Phisoderm.

I returned from one of these gala’s in 1960 to find that I had missed the surprise installation of the first TV in Que Que in our very own living room.  I was furious.  Reception was poor to non-existent in big downpours of the only snow we’d ever seen blotting out Leave it to Beaver on screen. Dad said it didn’t really matter as we had our own happy family in real life to enjoy.