ZULULAND LETTER: On the wrong side of the railway tracks

When the woman who was to become my wife in later years – and eventually my ex-wife – took me the meet her parents for the first time, I failed to recognise the main warning signs of incompatibility.

These were homing pigeons circling the house, a Blue Bulls flag flying from the TV aerial, a Ricoffy tin tied to the fence for a post box and the chairs fashioned from of old car tyres on the stoep.

Another, more subtle indication that I was on the wrong side of the railway track, was an actual railway track across the road.

Once inside the house I should have noted other oddities – the block of a Datsun 1400 engine on the coffee table in the lounge, oil dripping onto the carpet; the JH Lynch print on the wall of a half-naked woman lying on top of a tree stump; their nine dogs’ barking which made it sound like I’m at the SPACA; and the missing guest toilet door…

Coca-Cola crates

That people who made The Simpsons on TV look boring had such a beautiful and well-mannered daughter was baffling.

She seemed to be the only normal member of a family of complete loones and during that first visit kept apologising for everything.

Such as when her mother got a bit overexcited with the wrestling on the ancient Barlow Vision TV and shouted at the top of her voice: ‘Grab him by the goolies, grab him hard and rip it off!’.

She also apologised profusely when I got oil on my trousers after not noticing the four pistons lying on the couch and suggested we rather go sit in the kitchen.

Once there I discovered why the toilet doesn’t have a door – it was moonlighting as a table on top of some Coca-Cola crates.

While sitting at the toilet door cum kitchen table the smell of tripe being cooked made my throat close into a spasm and I was desperately hoping for the visit to be concluded before lunch time.

Shopping trolleys

The back door was one of those farm-style jobs with a bottom part and a top part, and behind it the pack of nine dogs went rabid.

It might have been the smell of the tripe or perhaps it was me, but whichever, I stayed well clear of the door because a big black mongrel with a severe case of mange was propped up against the bottom door, chewing on the wood like he hasn’t had a meal for days.

The smaller mutts were attacking his legs and every now and again the black dog – Slash – would go down for a few moments during which an epic dog fight would take place.

For a second I pitied the poor burglar who falls into their jaws, but then realised there’s absolutely nothing worth stealing.

Even Checkers were clearly too afraid to ask for their trolleys back because I counted 12 lying in the backyard next to the pigeon house.

Open plan toilet

Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone back after that first visit, but I did and eventually learned to accept my in-laws for who they were, and while I never got used to the smell of tripe hanging in the air like death, I did end up using the open plan toilet.

You just had to time it right and as a precautionary measure, shout out loud that you are going to the toilet, so people know to give you a few minutes.

I eventually came to love my peculiar in-laws very much and stayed in touch even after the divorce, but won’t do it again and to this day I am extremely suspicious of people who keep homing pigeons.

Val van der Walt

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