I would like to introduce an old friend, a debating and sparring partner, a witty, perceptive and wry commentator on the human condition and much else besides, who I hope will become a contributor to this blog. Michael Alfred (aka Gluckstein) and I go back to primary school, Yeoville Boys Primary School to be more precise, where for about two important years we were inseparable. Via the mysterious workings of human chemistry, we recognised in each other kindred spirits and formed a duo against the slightly alien mob (at least to my eyes) which constituted the main body of boys at the school.
In fact, they were not so alien and many went on to become respected and even respectable citizens, but we and they did come from one of the slightly rougher and modest suburbs.
Though after primary school our paths diverged, we kept up an irregular contact for over 60 years. Mike Alfred became, in roughly this order, a strapping, rugby-playing youth, a ladies man (of sorts), an industrial psychologist in a large firm, a family man with two children of his own, a successful, freelance consultant and now, a retiree, free to educate and nurture his grandchildren and to continue to explore and express the different facets of his wide-ranging intelligence and concerns.
Besides an abiding love for the natural world and words, Mike is a sharp, dry – but never bitter and rarely sentimental – observer of his fellow humans, both current and historical. He has expressed his perceptions, wisely and wittily, in at three books of poetry and a collection of 10 short biographies of prominent Johannesburgers. For reasons of his own he has a soft spot for that seedy, violence-prone floozy though, I suspect, he harbours a secret lust for the glossier attractions of the Mother City.
Mike, together with his wife, Cecily, trades in antiques, books and various objets d’art at a number of markets in Gauteng and is a knowledgeable guide to Johannesburg, current and past.
He has recently sent me a summary of his accumulated wisdom (if I may be so bold), in the form of pithy aphorisms under the evocative title “Gluckstein’s Reflections”; Gluckstein being a paternal ancestor within the Alfred pedigree. There are too many to be digested in a single sitting, so will appear at intervals to enliven these pages. But in the meantime I will complete this introduction by quoting very briefly from Mike’s published writings. I trust the copyright Gods will forgive this mild transgression. I know Mike will, especially if you go out and buy one or more of his works.
Road to Tonteldoos
Whither the sign to Tonteldoos,/to Nooitgedacht and Sil’kaat’s/ Nek; those gravelled roads, those/ dust-cloud roads, the roads we seldom take? The roads that flicker/ under trees; they track the stream/ and course the hills, under a smoky/ moon. They’ll take you to the gentlest/ soul, a simple home by crystal spring,/ a valley shelt’ring mastodons and/ Volschenk, painting evening light.
They’ll answer all life’s riddles,/ cleanse you under clockwork rain;/ they’ll offer ten resplendent birds/ and many joyous years of grace.
Whither the track to Elandslaagte,/ by fields and and lakes and golden/ light? We know full well that magic/ road, the road we seldom take.
(from Poetic Licence by Mike Alfred, Botsotso Publishing 2007)
An extract from Lionel and Florrie Phillips:
Sir Lionel Phillips was walking to lunch from the Corner House, corner Commissioner and Simmonds Street, to the Rand Club in Loveday Street, when a man pointed a gun at him. With typical courage, neither cowering nor fleeing, he advanced towards his attacker in an attempt to disarm him. He took a bullet in the chest, another in the neck, yet another grazed his temple. He fell bloody to the pavement. Onlookers grabbed and disarmed the assassin. Percy Fitzpatrick, his friend and business colleague, later to write Jock of the Bushveld, lifted him bleeding into his nearby car and sped to hospital. There the gushing neck wound was staunched and an unusu~l11y complex operation was performed to remove a bullet from Phillips’ lung. Unaided by modern medical sophistication, the well-known Randlord remained critical for some days. His wife was told by his surgeons to prepare herself for his demise, but he rallied and recovered. Fitzpatrick’s immediate action helped to save his life. He had survived one more confrontation with death.
(Johannesburg Portraits by Mike Alfred, by Jacana Media 2003)