Conversations on Speeches

Whenever I was faced with making a public speech as a child my mother always used to tell me to imagine the audience in their underwear, so that I would not be intimidated by them. In those days it was safe, but imagine today. Those that are cross dressers would vie for attention with those that wore no underwear!

My father loved talking. He could talk to anyone, of any standing in life. He would strike up a genuine conversation and become involved in that person’s life. He made many speeches and was passionate about formal speeches. He collected all of these, neatly typed, in a file and stored them in the strong room at his office. I had seen the file before when I was a child and after he died I knew it was the one item of his that I wanted. I have digitised the speeches and have started writing about them. The Arch Lever file is an old one, neatly labelled with a simple “SPEECHES”. The pages inside date back to flimsy copy paper and Tipex for typewriter mistakes. The fonts start with the old typewriters that almost delivered a handwritten message their mark was so characteristic. Then they progress to the IBM Golfball electronic machine with its neat, perfect font. The last quarter of the speeches were typed on word processing programmes on the computer.

He was a tall orator, and these speeches were delivered flawlessly in one of three languages: Greek, English and Afrikaans. Some of them were delivered in all three languages, with him switching easily between mother tongue and the adopted languages with succeeding paragraphs. They reflect his endeavours and achievements within his community, at SAHETI, of his involvement at his children’s school and his ability to motivate young people.

When I saw him in Greece in 2006 I gave my father a gift of a digital voice recorder which had the capacity to store two hundred hours of speech. I remember him using a micro cassette recorder to dictate letters while he drove us to Alberton Primary School in the seventies. He would drive his little two door pastel blue Fiat 128 as if it was an Aston Martin and he was James Bond, talking into that Olympus spy recorder.

So I asked him in 2006 to dictate about his life, about who he knew, and what he had done, so that I could write the story on paper and leave a book for posterity. I asked him to do this for posterity and his six grandchildren, whom he loved dearly. I thought the last reason was a good one, and would motivate him to talk to the electronic gadget so that I would have a record.

But he never dictated to that machine for me. After he died in 2008 I found it in its box, unused with no message other than the one that I had recorded on it for him. It was then that I committed to writing a book about his life.

Speech on the Occasion of the Opening of the Alberton Hellenic Hall 2 December 1967

Conversations at an Interview

Alberton in the seventies was already blown wide open when one of the Greek community’s sons underwent gender reassignment surgery. In his teens he became a she. There was never any malicious talk that I can remember from that conservative community. There were no hushed whispers when she came to church.

We used to be friends when we were preteens, but then drifted apart. Nothing was forced, and they were a lovely family.

One day my father was interviewing for a post in the company. It was an administrative position, one that would normally be filled by a woman. It’s interesting how gender roles were so fixed in those days, and still we struggle to break them down. South African women were only empowered to vote in 1943. In the years when my father was active on the community there were no woman on the committee. Woman had defined roles, catering in the hall, preparing the bier of Christ, the epitaphio for Good Friday and other important events.

And in those times here was my father interviewing, quite fairly, a gay man for a woman’s post. No doubt my father sat at his ash wood desk with a folio of foolscap pages to make notes. He would have had some questions prepared, written untidily because although he wrote right handed, he was born left handed and all of society forced him to change. Being left handed was too close to the devil, too sinister. While interview, or chairing meetings, he would unnerve people by changing pen from right to left and continue writing.

He would always ask about education and achievements at school, because they were important. Playing sport was a good indicator of social integration. Church attendance was more important than what religion a potential employee followed; I am not sure if Jehovah’s Witnesses were ever employed. I have a feeling they were, but that religion was never discussed at work. Family life was another topic to be covered in the interview. I am not sure how that would have been answered by the gay candidate. It was acceptable in a manner of speaking in those days to declare yourself gay, but not to live with a lover. Of course, marriage to that lover was unheard of, and sodomy was still a crime in the Republic of South Africa.

The candidate was a good option for the job. Well educated, a sportsman, churchgoing and well spoken. My father let him leave.

He called in his senior secretary. Prim and proper, she sat down.

“Yes, Mr Peter?”

“He is a good candidate. But I will not take him. I am worried about you girls.”

Conversations with Al Capone

The 1929 Model A Ford gleamed. The vinyl flat roof top had been oiled. The old fabric red seats were perfect to cosset Al Capone.

The Mafia has always been idolised, during the Prohibition for saving the masses from alcoholic starvation and then after The Godfather Movies. The Italians seem to have a love-hate relationship with the Mafia, perhaps worshipping their freedom of spirit and strength of family ties.

That year in the seventies the committee at the Alberton Hellenic Community cemented the freedom of their spirit and strong family ties at the annual masked fund raising ball. They attended to ticket sales and seating at the door, some handled the bar while others kept a close eye over the caterers, who were wives of the committee members. My father always gave a speech in three languages; respecting the Greek roots, acknowledging the Afrikaans power base and explaining it all in English. The committee members were dressed in non-descript suits until the gathering had settled and then they all rushed off to our house which was close by.

They changed their white shirts to black, and knotted white ties. They tilted Fedora hats on their heads, and some wore sunglasses even though it was dark. They had shoulder holsters with realistic toy revolvers and two of the body guards had Tommy machine guns. Al Capone, played by Peter Kalivitis, sat in the back of the car that had and would serve many brides in delivering them to church on time. I cannot remember but I guess my father drove, as the Ford was difficult to drive. There were no hydraulics, no power steering, a gravity fuel tank that leaked petrol in the car and you had to double declutch to change gears. Not everyone could manage that. The bodyguards rode on the large side runners, elbow hooked through the window pillar and one leg on the spare wheel lodged just behind the winged front fender. There was a spare wheel on each side, so the whole affair was balanced. Except for the old fashioned horn mounted on a bar across the chrome grill. It had a distinct sound with much more character than modern car synthetic horns. This was a real animal call!

The horn was blaring as they careered down the road into the open reception parking area. The body guards dismounted professionally and cleared the area, firing a few too many realistic shots. Al Capone descended regally and took pride of place at a table, and the group must have proceeded to extract protection money from all gathered as part of the fund raising.

I cannot remember much but it must have been a fun evening for them. The committee worked hard under my father to build the hall and church, to staff the Greek school and hold concerts and fetes and other fund raisers. This chance to escape on an old car into an American dream predated modern motivational and reward techniques.

And it was fun!