Conversations on Retirement

My father never retired. He continued to work in the office till the last. He continued as a director of the Bank of Athens till the last. He continued raising funds for the Greek community and SAHETI till the last.

He was passionate about all these things. There were phases in his life when he did more, like work from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. every day except Sunday, but that changed. He was chairman of the Alberton Hellenic Community for many years, but that changed. He was founder and the president of the Greek Federation for a few years, but that changed. He went to Greece for six weeks on holiday every year in July, but that changed.

He started a building company in Greece. This required more frequent visits, and stressful dealings with the South African Revenue Services to set up an offshore company and ensure the profits returned to South Africa. This was the early eighties, at the height of sanctions against South Africa and with our dual currency to prevent loss of foreign exchange.

In the nineties he slowed down with building development in South Africa and took on only a few small projects here and there. At the time of the electricity crisis in 2006 when ESKOM had rolling blackouts my father was innovative in building townhouses that each had their own solar water heating system. It was a good marketing ploy and he was proud of the greenness.

He never really saw anything but property as an investment for retirement funding. Saving money and gold was for “a rainy day” and “a nest egg”. You had to have rental property to obtain an annuity income. But I know you have to manage the property yourself, and he had his own agency, Civic Centre Estates, that did the rentals and collections. The residential rental seemed to be just to tick the capital over, as some social circumstances for tenants have always been dire. The commercial rental was the mainstream of income and status for his companies.

When we were in senior primary school he bought the house next door, on the north side of our home in Alberton, where my mother still stays. He fenced off that house, a traditional sixties square face brick house, from the property and included the rest of that newly acquired house and swimming pool into our garden, so we had almost an acre of land. The original split pole fence had a line of lemon trees planted by my grandfather, and these remained for a few years until they died. That house next door is rented just to have an occupant. Not to make money.

My father knew his tenants like a doctor knows his patients. Which ones needed more attention. Which ones needed protection from  drainage on income, and which ones were hiding their money. The only thing is that a doctor can only collect rent from his patients while he works, not once he is retired.

Conversations about Holidays

We had an inverted life in South Africa, following the European seasons. In the middle of the year we would leave the crisp Highveld mornings for an oven baked Greece and return to the end of winter when the weather would always sour and sometimes even snow.

As children we would nag my father to explore South Africa, where we lived. South Africa, which we considered home. But come December he would go to the office every day even once the strict builders holiday had started and catch up on work gone by or strategise into the New Year.

I remember three holidays beyond the Highveld and the Middleveld of Rustenburg and Warmbaths. The first was to a retirement hotel in the Drakensberg, with a chapel waiting to bury those residents that did not make it through the night. The second was a stay in the Lowveld, at Mount Sheba Hotel. And the last was at the newly built Beacon Island Hotel in the whale lookout island of Plettenberg Bay.

We arrived at El Mirador in the afternoon and settled into the musty rooms.  We were told not to make noise, not only after 7 at night but just not to make noise, period. The food at dinner was budget limited with enough roughage to keep the old folks bowels going. We walked around the hotel and discovered the chapel. This was long before couples had decided to use exotic places to get married, and it did not serve as a wedding chapel, unless any of the octogenarian couples renewed their vows or perhaps remarried their long lost sweethearts after their life partners had succumbed to the great mountain calling them away from life.

We stayed the first night of our weeklong reservation and ate breakfast, which started with stewed prunes, once again to keep our aged fellow residents regular. The Eagles released “The Hotel California” in 1977, a few years after our one night stay at El Mirador. It was a reflection of their high life in the City of Angels, Los Angeles. Later I would parody the song to reflect the high life of our stay at “The White Road”, named after a pre-Columbian ancient Mayan city. The only correct reflection to the naming of the hotel was in fact the reflection of the ancient residents.

After breakfast we abandoned the excesses of El Mirador and checked into Champagne Castle nestling in the real mountains of the Drakensberg. We arrived in the mist and because of the late desperate booking my brother and I ended up in a newly built honeymoon suite. I was only ten years old, but that room did set my dreams alight for what a honeymoon room should look like. I had no idea what else happened on honeymoon at that stage of my life, and any ideas I might have had were recently dispelled by the aged residents of El Mirador.

We had a great week there, walking behind guides who made us fresh tea in a billycan on a fire on the rocks of the clear stream banks.

On the way home we passed El Mirador. The chapel remains near the road, and forty years later reminds the visitors to the Champagne Sports Resort that it once was a retirement hotel.