We were allies in some respects, but in others I was still the nasty sister who liked to tease her brother. I got a vampire outfit from someone one day. One of those ones with the plastic teeth and plastic cape. I wrote a letter to Alistair. When I mean I wrote a letter, I actually just scribbled some lines on a page and pretended I’d written a letter, as I couldn’t really write properly at this point. I ran to Alistair and told him he’d received a letter from a vampire. As he couldn’t read at all, I read it out to him. It gave him instructions to meet this vampire by the garage doors by a certain time. Off he went. I put on my vampire outfit and went to meet him. He was not convinced. He saw through my disguise and scoffed at it. I responded by telling him that I was a vampire, I had eaten his sister and taken her form, which is why I looked like her. He ran away screaming for our mother.
I’m not sure what happened to that vampire outfit after that.
My parents had always wanted more than one child. My mother wanted 4, two of each, but after struggling to conceive Alistair they were happy with the two of us. My father had always wanted to move to Scotland as he’d listened to his Scottish grandmother talking about living there. When my mother’s parents died they left a pretty big inheritance that was split between their 5 children. It was enough to set the wheels in motion to immigrate to the UK.
Three months before we left she found out she was pregnant. It was too late to stop everything from happening. Our house was on the market, our tickets were bought and all relevant paperwork sorted out. She kept it a secret until we were on the other side. The only person outside of my immediate family to know was my aunt, who then organised a leaving do that was also, sort of, a baby shower of sorts. I vaguely recall questions around would we like a brother or sister. I think that was to get the idea in our heads as opposed to actually telling us for definite. I know that I was adamant I wanted a sister, should I have any kind of choice in the matter. I somehow knew that this would be my last chance, and sisters somehow seemed a lot more fun than brothers.
We packed up our things. Everything was being shipped over to the UK, which would take 3 months, giving my parents enough time to find a place for us to settle into. I remember how heart-breaking some decisions were. For us it was toys we had to leave behind and give to others. For my parents it was furniture, memories, things of sentimental value. Never mind family and friends. Alistair and I didn’t really have much of a concept for the change moving would bring. I think to us it felt like we’d just be moving to another city – still somehow close to all we knew. It was going to be an adventure.
All of our stuff was packed up and taken. Our dogs and cats went to other homes. My brothers dog went off with a family she had never met before, but she took to on sight. My dog, my beautiful Jock, a gorgeous border collie, went to my uncle. My mother was very stressed about leaving him and the cats, as my uncle hadn’t come to pick him up. My grandfather comforted her and told her that he would make sure the animals were looked after. Eventually my uncle picked him and the cats up and took them to his house. We came back to the UK a few months after we’d emigrated for my uncle Allan’s wedding. We went to see Jock. He barked at us as if we were strangers. He knew who we were, but there was definitely hurt and anger in his eyes. We’d left him behind and he didn’t understand. A few years later he was found dead at the bottom of my uncle’s garden. The neighbours behind had never liked him and more than likely threw poisoned meat over the fence for him to eat.
We stayed with my Aunt Bernie and Uncle Angus for the week or so before we left. For Alistair and I this was great fun. We’d always gotten on very well with my cousins Matthew, Thomas and their sister, Victoria. It was like a holiday for us. The Rugby World Cup was happening, which made everything even more exciting. Things were great and, in our heads were going to stay great.
The day before we left South Africa won the world cup. This would be of significance to any country, but to South Africans it was so much more. I’d never really been interested in sport up to then. I went to the cricket with my Dad every summer, and went to his football matches on the weekend. But during those weeks in 1995 the rugby caught the country’s imagination. I used to stay after school at a homework club for a couple of hours every day. The games were on during the club, you could watch them in the school library at lunch time. Everyone was talking about it. We’d been out of international sport for so very long, and, although we had a lot of talent, no one expected us to get further than the quarter finals.
Against all odds, against a seemingly unbeatable All Blacks side, we won.
South Africa had come through a lot, and there was still so much more to come, so many wounds that needed to be healed and not an awful lot to be proud of. It was a divisive nation. I’ve since read the book that the film Invictus was based on, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. I’ve since read about what was going on behind the scenes, what led up to us actually getting the World Cup and how Mandela managed to use it as a way to unify the country, using a sport that initially divided it. I didn’t know all of this at the time. I didn’t know the history of South African Rugby, how it was seen as the sport of Apartheid, the sport of oppression. I do know what it felt like to be there when we won. It was as if a great roar of joy went up in every house around us. We went off to church, there were cars and cars of people on the road, tooting their horns as loudly as they could. A man stood at the side of the road, tears of joy streaming down his face, waving the South African flag for all it’s worth. It felt like the whole country was celebrating as one. After church we went around to say goodbye to a few people. We must have been gone two or three hours. When we returned the man was still there, this time in the central reservation, flag still waving, pride clear on his face.
For the first time in history South African’s had something to be proud of. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that that tournament definitely helped to unify the country, even if it was just for a little while. The fact that we were able to do it so soon after regime change and so well must have eased any fears the international community may have had. I didn’t watch the game. I was instead playing with glow in the dark goo in my cousins room, trying to make weird shapes on the walls and then clean them off before the adults caught us making a mess. I bought the game the last time I was in South Africa, as I regretted the fact I hadn’t seen it at the time. I tend to watch it every time we lose horrifically to the All Blacks, or crash out of a world cup. It makes me feel better and reminds me of that magical time when we managed to do the impossible.
We left South Africa on the 25th June 1995. My family gathered in the airport, my grandparents, my father’s brothers and sisters, and us. They sang rugby songs, ones with rude lyrics that children my age didn’t understand. I went to go and have a little cry in the bathroom. When I came out, my grandfather was waiting for me, with a parcel in his hands. A few weeks previously, as we wondered around a shopping centre, he asked me if I could have anything as a present, what would I want. At the time there were porcelain dolls everywhere, and I was desperate for one. They were pretty expensive, and my family have never really had the kind of money to spend on such things. But it was the very thing I wanted at that time. He handed me the parcel. I looked inside. It was a baby on a little music box. She had a bonnet around her head, with a porcelain head and hands. It was the closest thing he could come to getting me a porcelain doll. Since having it she’s been mauled by kittens, lost her bonnet and gotten a mark on her head. The music box plays silent night, with one line missing. She’s probably the most precious thing I own.
My grandmother has since told me it’s the first and only present he’d ever bought for one of his grandchildren. I had to go and sit somewhere to have a little cry after finding that out. A housemate in my first year of uni told me that the doll freaks her out. I told her I really didn’t care.
We got on the plane after they had to call us by name. As we took off, with the men of the plane singing rugby songs once more, I stared out of the window. I was sure I could see my grandparent’s car driving off into the distance. I followed it with my eyes until I couldn’t see it anymore.
We landed in Paris the next day. My father was the only one of the four of us who had been out of South Africa, so it was a whole new experience for us. With 9 hours to spare before our flight to England, we went for a wander around the city. I honestly can’t remember that much about that day, other than I was so tired. I know we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. My parents pointed out the copy of the Statue of Liberty. I couldn’t see it. They kept pointing in the distance, insisting on showing me where it was. I still couldn’t see it, but really couldn’t be bothered to continue to look, so I lied and told them I’d seen it and it looked great. There was a carousel on the opposite side of the Seine. It was the most magical thing I’d ever gone on. Instead of only one level of ride, there were two. It looked like something out of a book. Alistair and I went on it. We walked around a bit more, my mother nearly got run over crossing the road. She proceeded to start singing “I was squashed in France” to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s “Lost in France” as we carried on exploring.