One of my first jobs when I moved to South Africa in the eighties was in an in office where first names were not allowed.
“Miss Bradbury,” a fellow worker would say. “Please pass me a ruler.”
“Here you are Mevrou Steenkamp,” I would reply.
“Dankie,” would end our conversation.
We sat in two rows facing each other. An assortment of ladies, young and old. Quietly working at heavy, highly polished desks. Our chief clerk casting her eyes over us, her hair lacquered firmly in place. Noise was not encouraged and at best you could ask for a new pen, but only if you had the old one to hand in. Dress code was strict, ladies were instructed to wear stockings/tights – regardless of the weather -, skirts could not be above the knee, no shoulders to be exposed, and shoes must never, ever expose toes or have you towering. Comfortable court shoes were encouraged, and preferably to be black, navy-blue or brown. Maybe a white pair in summer.
We started at 8 and finished at 5. Food was only to be eaten in the canteen, and we received a 10% discount on any food and textiles we purchased in the store. The value of which was tallied and paid out quarterly.
My employers were very strict. I was nineteen or twenty at the time, barely able to speak the language and was gradually settling into life in Pretoria, or the Jacaranda City as it was fondly referred. Surprisingly, although maybe not so when you consider Woolworths in South Africa’s links to Marks & Spencers in the UK, a number of my colleagues working on the sales floor were ex-pats like myself. We were drawn to each other at break times where conversations were Afrikaans free. We would drink tea as we shared tips on where to purchase our favourite English food stuffs, as well as our attempts at lighting the fire for the braai.
So how does this tie in with Spring Day you may be wondering. Well it was during my first year at this job that I first experienced the celebration. I remember arriving at my desk on September 1st. Flowers and sweets were everywhere. The ladies normal dowdy attire replaced with colourful, and mostly floral clothes. While the level of chatter was allowed to increase, and laughter was almost encouraged. Stockings however remained in place. As did covered toes.
I laugh every year now when Spring day is coming. For no other reason than the enjoyment of remembering these dear ladies celebrating the change of season. I will never forget how they cherished this day, over indulging and breaking the rules of our employ. Or how their faces transformed from sour to sweet delight. I’m not sure if the celebration was such because they hungered for fun at work, or they genuinely found pleasure in welcoming Spring. Whatever it was, they have given me something to remember, and for that I am truly grateful.
photo courtesy Dear Heart Photos