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Eccentrics and Characters in Waterfall

Do You Know This Man?

Do You Know This  ‘Waterfall Character’?

If something strikes me about Waterfall, it’s the characters. Every community has its fair share of oddballs but characters are more than that, they have substance and value. Characters give a community colour and flavour. I’m referring to individuals usually beyond the years of youth who have developed a certain style or manner expressed more for themselves than out of mere vanity.

In more outlying areas there seems to be a tolerance for characters, or eccentrics if you will, as part of the community not dissimilar to a more urban tolerance for youthful self-expression and experimentation. In more remote communities there is usually a smorgasbord of middle aged and beyond, self-expressive, self-styled characters who would ordinarily be shunned in an urban environment. In smaller communities such people are considered features of a whole. Eccentrics and eccentric behaviour thrives in societies that are detached from the greater boundaries of the big city.

Waterfall used to be very isolated from Durban going far enough back. But as roads and communications improved and the Outer West population grew, Waterfall became more accessible to conventional middle class families. But characters still remain, if you take a moment to spot them.

When my friends arrived in Waterfall from Johannesburg 10 years ago they were amused to see a man dressed like a cowboy, singing Country n’ Western music, that was painful to the ears, from the back of his bakkie in the interest of promoting the weekly boerewors and biltong specials from the  local butchery. Not only were my friends amazed that such appalling attempts at entertainment were being unleashed on the good folk of Waterfall but the said good folk were applauding and cheering with great enthusiasm for a performance that would have been lambasted elsewhere. The attitude seemed to be: “so what if he can’t sing, that’s just who he is, he’s doing his best.” Besides, they all seemed to be well acquainted with the man.

Our friends in their snobbishness used to refer to “Waterfall Types”. “Looks there’s one” they would say in amusement. But in a short while their sniggers changed to endearment as they fell in love with the suburb. They still may say: ”There’s one.” From time to time but their attitude has changed from snide to pleasant observation. In fact they’ve noticed that the amount of characters have dropped and feel quite concerned.

But the atmosphere prevails. In Waterfall if you are over a certain age you are allowed to wear your pants as high as you like and as colourful as you like and with as many outrageous patterns as you like. You may also wear dress shoes, short white socks and jeans shorts and even a skirt up round your solar plexus. You may dye your hair and then change colours as often as you want and there’s no shame in wearing any kind of hat either, decorated with small animals or fruit if you prefer. Your opinion on a wide variety of subjects is tolerated by all the staff at the Waterfall Spar, who tolerantly nod and smile, especially on a Tuesday. If you want to use two parking spaces for your 1977 Peugeot 404 –who cares?  Creativity with facial hair is encouraged as is popping into the shops with bare feet. You’re also never too young or too old to wear live flowers in your hair. Nor should one be of a specified shape to wear sleeveless garments or tight shorts regardless of the sex.

Entertainment takes on special meaning out here. I recall a line of towering blue gums running alongside the old Waterfall shopping centre. One week these were systematically cut down in zealous pursuit of all things indigenous, all done under the watchful eye of senior citizens in folding chairs on the pavement with thermos flasks and sandwiches bussed in from the Waterfall Garden Retirement home. For some it seemed that was all just in week’s entertainment.

Just one last example springs to mind: if you happen to travel down Niagara Drive you will notice a spritely lady going for her morning and afternoon walk, as so many safely do. However you would notice she carries with her a bag of litter that she has collected on her way. As a result Niagara Drive must be the neatest road in the suburb. Not the sort of one finds in cities where litter collection is left in the hands of municipal workers. It takes a special sort of character to commit to such a sense of the pristine.

Waterfall has an abundance of entrepreneurs running light industry factories, all manner of shops and small business with names like Clever Little Fish, Quirky Queens, Sham Pooch dog parlour, Crinkly Bottom- sadly missed as is the Thirsty Duck. All types of people build, labour and serve away in Waterfall, thriving in an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance.

Off I go to the shops then, one glance in the mirror –gasp! It’s one of them!