VISITING THE SPCA


Visiting the SPCA I admit this seems an odd title for an article in a blog mainly about books, but bear with me. During my recent trip to Kwa-Zulu Natal I managed to squeeze in a hasty visit to one of my favourite places in the Upper Highway area: the Kloof SPCA . It is a bargain-hunter’s paradise. Given my druthers I would cheerfully spend all day at the SPCA, but our hectic schedule permitted only an hour – better than nothing. The narrow road to the SPCA winds down a steep hill, crosses a small, jungly banked stream, then up another hill and onto the SPCA property. When you get out of your car it’s hard to believe that only a kilometre away is a highway, shopping malls, car guards, taxis, street vendors, school kids, Mums in massive 4x4s: busy urban life. But up on the hill you could be a million miles away. Apart from the frenzied barking of the caged dogs punctuated by the cries of the resident peacocks parading across the lawns, it is quiet and peaceful under the magnificent shady trees. People are sitting in the tea garden, chatting, drinking tea, and pigging out on cream scones and lemon meringue pie. To the right of the tea garden stands an old rondawel, There is a steady stream of Zulu ladies entering, and leaving with happy smiles, clutching bulging black bags. Their purchases are destined for pavement markets, or their families. The rondawel is bursting with second-hand clothing – everything from hats to shoes and in between. Inside the rondawel it is seriously hot (this is Natal, remember!) and the crush of traditionally built ladies is so great that I abandon my search for a bargain and stumble thankfully outside. On my last visit I found a divine emerald green silk scarf, for the ridiculous price of R5. Maybe next time …. From the rondawel I zip over to the small corrugated iron lean-to that houses the donated music items: LPs, tapes, CDs, DVDs, videos and even two dusty record players perched on the top shelf. There are a couple of battered portable radio/cassette players parked on the next shelf, and under that plastic crates filled with LPs – a treasure trove, I’m sure, but I don’t have time for prolonged browsing. Not today. Next stop is over the path to the building that houses the bric-brac. At one time I suspect it must have housed the original SPCA offices, or perhaps been a residential house. The concrete steps up to the verandah are old and chipped. The veranda is enclosed with rusty chicken-wire netting which barely restrains the piles of kitchen equipment, mysterious rusty metal objects and elderly kitchen chairs. I ignore this detritus and make a beeline for the shelves inside which display ornaments and bric-brac. I’m looking for cat-themed ornaments to add to my collection. My gaze sweeps over glassware, copper beer tankards, wooden bowls, ashtrays, assorted cups, plates, saucers, tea pots, pyrex ware, china dogs, commemorative plates and plaques, regimental shields, ratty leather covered jewellery boxes, simpering plaster moulded babies, porcelain flower baskets, cheap Chinese vases and fans. Drat. Not a feline ornament to be seen. But I have saved the best until last. I carefully navigate the steps out onto the path, walk through the plant nursery and turn left up the uneven flagged path into the shed where the books are stored. This is my favourite second hand bookstore in all the world. The building is totally unsuitable for the storage of books in a tropical climate. Or any climate, for that matter. Basically its another large ramshackle shed, roofed with holed corrugated iron sheets. Any book I buy here is browned, foxed, damp spotted, extremely dusty, thoroughly worn, modestly priced, and an absolute triumph. The book sales are organized by squads of geriatric volunteers, slowly shuffling between the crates of donated books and the lurching assortment of wobbly wooden shelves. I’m not sure which are wobblier: the shelves or the volunteers? An added hazard is the uneven floor which suddenly, and for no apparent reason, rises up a level to a concrete platform, and then descends unexpectedly with a nasty steep step in a particularly dark section of the room. I suppose the volunteers quickly learn to deal with the uneven flooring, or else they’d all be on crutches. All I know is I’ve nearly twisted my ankle on more than one occasion, when I’ve stepped back from a shelf in an unwary moment. But it’s all worth it. Last year I discovered another room, a tiny annexe crammed with magazines, atlases and travel books, partitioned off with the ubiquitous chicken wire from a mound of boxes and crates of donated but unsorted books. On this visit my search in the annexe yielded three wonderful books: Falling off the Map – Some Lonely Places of the World by Pico Iyer. He’s one of my favourite travel writers. Try him, if you enjoy travel books. The paperback cover is dirty and creased, and a sticker on the inside cover tells me the book was once owned by the Brookwood Book Club. It has definitely been read many many times! I also note the Club paid R39-94 for the book in 1993 – how I wish we were still paying these prices for new books. What Lands are These? By Dorothy Hammond Innes (wife of the novelist Hammond Innes) covers their travels to Papua New Guinea, Africa, Pakistan, and finishes off in Wales; what a licorice all-sorts assortment of countries. The pages are foxed and musty but the book is in good condition. I think I bought the last book purely on the strength of its cover, which has under the title, a glorious pastel by John Frederick Lewis ‘A halt in the desert’ – there are camels, sand, palm trees, turbaned men, mountains, a glimpse of the sea, – irresistible! The title is Fountains in the Sand by Norman Douglas. The jacket informs me “This classic travel book, first published in 1912 and long out of print, is now reissued … “ It describes travels between the springs and oases of Central Tunisia. The back jacket describes the author Norman Douglas as having …”lived a long, varied and at times scandalous life.” I can’t wait to read it! ***** (P.S.: I’d like to add that as a result of the dedicated volunteers who work on these fund-raising projects, the Kloof SPCA is the only SPCA in the entire country that manages to run at a profit. A splendid achievement. As we all know, 99% of welfare/charity organizations are always desperate for donations and trying valiantly to fund-raise. Well – these supporters have got it right. Good for them!)

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5 Comments

Filed under BOOK REVIEWS, TRAVEL

5 responses to “VISITING THE SPCA

  1. Sounds like a wonderful place Alison, I love treasure caves like that. Definitely worth a second visit. So you didn’t come back with a dog, then? Ginny

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  2. Elaine

    Loved your description of the aged volunteers at the SPCA! I can just imagine the place – still part of colonial Africa.

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  3. Hi Alison, what a treasure of a place!!!! As far as I know, such places don’t even excist here! How I miss them from home!

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  4. Pauline

    What a wonderfull place to visit, I felt as if I was actually there.
    Well done to the S P C A. Great people.
    Maybe there might be an Aladins Cave close by perhaps?
    Pauline.

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