The Road to Bishopscourt

It’s been a 70-year journey from Joubert Street
Set above Blake’s Mill and the gushing streams
From the rock that gleams under morning dew.
Trudging on Sabbath Day foot down the pavements
Rolled in a pram; bounced over kerbs
To a dedication repeat of the year before
With never a thought of Bishopscourt.
It’s a shorter journey from Pleasant Place
Set among conifers and the trickling brook
That might have flown from Devil’s Peak
Watering the Garden that surrounds a school
And the UCT gifted by imperator colonialis
Where Social Science really becomes an art
Allowing time to dream of Bishopscourt.
It’s a hop, skip and jump from Groote Schuur
Down the corridors to a shared bathroom
And loudspeakers with ‘Doctor du Plessis, Doctor du Plessis.’
When all she wanted was to be back at that window
Gazing across the Flats, imagining the future,
But hearing the call of countries beyond,
Knowing she’d never ever live in Bishopscourt.
    Westmoreland Road and Bishop’s Avenue,
    Then House number seven on Denmark Hill
    Making sure floors are red and brasses shine
    So there’s never a speck to find the SO’s finger
    Up flights of stairs and corridor prayers
    Preparing for covenanting on our knees
    Giving up all thought of a life in Bishopscourt.
    Chikankata was at least on African soil
    A nest for infants and home for a family;
    Lemons for leprosy, an orchard for mangoes;
    Chickens clucking and a mastiff barking
    While Easter morning celebrates the rising sun
    Across a garden where bream are braaied over embers
    As good as they’d do them in Bishopscourt.
    193 was stacked on a hill with petrol soaking the clay
    So the house slips down while we find rat-runs to 101
    And the children ply routes to an Old Palace and Whitgift
    Thinking we’d be there forever and ever
    Until the bell tolls, signalling break-up and dispersal 
    As we go our separate ways to far corners
    Nowhere near a Bishopscourt.
Refuse rots on Nungambakkam High Road
And open sewers breed cockroaches and rats
While buffaloes and putt-putts trail behind TCW
Around roundabouts this way and that,
And a smiling policeman waves the Ambassador on
Returning from Ritherdon Road to a flooded compound
As we think it would really be better in Bishopscourt.
Brambly Glen had its locked doors and electronic gates
Protecting the residents from unwanted visitors
But allowing Freda in for ironing
While the Camry carried the couple to Braamfontein
Or south to Bloemfontein, dodging the high-jackers
At a hundred and twenty with just a chance
They might yet make it to Bishopscourt.
But now it’s down the 222 and into The Elms
Where the postman arrives on his bike
Finding 4 Hever Gardens has a name,
Carrying messages of joy with the fewest of words
To ‘the lady of the house speaking’
‘A very happy seventieth birthday and many happy returns’
To Bishopscourt.
The road she’s travelled is her own, but also ours
With its twists and turns, and punctuating stops.
It’s a highway shared with fellow-travellers
Nostalgically remembered, and with some longing
To be back where we were with those loved,
Savouring the past, though with always the hope
Of being with them one day in Bishopscourt.
To Margaret, on her birthday, One of her childhood dreams was to live in Bishopscourt.
17th July 2012 

University of Cape Town - by courtesy Adrian Frith
William Booth College, Denmark Hill - by courtesy Fan Yang
The Salvation Army International Headquasrters - by courtesy Adrian Pingstone