Gordon’s Early Years

Gordon’s Early Years


I was born on 12th June 1926, in the Enfield Nursing Home, Manning Road, Durban; the only child of Sydney Clifford (b1888) and Anita Ruby, (b1903 – nee Fraser).


At the Nursing home Anita befriended Doreen Wallis who delivered a boy, called John, at about the same time. Doreen’s husband Frank was a dairy farmer at Cato Ridge. This friendship continued for several years with occasional visits and stays at their farm.


In the years 1926 to 1930 we lived on the Natal South Coast, first in a rented house in Winkle Spruit, then at Amanzimtoti, in a wood and asbestos house constructed by Sydney. During the first three years Sydney worked as a book keeper at Ohlson’s Brewery in Durban, commuting daily by train.


We were severely affected by the great depression of 1929 – 1932 when Sydney was retrenched and could not find full time work. Of necessity, roles were reversed, with Anita commuting daily by train to Durban, to work as a CTC Bazaars shop assistant, while I stayed home in the care of Sydney.


Sydney’s occasional work earnings, above having to care for me, had proved inadequate to meet needs. Anita had the necessary skills for extra earnings by dress making after hours. To achieve this, it was decided that she should stay at the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) in Russell Street, Durban on week nights, returning home on weekends. The week long separations were the beginning of the end for marital relations which would ultimately end in divorce.


Anita had corresponded with the Mother Superior of Estcourt Convent ever since she and her sister Mary had happily boarded there, as teenagers. These good folk were happy to care for me, as a boarder, at the age of 4 years. I dimly recollect the building and the Sisters with a feeling of happiness and love. During school holidays I stayed with Anita in her room at the GFS where an Indian maid cared for me on work days. Although I cannot recall specific incidents the GFS old Durban ambiance lingers in my mind, along with a musical hit of the day “It happened in Monterey, a long time ago.” The GFS bordered on Russell Street and Smith St. Diagonally opposite were the makers of Croxley writing pads and directly opposite were tennis courts. There was a clock nearby which played out this jingle every hour:


Ellis Brown’s tea

And their coffee

Proved by each test

To be the best


Final separation came about at this stage with Anita, in effect, becoming the single mother of an only child with full financial responsibility. She had worked as a short hand typist before marriage in Durban in1920 and Melbourne Australia in 1922. She honed these skills to the extent of securing work in 1930 as a short hand typist with Fowlie and Whittock. In this way and by staying on at the GFS and dress making, she continued to support me until she married Dick van Amstel in 1936. During that time I wanted for nothing, even to the extent of such things as a cricket bat. It was remarkable, in these troubled times, that Anita sent regular food parcels to her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Cliff Cross and their son Peter. Absence of work opportunities made it necessary for Cliff to apply his stone mason trade as a relief worker at the sunken gardens on Durban’s beach front, thereby earning the bare needs of feeding a family.


The theoretical downside for me was that in the years 1930 to 1936 I was denied true home life in that I stayed in various establishments and homes. My own philosophy is that all such places had been selected by a loving and ever caring mother thus broadening my experience and circle of friends. In the following pages I shall describe these experiences with reasons of how they benefitted me.


On the matter of the divorce of my parents I was never aware of any altercation, nor have I ever heard an ill word spoken by one of the other. Anita was always mindful of Sydney’s welfare. It was through her initiative, years later, that he was appointed to a position with Reynolds Brothers at Sezela which took him through to retirement. Anita always encouraged the father to son relationship, for birthdays and holidays throughout our lives. I was fortunate in being spared the trauma of divorce that comes to older children.


After experience and regular contact with both Anita and Sydney until their passing it is my firm belief that they were intellectually unsuited for a successful lasting marriage. Some of Sydney’s idiosyncrasies would be revealed to me in later life when unexpected circumstances placed him in our care, as a newly married couple, during the evening of his life.

Sailing is great