Harold Strachan's Last Word

Whiter shade of pale


Then there was my second cousin Lettie van Tonder, you see, whose full name was Laetitia van Tonder MacGelligut Perlstein. This was because her mother Magnolia van Tonder had got married to a gent from Edinburgh name of MacGelligut whose mother was married to a Jewish gent name of Perlstein though his business was not in pearls but in diamonds. And diamonds were why all this marriage business happened in Namaqualand se wêreld, so naturally there should have been a bit of Khoi in there too, jy weet mos; her full name should actually have been Laetitia van Tonder MacGelligut Perlstein !!*˚√˚¡, this last meaning He who Hunts the Ostrich by Night. Ozzie for short. That was okay, because everybody thought that back in our ancestry we had some Australian gent in the family who gave us our merry Mandela-type smiling Irish eyes, and we didn’t want them to know that in fact we had a touch of the tar brush, as the saying goes. Well, went.

Cousin Lettie would purse her lips like the navel on an orange.  She would move her head like the spring-mounted pate on one of those small plastic dogs you put at the windscreen of your car. In the privacy of the home, with all doors and windows shut, and only within the family of course, and sotto voce, she would talk of this ancestral woman who had had something going with a native. Och tha’s nothin’, mon, husband Dougie would say, who came from Glasgow, I ken a wumman who got married on a bloody Scotchman. 

Well anyway, we all got sort of nicely bleached out over the generations, as happens. Why, in Australia in 1970 they had to have a law to bleach people out. Poor li’l Abbo kids were taken away from their folks forever and stuck in special places where they got education and introduction to paleface communities where they’d fall in love and marry and have babies who would get whiter and whiter with the passing generations until they looked proper Norwegian. Sort of.

Only there’s something wrong with the Abboes, man, they seemed to enjoy marrying each other and having no money and eating kangaroos in the bush. The law had to be scrapped for ingratitude. Here we had no such problem, everybody wanted like anything to be white, so our family got nicely bleached out over the generations, and we were really quite proud of it. Och come ON, Dougie would say, tha’s not the furrst time ye buggers got bleached oot, mon! If I was one o’ yon Dutch passengers arrivin’ i’ Cape Toon i’ seventeen hunderd A.D. after three minths at sea, the furrst thing I’d hae done after a good lunch is get oot theer and bleach white a couple o’ they Khois.

So then, whatever, we did get nice and white. Even blonde now and then.  But such are the vicissitudes of life upon this planet that we’d no sooner got nice and white and even blonde than cousin Lettie’s son Christiaan went off and married another Jew.  Well okay, a Jewess as they were known in those days, along with lionesses and poetesses and potatoesses and things. But total, this one, on both sides of her family, unbleached, her mitochondrial DNA going clear back to Eve. Cousin Lettie would do her navel orange thing and wobble her head on its spring and say, but only within the goyische part of the family, of course, and with all windows shut, and doors, and sotto voce: It doesn’t really matter too much, she would say, because Rochele is nice and white too. I mean at least she’s… European, she would say, which is what one called white folks in those days. Och come ON, Dougie would say, Jews are no’ European, they’re no’ even Caucasian, and cousin Lettie would scowl at him something horrid in a Christianly sort of gruesome way.

Come tae think on it, Dougie would say, I canna wait f’r a wee Levantine Chaimschmerrl tae boonce upon ma knee. But the babe when it came was no little boy, it was Elizabeth, dinky and bright so everybody had to chat her up in the supermarkets and give her a fizzpop on a stick at the checkout tills. Elizabeth had those true Ashkenasi Goldie Hawn Cupid’s-bow Fizzpop lips, you see, indeed it was Elizabeth’s smile that did the trick, that’s how cousin Lettie came to terms with the ethnicity of us all. We all got along okay, just great. For many many years. 

Until after these many years, that is, eventually cousin Lettie had accumulated enough personal money to buy herself a truly sleek little Korean motor car, a sort of menopausal prezzie, so to speak. There’s no doubt about it, she would trill, the yellow races have overtaken the Europeans! In art, in science, in everything! There is new genius here, just look at the performance of my car, just look at the bodywork, designed in a wind tunnel by aeroplane engineers! In industry they are far ahead of the Germans. In intelligence they are miles ahead of the West. It is evolution at work, I tell you, survival of the fittest.

Och come ON, wumman, Dougie would say, I suppose ye’ll want y’r nice Jewish granddaughter tae get married on a bloody Chinaman the noo? Ye’ll hae a hell of a time bleachin’ tha’ lot oot, missus, they hae genes like a bloody crocodile, mon.

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