Sailing four decades of friendship and famiglia, Forever Young


Sailing four decades of friendship and famiglia, Forever Young

Back then, ANGELA TUCK could not have known how her headmistress at Jeppe High School for Girls would shape her loves and her friendships, in life and death, for decades to come.


MISS Jean de V Schutz died last month at the age of 92 despite having been a heavy smoker. I know this because of the many times I was sent to her office. A journey through the grey and still-wet mist of the vile lily of the valley air freshener is a walk I took regularly.

Jean would come into focus as I stood blinking. Seated on her solid teak chair behind her headmistress desk or emerging from the side room carrying an empty glass ashtray, she would stare me down. Just stare. Holding my gaze, she would slide the ashtray across the glass atop her huge teak desk in one movement until it was behind the simple flower arrangement. But I could still see it.

She had icy eyes. Blue or green. They were as bright as her white-grey hair, which was always short with a side parting; the front swept back and held in place with Brylcreem. Her face was inexpertly powdered and she always wore bright lipstick. Red or pink. Never peach.

“You were smoking behind the prefab.”

She would rise to her feet slowly. Like a reluctant weightlifter.

She wasn’t asking. But I answered. “Yes, Miss Schutz.”

She was tall and her build was block-like with no curves to speak of. She paid no attention to the colours and shoulder pads the early 80s offered. Jean stuck to her two-piece skirt and jacket day in and day out. Colours ranged from beige to greige to moss green as if on loan from the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany.

She stood like a prison guard with her feet slightly apart and her hands behind her back. And in each and every instance I thought: I love you. She had that perfect blend of Stasi meets Soul. I see you, Miss Schutz.

At the end of one visit to Soul Stasi she said: “If it weren’t for your father, I would expel you.” Those were her exact words. But she didn’t want to expel me. She saw me too.

On my first day at Jeppe High School for Girls in January 1980, among the 60 or 70 new girls was one Sonia Zocchi. Fresh from convent school. She was a vision of correctness from her spierwit collar to her pikswart shiny shoes. Her shoelaces were identical twins, her teeth shone below her brown doe-like eyes. Her hair was a barber’s cut.

Sonia was soon part of a gang (they may have called it a “group") called The Burning Sisters. They were a mismatched bunch that stuck together, and Sonia spent a lot of time working on her Lady Di scrapbook. I was roughing up girls who wouldn’t hand over any and all Rod Stewart posters without a fight.

Some two-and-a-half years later, Miss Schutz announced on the intercom that she wanted Sonia Zocchi and I to report to her office immediately. Once there, Jean introduced us to Lea Thompson. Freshish from a newly independent Zimbabwe.

“You two are going to befriend Lea and help her settle in”.

So we did, and 41 years later we still speak every day.


The four-seater formica kitchen table at 41 5th Avenue, Bez Valley, soon became our frequent after-school hangout. Rosa Zocchi never sat in the fourth chair available to her. Instead, she presented herself as an over-eager waitress who fed us and eavesdropped on our every word, hoping to catch a full sentence.

We didn’t know then that Rosa had bipolar disorder; neither did she. We only knew that she would swirl around us like an unpredictable Cape breeze. She must have sensed when the storm clouds were approaching but to us, like any breeze, she was a constant hovering presence in our young preoccupied lives.

When Giuseppe came home from his shop — Zocchi Italian Hairdresser for Men — we would all rush to greet him but Rosa would get there first, beaming. He would hang his jacket and hat next to the mirror at the front door while we queued for his both-cheeks Italian kisses.

Ciao! Angiolina!”


“Come stai?”

Bene, grazie.”

Rosa would tell Pepe what she was preparing for supper as he lowered himself into an armchair crowned with a finely crocheted doily. But first he would be sent to the cellar for the antipasto and we would follow him to be part of this important cultural event.

The tiny cellar under the house was home to the prosciutto which hung from a hook in its own alcove. After a full day of tending men’s hair (and chattare and espresso), Guiseppe’s hands would move with the precision of a seasoned sculptor as he delicately carved the cured meat with the massive knife.

Before kissing us goodbye, Rosa would run her hands up and down the apron which told the story of her day’s work. She would bite her lip and her arms would hang loosely by her sides as she watched Sonia and Guiseppe walk us to the waist-high gate onto the street.

Lea and I would hop into the Red Peril, school bags in tow, as Pepe shouted a greeting to Isla who was smoking a John Player Special at the wheel while the radio crackled in search of a station. The Datsun 1400 would fly to 36 Clacton Road, Kensington, while we offloaded our latest Zocchi stories.


Isla brought Lea into our lives direct from Gwanda, south of Bulawayo, where they left behind the gold mines and 4,871 Gwandans including Lea’s father (Morris), stepmother (Jaws) and two ugly stepsisters (Whatshername and TheOtherOne). The real city of gold gladly embraced the tiny firecracker named Isla. As did Sonia and I.

Wearing shorty-shorts with a cat on her lap and another on her bare foot, Isla would vent about the blithering idiot who had hooted at her in the traffic and she would gleefully tell us what she did in return, said in return, and which fingers she displayed to said blithering idiot. Cackle wicked cackle.

Politics and religion were banned in her house. Good manners were not. She took pride in a quality outfit and had a steady hand when pencilling in her eyebrows every day. She could draw and sew and cook, and her love of turquoise (the colour and the stone) matched her ever-sparkling eyes. Just like Lea’s.

The cultural boycott of apartheid escaped me the night of August 6, 1983, when Isla and the Red Peril drove us to see Rod Stewart Live at Sun City. While our more conventional parents thought we were studying at Lea’s house, I screeched as Rod sang Maggie May wearing top-to-toe pink lycra, swinging his guitar above his head like a drunken drone.

When You're in My Heart came up (second last), it was time for me to throw my prepared love letter onto the stage — as close to Rod’s feet as I could. I was seated alone, eight rows above the others, but Isla looked up and winked at me with her wicked grin.

Not known for my netball throwing arm, I gave it a shot and it first landed on some Rustenberg zef’s shoulder. He bent to pick it up but I was right there (I was known for my sprinting legs). My Troyeville days had prepared me for the wrestling that followed and like a Young Turk I threw my voice and my envelope at the stage. Rooooddddd. Rooooodddddd.

“Annie, you’re mad. I love you,” Isla said later.


Isla Forever Young
June 21, 1942-May 8, 2006

Isla's acceptance gave us safety and value. She curated a space for us to be our authentic selves without judgment. She celebrated our quirks, passions and dreams no matter what.

Be courageous and be brave And in my heart, you'll always stay Forever young, forever young


Guiseppe You're in My Heart
December 28, 1936-August 11, 2022

Guiseppe cherished each moment with la famiglia, guiding with courage, perseverance, integrity and kindness. He showed us rather than told us that friends are family and that family is loyal to the end. And that timeless elegance always arrives wearing a fedora.

My love for you is immeasurable My respect for you immense You're ageless, timeless, lace and fineness You're beauty and elegance


Rosa Sailing
May 23, 1939-March 18, 2023

Rosa manoeuvred through her 83 years like a battalion; sitting in wait or not waiting at all. She started to sketch a roadmap for us as that we protect like The Only Key to Happiness: Hover lightly and check your vibe.

I am sailing Stormy waters To be near you To be free


20 June 2023

Miss Jean De V Schutz forced three strangers into a friendship that has lasted 41 years and counting. She forced her hand upon the unlikelihood of our threesome and took the fourth chair at the kitchen table while Rosa hovered in concentration. Jean came to appreciate my uniqueness like Isla did. Her gaze became softer and her smile wider. Guiseppe still smiles at this extended famiglia. Salute, Signore.

Forti Nihil Difficilius
Nothing is too difficult for the brave.

Miss Jean de V Schutz at the last Jeppe Girls event she attended, the reunion for the Class of 1948 in 2018. Afterwards, she was driven away in the same white VW Beetle she drove in 1980.
Miss Jean de V Schutz at the last Jeppe Girls event she attended, the reunion for the Class of 1948 in 2018. Afterwards, she was driven away in the same white VW Beetle she drove in 1980.

♦ VWB ♦

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