The Kindness of Strangers

It was mid-December 1973. I was finally in Cape Town, South Africa after travelling with a South African/New Zealand friend for three months overland from the UK to India and then by ship to Durban . Unfortunately on arrival in South Africa the rules for entering the country had changed – when I set off all you needed was a sufficient amount of money, £100 – now though I was made to pay for a ticket out of the country and as I had arrived by ship the ticket had to be by ship. The cheapest option was from Durban back to Mombasa – it took practically all my money and I truly hoped that I never had to use it! I had no idea what I would do if I was to find myself alone in Kenya!

Table Mountain

Arriving in the Mother City I was invited to stay with my friend’s family in the southern suburbs. Due to my financial crisis I had to get work quickly and I managed to get a temporary job in the city at the lovely pink coloured historic hotel, the Mount Nelson, doing flower arrangements of all things. No-one can say I was not adaptable. As it was almost Christmas we were very busy with table arrangements and huge floral displays for the suites and public areas. It was hard work with an early start and a long day, but quite enjoyable and the best part was walking to and from the railway station along Adderley Street and through the Company Gardens where cheeky squirrels ran around chasing you for peanuts.

Christmas Eve arrived and I was looking forward to spending my first Christmas away from home and in the southern hemisphere. The sight of robins and snow were rather incongruous in the summer heat. My friend’s family came from Norwegian origins so this was the night for their main dinner and celebrations. It would be very different from my own experiences. I had even spent some of my wages on a dress for the event as all I had with me were jeans and tee-shirts.

It was very different alright, but not quite in the way I had imagined. On arriving back at the house in the suburbs after work in the early evening I was met by my friend’s mother with my rucksack in hand. She told me I was not welcome in her house any more as she had friends and family coming to dinner that evening and I was too ‘common’ and didn’t have the ‘right’ clothes to wear.

I was stunned! I knew that she wasn’t very keen on me and was a bit of a class snob, but the rest of the family were lovely and I had spent a couple of free days on the beach and in the mountains with her other children. It wasn’t even as though I was in a relationship with her precious boy, we were good friends, but had no plans in taking it any further. But I could see from the look on her face that it was no good arguing with her. Christmas Eve and homeless was not what I had in mind! My travelling friend, took me to a youth hostel in Muizenberg on the False Bay coastline where fortunately they had a vacancy. He dropped me off then left, looking somewhat shamefaced, as he had to return to his family dinner. Thinking of the hospitality my own family had shown him in England, I felt quite sad and rather home-sick. I turned in early as I still had to go to work the next day.

Beach Huts
Beach Huts, Muizenberg, False Bay

I returned to the hostel on Christmas Day at around 6 p.m. to find the other hostelers sitting around having Christmas dinner together. They were all talking and laughing, wearing silly paper hats, being happy and having a good time. I tried to sneak past them to the dorm without being noticed as I was still feeling a bit raw, but the manager caught sight of me and insisted that I joined them, even though I hadn’t contributed financially to the meal. Quickly room was made for another seat and food hurriedly dished out onto a plate. Silly hat was found and a glass of red wine poured. For the next couple of hours I was welcomed into the fold and a normal Christmas resumed.

I thank those strangers for their kindness.

~wander.essence~ | Prose

Published by


I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

51 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. Quite a rollercoaster of events and emotions, and in the lead up to Christmas. The kindness of strangers can be quite magical. I’m glad there was a happy result for Christmas.

    1. Indeed Sue. They made my day and I met some lovely people in the hostel and had a lot of fun before they headed off to Australia of all places! I only wished I had the money to go with them.

    1. Many of the privileged white folk in SA had very different ideas to mine. Even my future in-laws and I didn’t really see eye to eye.

  2. Wow… that was definitely a xmas to remember.

    I spent my first 30 degrees C, SA xmas with my landlord’s hyper-religious son and his family!
    That was an event worthy of note, but at least I wasn’t turned away for not being christian enough.
    As two (”common”) ex-pats a long way from home, I think it could have been lots of fun had we crossed paths back in the day. Alas, I think I was still back in ”Blighty” writing my O levels at the time!
    However, if ever you find yourself back here ( Christmas or any other time) I’m sure the wife and I can find you a place at our table and a Silly Hat.


  3. What an experience to be left penniless as soon as you arrived Jude. Then the trauma of being literally thrown on the street on Christmas Eve. Makes a great travel story now, and well told, but, I imagine, very scary at the time.

    1. I don’t recall being scared PP, just a tad angry! And if it hadn’t been for him I would have got to Australia! A shame he wasn’t returning to New Zealand where he had been living with his father.

  4. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers, Jude. You seemed to handle everything calmly; I doubt I would have, or could have. I always have a fear of losing all my money; being stranded and penniless on the streets is a big fear of mine. At least you found work, which was good, so you had some money coming in. But that mother of your friend — what a cruel and snobby woman! I could use some curse words here! I’m so glad your friend at least helped you get settled into a hostel, and that the residents there invited you to share Christmas dinner. Thanks for linking to my prose invitation. I’ll link it to my next post on Tuesday, Feb. 12. 🙂

    1. He was a bit spineless, but fortunately I was able to get another job quite quickly in a hotel and move into a bedsit close by. I don’t remember ever feeling scared, though looking back it’s hard to believe how confident I was!

      1. Too bad he was so spineless; of course he could have stood up to his mother and her nasty and rude behavior. It is amazing you were so confident through that ordeal. 🙂

        1. Well it was her home and not his, so I suppose he was in an awkward situation. I was pretty bullet proof in those days!

  5. That’s a great travel story, and that awful mother will have had some bad karma after her horrible gesture, I hope. Sometimes, things are just meant to be, and her son was the loser, as he forfeited your friendship.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

  6. Wow, what a Scrooge of a woman your friend’s snobby mom was. I dislike her even 45 years later. 😳 So glad you had some fun with the kind ‘strangers’. Now , I’m wondering what colour your new dress was. 😃

    1. The dress was a light blue denim halter neck maxi dress with buttons up the front. I loved that dress! I even embroidered flowers all over the neck. I’ll see if I can find a photo 🙂

Comments are closed.