Saturday, 11 September 2010

1930s Market Square

Ada, the main character in Karoo Plainsong, was alive before I was born.
My challenge, therefore, was to re-create the world of 1930s and 40s Cradock that she would have seen.

So there I was, standing on the corner of modern-day Market Square, trying to peel back 80-odd years worth of history. At first, there seemed to be no connection at all between the huge Square pictured on the historic photo in my hand, and the congested space in front of me. It was only when I began to work from the outside in - from the perimeter - that I began to recognise some landmarks.
On my left sat the restored Victoria Hotel, ever gracious, but obscured by passing traffic. On the right, the Dutch Reformed Church rose above the melee to dominate the scene as it has done for close on 150 years. The centre of the Square, however, needed drastic surgery. The supermarket, with its fenced carpark, had to go. Then the remnants of an indigenous aloe garden had to be revived although - to my surprise - I actually spotted one of the original cypress-like trees still surviving in a corner. Walking past the supermarket and peering through the fence, I noticed the war memorial, once centre stage, but now obscured by weedy vegetation.

I went back to my corner vantage point. There was only one way to do this. I lifted up the largest photo, positioned it in front of my face so that the sepia-tinted Victoria Hotel lined up with the left edge of the picture, and the Church loomed up over the right edge. On the other side of the Church, invisible from where I stood, would have been Cuthbert's Shoe Stores, with my grandfather at his post. Suddenly the Square opened up before me, sounding to the clip-clop of horses and carts, and bright with aloes from the garden to my right. Ahead, soldiers were marching across the gravel parade ground to the centre of the Square, dust eddying around their boots. And maybe, just maybe, a young girl called Ada was hurrying by...

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