Thursday 16 April 2020

The Modern Smous (Hawker)

CAPE TIMES - 1928, August 18
“Everything goes by contrast,” the hackneyed quotation prevails! Whether it be with regard to fashions, or inventions, or customs, or modern youth, the tendency is to weigh all conditions in the scales of “then and now,” so this, so that.”
Away, back-of-beyond, the flashlight of comparison is thrown on the smous of today in favourable contrast to the smous of the past. That characteristic type of bygone days is so well-known to those whose knowledge of him was direct, that it needs but little imagination to conjure up the impression that survives the progress of time.
A little open cart drawn by two or more jaded-looking mules, donkeys, or underfed mokes, jogging dejectedly along the sandy roads of the backveld or hinter-land of the countryside.
The cart is piled high with canvass-covered parcels, one or two trunks, and an ever-accumulating pile of skins adds to the weight and height of the load. Underneath the cart, too, more often than not is a contraption for fowls bartered on the journey, and the driver either sits on the pinnacle of his goods, or ambles along by the side of his weary-looking steeds.
The approach of this turn-out was always heralded by a suppressed air of excitement and elevation in the kitchen (the news having been passed on in mysterious native fashion as usual), and the mistress comes in to find herself greeted with a request from the cook, please to “make up her book,” as she is needing an apron or blouse of “German” print, and the washerwoman tells ow she is suffering from ailments, which require the instant purchase of half a dozen bottles of Dutch medicines.
Anyway, as needs become manifest, so are they accordingly voiced, and by the time the smous has arrived, the lady of the house finds that she also may need a thing or two. (What true feminine mind will not gloat at the prospect of shopping, even though it usually means the incurrence of a small debt to be settled next time with skins or eggs?)
Nowadays, however, even kitchen folks have grown blasé, for custom stales, and the substitution of heavy motor lorries purring their stately way into the farm, but provokes the remark “I suppose it’s a smous again.” If you haven’t the time to inspect a whole shop today, there will probably be another on the same mission the week after.
The smous himself has evolved like his antiquated conveyance, and is no longer phlegmatic and cringingly persistent; he is brisk and alert and capable of introducing the remote unsophisticated country miss to the “very latest” as worn in the village, from silk stockings to crepe-de-chine underwear.
“Begone, benighted ignorance; welcome enlightment!” cries Eve, and the only one who does not applaud this visible sign of progress is her father or her husband, Mr. Farmer himself.
To him, the smous is superfluous to prosperity, a menace to economy, and with his frequent advent is now, more than ever, in plain language, in the worthy husbandman’s opinion, just “a d… nuisance.”

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