Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Neoinklings: Tolkien in South Africa

At 10:30 we went to Cafe 41 in Eastwood Road for our monthly Literary Coffee Klatsch of Neoinklings, and David Levey joined us to inkle, as he put it. It seemed a rather felicitous term.

He told us of a thesis someone had written, or was writing, on Tolkien’s South African connections, and we had a rather discursive discussion about that — Tolkien had left South Africa when he was 3 or 4, and as far as I know he never returned. Most of one’s memories of that age seem to be a series of still pictures. I recalled Leo Aylen, a poet who was the son of a former Anglican bishop of Zululand, who visited there about 35 years ago. He said the Australian aborigines had a concept of early childhood as one’s dream time, and he was revisiting the scenes of his dream time to give him something to write about.

Goanikontes, Namibia

Goanikontes, Namibia

We talked of the landscape — the Free State, where Tolkien was born, seems to be like the land of the Rohirrim in Lord of the Rings, and Val said that Goanikontes, in the Namib desert, was like Mordor though it seems unlikely that Tolkien would have visited it. Goanikontes had been where Val’s great great great grandparents, Frank and Frances Stewardson, had lived for a while, in the 1850s, and it may have been there that Frank Stewardson had been mauled by a lion.

We talked about the identity, or lack of it, of white English-speaking South Africans. It will be interesting to see if the thesis mentions whether Tolkien had such an identity, but generally speaking white English-speaking South Africans do not have a distinctive identity or a distinct culture. There is no consciousness of being a “volk”, like the Afrikaners. Though one could put them in a Venn diagram, it would be far less significant than a set of white Afrikaans -speaking South Africans, or Zulu or Tswana-speaking South Africans. I mentioned a friend who had recently written of “we”, referring to white South Africans, and that I find that to be one of the primary markers of racism, using “we” to refer to a group defined by race, and “they” or “these people” to refer to the outgroup. David said that John Lambert, one of the former history lecturers at Unisa, was writing about white English-speaking South Africans, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

He also mentioned that the history department at Unisa has now been reduced to one lecturer, which is very sad, and does not augur well for the future of South Africa — all of history before 1994 will, in effect, become dream time, and labelled “Van Riebeeck”.

 

Political correctness

I have always understood the primary meaning of “political correctness” to refer to the subservience of burrowing apparatchiks who try to align their opinions with those perceived to be in power.

A primary example in South Africa today would be ANC members of parliament, and of provincial and municipal councils, who do not dare to criticise Jacob Zuma, even though they may have private misgivings about him.

I believe the term originated in Marxist or Communist party circles, where people might precede some criticism of the party line, however mild, with an ironically self-deprecating phrase such as, “It may not be politically correct to say so, but…”

From there it spread to other groups and other power structures, but with the same general meaning of unwillingness to criticise those perceived to be in power, and an unquestioning adherence to the party line, whatever the party might be.

Then the meaning seemed to become restricted to the use of language.

The Vicar of Bray

The Vicar of Bray

Undoubtedly political correctness did get expressed in language. When South Africa was ruled by the National Party, “natives” became “Bantu” and later “Blacks” (with a capital B), and the politically correct changed their usage in accordance with the approved pattern. When “Native Reserves” became “Bantu Homelands” the politically correct changed their terminology accordingly. The politically incorrect would precede “Homelands” by “so-called”, or would use air quotes when they said it.

The primary example, the paradigm and model of political correctness is the Vicar of Bray.

But now there seems to be a further narrowing down of the meaning of political correctness, especially in the USA, for example in the following article, in which it seems to be defined solely in terms of “offense sensitivity” — The Personality of Political Correctness – Scientific American Blog Network:

The researchers found that PC exists, can be reliably measured, and has two major dimensions. They labeled the first dimension “PC-Egalitarianism” and the second dimension “PC-Authoritarianism”. Interestingly, they found that PC is not a purely left-wing phenomenon, but is better understood as the manifestation of a general offense sensitivity, which is then employed for either liberal or conservative ends.

It’s an interesting article, but I think it is a pity that the term is narrowed down in that way. It seems to leave a gap in the language. If you reduce political correctness to offence sensitivity, what do you call real political correctness?

Protesting against US president-elect Trump

There are reports in the media about people protesting in the streets against the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA Thousands take to the streets to protest Trump win – CNNPolitics.com:

They chanted anti-Donald Trump slogans. They flooded city streets. They gathered near the White House, disheartened and dismayed. Not my President, not today, many across the nation yelled. In cities from Boston to Los Angeles, thousands of demonstrators gathered Wednesday night in protest of election results that mean the billionaire real estate developer will be the next president.

And American online friend, Paul Ilechko, responded on Facebook as follows:

I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I’m upset that she lost and the orange baboon won, but I don’t understand why people are out in the streets protesting against democracy. Once he’s actually president and does something evil, that will be the time to protest. Doing it now makes you look like a jerk and a sore loser. And it perpetuates all the stereotypes that conservatives have of liberals (my emphasis).

I agree with him.

trump-protestProtesting against his election makes it look like you are protesting against democracy, and besides, most politicians don’t actually fulfil most of their election promises. Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay. So the advice to wait until he’s actually president and does something evil seems good to me.

Also, protesting against the mere election of a person seems to be anticipating evil actions that may or may not occur, and by the time something evil does happened, the public will be satiated with the protest and will think the protesters are just crying “wolf!”

Those who feel inclined to protest at Trump’s mere election, as opposed to any evil he may do when he is actually president, should read this — The sneering response to Trump’s victory reveals exactly why he won | Coffee House:

This response to Trump’s victory reveals why Trump was victorious. Because those who do politics these days — the political establishment, the media, the academy, the celeb set — are so contemptuous of ordinary people, so hateful of the herd, so convinced that the mass of society cannot be trusted to make political decisions, and now those ordinary people have given their response to such top-down sneering and prejudice.

Oh, the irony of observers denouncing Middle America as a seething hotbed of hatred even as they hatefully libel it a dumb and ugly mob. Having turned America’s ‘left behind’ into the butt of every clever East Coast joke, and the target of every handwringing newspaper article about America’s dark heart and its strange, Bible-toting inhabitants, the political and cultural establishment can’t now be surprised that so many of those people have turned around and said… well, it begins with F and ends with U.

And the biggest irony of all is that in America these cultured despisers of the masses as “a basket of deplorables” are often thought of and spoken of as “the Left”.

No doubt some of Trump’s supporters are racist and sexist, and some have and will engage in violent acts against members of minority groups. But protesting against Trump’s election is not likely to deter such behaviour. What might be more effective would be to urge Donald Trump himself to publicly condemn such behaviour. For good or ill, Donald Trump has been elected president of the USA. It would be better to urge him to good rather than to condemn him for ill that hasn’t happened yet.

“Stranger Things” Live Video Chat with Dr. Corey Olsen (Signum Series)

A Pilgrim in Narnia

Stranger Things is one of the hottest new series on Netflix this year. My wife and I don’t always overlap in tastes, but this show drew us both in. We zoomed through the series in late night sittings, and I honestly can’t wait until my son is old enough to watch it with us. Even Stephen King, the childhood horror version of literary Wheaties for me growing up, thinks Stranger Things is worth some time:

stephen-king-loves-stranger-things

stranger-things-dvdStevie, Kerry and I are not alone in loving this show. It has a Rotten Tomatoes ranking of 95%, and is the 3rd most watched series on Netflix behind Orange is the New Black and, well, I don’t know how to say this: Fuller House.

So it’s obvious that fan quality isn’t everything, there are a few reasons for its massive popularity, I think. The hero–I think she’s a hero though we won’t know…

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What’s your story?

Just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know my story.

So said a speaker from Heartlines at TGIF this morning.

The speaker was Brian Helsy, and he told us how Heartlines was promoting a programme to encourage people to tell their stories, especially in urban areas.

wys-logo-640x300That makes sense, because in rural communities people tend to know each other’s stories, whereas urban anonymity means that many people don’t even know their neighbours’ names. I recall that I once heard a burglar alarm going off next door. I phoned the neighbours, only to discover that they had moved away two years before. We go to church and talk to people whose faces we know, but whose names we don’t know, and we are too shy to ask because it looks funny, asking someone’s name when you’ve been talking to them for the last 15 years.

So yes, it looks like a useful thing, and some of the material they have produced looks as though it could help. Some time in the next couple of months we’ll be taking some of the members of our Atteridgeville congregation to meet the Mamelodi congregation. It could be a good thing for people to tell their stories, and get to know each other better,

wyssmallBrian Helsby also mentioned that you could do this with family members, and that’s something we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, as part of our interest in family history. We’ve been asking relatives to tell their stories for a long time.

There are other considerations too. We did something like this in  our Mamelodi congregation a few years ago with the youth (when we had some youth there). We asked them to say what schools they went to One said he went to the Stanza Bopape High School. I asked if he knew who Stanza Bopape was, and if he could tell us anything about him. Neither he nor anyone else knew. Just because a school had his name does not mean that anyone knew his story. You can read Stanza Bopape’s story here.

That, and some comments by younger bloggers, made me aware that many young people, though they had heard about apartheid, had only a very vague idea of what it was about, and what life was like in the apartheid time. So I tried to tell some stories about the apartheid era, and encouraged other other people to do so. You can read about this, and some of the stories, at Tales from Dystopia.

It’s not the first time I’d heard of Heartlines, though. I first heard of it about 10 years ago, when it was promoting the moral regeneration movement. The Moral Regeneration Movement was a government initiative, headed by Jacob Zuma. I’m not sure that the moral rectitude/moral turpitude ratio is any better now than it was twen years ago.

 

The Anatomy School (book review)

The Anatomy SchoolThe Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m in two minds about this book. At one level it is a Bildungsroman, and at another it is a picture of a period. Martin Brennan is a teenager in his last year of high school. He attends a Catholic school in Protestant Belfast, where being Catholic is a badge of identity. Martin has two friends, Kavanagh, who is an athlete, and a new boy at the school, Blaise Foley, who rejects everything that the school stands for.

At home his pious mother regularly entertains three friends of her age, oen of them a priest, and Martin helps to serve them, hears their conversations, and is sometimes himself the subject of their conversations.

The book opens with Martin at a silent retreat with his contemporaries from the school, where the expectation is that he and the others will consider a possible vocation to the priesthood. Martin’s conscience is troubled by moral and venial sins of thought word and deed, throughout the retreat, and when he gets back to school, after deciding that the priesthood is not for him, he is severely tempted to mortal sins by his new friend Blaise Foley.

After leaving school he works as a technician in the anatomy school of the university, where his friend Kavanagh is a medical student.

It was a bit difficult to work out the period in which the book is set. One clue was a reference to the blowing up of Nelson’s statue in Dublin in earl;y 1966. It was clearly after that event, but close enough for it still to be a talking point, so as far as I could determine from such clues in the story, it took place in 1966-68. It was a time when I was in the UK as a student, though I was never in Belfast.

One feature of the book is the very detailed descriptions of everyday life — the composition and making of sandwiches for tea, noises and sounds like lift doors clanging. In that it reminded me of A touch of Daniel by Peter Tinniswood. That book was set somewhere in north-west England, and gave a very vivd picture of the place and period, and the foibles of the people, though with considerably more humour than The Anatomy School. But A Touch of Daniel was published closer to the time, and The Anatomy School was published in 2001, which makes some of the close detail suspect, and one of the anachronisms that stood out for me was when Martin tells someone that he had a job “at the Uni”. I never heard anyone call a university a uni during my time in the UK, and only learnt of it much later, via the internet. It may be that it was a peculiarly Irish term, that started in Belfast before reaching other parts of the UK, but for me it made much of the fine detail throughout the book rather suspect.

On the other hand, there were some things that reminded be very strongly of when I myself was Martin Brennan’s age. I went to a Methodist School, not a Catholic one, and in Johannesburg, not Belfast. But I hung out a lot with two or three friends, as Martin did, and our conversations were not all that dissimilar. I enjoyed reading it, but I think it might have been better if some of the superfluous (and suspect) detail had been dropped — it would have made the characters and their intreractions stand out better.

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The Grand Sophy

The Grand SophyThe Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the last couple of years I seem to have read a number of romance novels set in the period 1795-1820. First it was Jane Austen, who wrote about the landed gentry. Then it was George Eliot, who wrote about the yeoman class. And now it is Georgette Heyer, who writes about the aristocracy. Austen was contemporary, Eliot wrote 50 years after the time in which her novel Adam Bede was set, and Heyer wrote more than 130 years afterwards.

The Grand Sophy was one of those recommended in The Modern Library and was indeed worthy of the recommendation. A good read, in fact. More about The Modern Library here.

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The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Adam Bede

Adam BedeAdam Bede by George Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a love story.

It’s set in the fictional English county of Loamshire at the end of the 18th century, which is some kind of rustic paradise until things start going wrong about halfway through the book. Unlike Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, whose romance novels are peopled with the landed gentry and their urban equivalents, this one is set among the yeoman class.

The book has been on our shelves forever, and I’ve been meaning to read it some day but kept putting it off, partly because of things I’d read about George Eliot, and partly because of plot summaries I’d read. Reading plot summaries can be a bad idea. It made it sound too simple, and a 600-page novel with such a simple plot must be boring, mustn’t it, with all that padding?

But Eliot’s descriptions of country life, though perhaps too idyllic, are part of the interest of the book, and she makes the characters sound interesting. I don’t know how accurate her description of early Methodists is, but she probably knew several of them personally and perhaps some of her description is based on their recollections.

It’s when the action starts that the plot holes appear. The reader is kept ignorant of some things, which is a common device in fiction, but when the characters themselves appear to be ignorant, the suspension of disbelief gets a little strained. At one point there is a rather improbable Deus ex Machina, but it’s still a good read.

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Hiatus in Holland

Fifty years ago I had a kind of gap week between working and going to college. I had finished my job with London Transport, and Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection (CR), invited me to join him in a visit to a couple of middle-aged Dutch ladies who had invited him to stay with them.

They stayed in Bergen, North Holland, and their names were Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen. Their backyard had a couple of self-catering flats which they let to summer visitors, but summer was now almost over, and the last visitors were some German deaconesses, with a couple of their elderly relatives.

Wieta Monquil, Ank Schoen, Bropther Roger, CR and one of the German Deaconesses. Bergen N-H, September 1966

Wieta Monquil, Ank Schoen, Brother Roger, CR, and one of the German Deaconesses. Bergen N-H, September 1966

Brother Roger said that he had met Ank and Wieta quite by chance. He had been with another CR Brother, Brother Zach, who was from Bermuda, and they had got chatting in a park. And that had led to the present invitation.

Dieudonne, the home of Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen in Bergen, North Holland

Dieudonne, the home of Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen in Bergen, North Holland

On Sunday we went to church with Ank and Wieta, to a small Dutch Reformed Church in a country village some distance away.

Church in a small village somewhere in North Holland

Church in a small village somewhere in North Holland

The church building was very old and square in shape. The pulpit was very high, and in front of it was a brass windmill, forming the top of an arch over the rail around the pulpit. The dominee was very young, but preached rather well, and spoke quite slowly, so I could understand most of what he said. All the children sat on the left, and four of them were given presents, as they were now 11 years old and would be leaving the Sunday School.

After church Brother Roger and I rode into the village on bicycles and looked at an old railway locomotive there, which had once pulled trains between Alkmaar and Bergen-on-Sea, but the line had long since been abandoned. Around the town there were lots of children on bicycles, most of them very rude, and giving hostile looks at us. They didn’t seem to like foreigners.

In the afternoon two friends of Ank and Wieta, Peter de Kleer and Evert van Kuik, who lived in a nearby town, came to lunch, and then we went with them and two of the German deaconeses to see the Afsluitdijk between the Ijsselmeer and the North Sea. We crossed over miles of flat country that had once been twenty feet below sea level, and was land reclaimed from the old Zuiderzee. Evert said it had been flooded by the Germans at the end of the war. We rode along the dijk to the middle, where there was a monument to mark the spot where it had finally been closed, at the 12th attempt. We climbed the tower that stood there, and looked out over the grey expanse of the North Sea, and over to the north-east was Friesland, and to the south-west was West Friesland, from which we had come, though really it was part of North Holland. Down below someone was fishing in the Ijsselmeer, and there were gulls swimming and flying around the nets.

Afsluitdijk, separating the North Sea from the Ijsselmeer.

Afsluitdijk, separating the North Sea from the Ijsselmeer.

We went back in the car to the island of Weeringen, which was now no longer an island, having been surrounded by polders long ago. We went to the town of Den Oewer, and an old man on a bicycle showed us the way to a house where Crown Prince Wilhelm, son of the last German Emperor, had lived. I found that I could understand what the old man was talking about far more easily than I could understand Ank or Wieta. I found their accent very difficult to follow, and when I talked to them in Afrikaans they would say “Dat is leuk!” (That’s so cute). The old man said the Kaiser’s son’s old house was now the dominee’s house. The church there was also a very old thing (according to him). We then went on, passing many houses with their roofs made of tiles, and with the tiles partly thatched over. Peter said that the Dutch called any single-storeyed house a “bungalow” — which accounts for some confusion when I had asked the way to places, for we only used the words to describe barrack-huts and things like that.

After that we went back home, and had a big and jolly supper time with the German Deaconesses and their mother, which was really like a Tower of Babel, because so many languages were being spoken.

Brother Roger cycling from Bergen to Alkmaar, 27 September 1966

Brother Roger cycling from Bergen to Alkmaar, 27 September 1966

Ank went to work during the week and Wieta stayed home and looked after the house and the guests, not that they needed much. She was the nervous and talkative one, and was worried that she worried so much and could not be gentle and calm and patient like Ank.

On Tuesday 27 September 1966, fifty years ago today,  Brother Roger and I went into Alkmaar on the bicycles. It was again a rather dull day, but the town of Alkmaar made up for any dullness in the weather. We went to look at the church, an enormous Gothic affair, and to get inside one had to go round to the office and pay 25c. That we did, and they gave us a guide leaflet, only when we got inside we found it was written in German, so we went and asked for another one, and Brother Roger explained that he was English and I was South African, and then said “Thank you” in French. “We are very international, aren’t we?” observed the girl who gave it to us, and when we were back inside the church Brother Roger said they seemed much more pleasant and friendly when they knew we weren’t German.

Organ in the church at Alkmaar.

Organ in the church at Alkmaar.

It seemed that there were lots of German visitors in this area in the summer, and some of them were old soldiers who come to show their families where they were during the war.

The church was built before the Reformation, between 1470 and 1520, but was now the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, and the pulpit was halfway down the nave. At the end, in what had once been the sanctuary, were thrones for the 24 elders. The organ was a beautiful rococco thing, and the transept arches, built in bricks, were also very beautiful. When we left the girl at the door also mixed up her languages, as Brother Roger did sometimes as well. She finally said “Auf wiedersehen” as we were leaving, and I said “Totsiens” to her. I think the general sentiment was clear, however.

We then rode off down Lange Straat, a busy main street, and were almost run over many times, and turned off, and eventually we came out into the Waag-plein, where the cheese sales were held. There we went into a cafe, the Cafe de Waag, and had lunch. The lunch was soup with meatballs in, and lemon gin, and cheese and bread. The tables, as in all Dutch cafes, were covered with carpets, and there were two billiard tables, without pockets, and a kaaskop with glasses and a serious expression was practising while we ate. The object seemed to be to hit one ball so that it hit two others, but he never seemed to manage it.

Cafe de Waag in Alkmaar. 27 September 1966

Cafe de Waag in Alkmaar. 27 September 1966

After lunch we crossed the square and rode down a couple of narrow streets, and came to one with a house, or rather several houses, built onto a canal, one of which, with a lot of cheap trinkets in the windows, was described as “Huis met de Kogel 16e eeuw; gotische houten gevel (met kanonskogel uit het beleg van Alkmaar, 1573)” We rode alongside the canal, and a little further along saw a swingbridge open to let a boat through, and then a man walked out of the front door of his house, with a fishing net in his hands, dipped it into the canal, and walked back to his house with a bucket full of fish. The road we were on ended on the Noord-Hollandse Kanal, and we turned right, and went up Verdronkenoord, a similar street to the last one, with a canal down the middle, and beautiful old houses on each side.

Alkmaar, Noord-Holland

Alkmaar, Noord-Holland

We went along the Oude Gracht, which had been pumped dry while canal and road were being repaired. The road menders gave us a friendly greeting, and said something about a “joy ride”. A friendly greeting is somewhat rare. Most of the natives of the country seemed to be hostile to foreigners, perhaps, as Brother Roger said, because they thought we were German, though a little further on, when passing through a park, we heard an old man telling two youngsters that we were Russian.

The following day we visited a Benedictine monastery at Egmond, and Fr Hoff, the sacristan, showed us some of the vestments which they sold there. Brother Roger bought a set of white ones, which was very beautiful, and cost fl190.00, about R38.00, which he said was cheap. We had a look at the chapel, which
was austere, and almost bare of any ornament, and then walked back to wait for the bus, up an avenue lined with chestnut trees, with the leaves all yellow and brown, so it really was autumn now.

After getting back to Bergen we cycled in to the town and had a look at a bookshop there, which was very good for such a small town. I bought a copy of Wachtend op Godot. It was actually the complete plays of Samuel Beckett. We had a drink at a cafe, with tables covered with the inevitable carpets. Brother Roger said that the Dutch, unlike the English, tended to look down on that. The English, being sociable, would go down to the pub for a drink, but the Dutch, or at least the respectable ones, would drink at home, with the curtains open, of course. But I rather liked the atmosphere of the Dutch cafes, with their carpet-covered tables, and they seemed much more quiet and respectable than an English pub.

After supper we said Evensong together, for the Eve of St Michael and all Angels, and I told Brother Roger about my theology of angels, and he did not agree with it. Then Wieta came along, and we read the Bible with her, the Psalms for Compline.

We also cycled to Kamperduin, on the coast, through pine trees and over the dunes. I believe that Camperdown in KZN was named after it.

Cycling to Kamperduin

Cycling to Kamperduin

For Michaelmas we went to Mass at the local Roman Catholic Church, and had supper with the priest. He said he had been an Anglican until four years ago, and had been a curate in Australia when he “poped”, as he put it. He had been trained at Kelham, spoke five languages, and was the youngest parish priest in Holland. He had a European parish, and had services in Dutch, French and German every Sunday. He had an interesting coffee-table book on the German occupation in the war. One chapter dealt with a strike and protest against persecution of the Jews, and in it was a reproduction of a document as follows” “Noot voor de redacties. Noot no 265. Niet voor publikatie. Amsterdam, 25 Februarie – Over stakinen t Amsterdam en over den algemeen toestand in deze stad mag niets worden gepublicieerd. Hoofredaktie. ANP. Niet voor publicatie.” Amsterdam in 1942, but it could just as easily have been Johannesburg or Salisbury in 1966.

That evening Peter and Evert came again, and we sat with the German deaconesses, and came, and we sat with the German deaconesses and talked. Brother Roger told us how he went home to England for a holiday once, and the superior asked him where he wanted to go, and he said to the Civil War in Spain, and so he did, with a group of Quakers to look after children. And in the town where he was a convent was suspected of harbouring traitors, so the Republicans blew it up, and the neighbouring church as well. But when they went into the church to blow it up they took off their caps and put out their cigarettes. There was also in the church at that time a statue of St James, reputed to work miracles, and they held a revolver to the head of the statue and said, “If you work a miracle tonight, we’ll blow your brains out.” — and that was said in all seriousness.

Before we went to bed I read Wieta an Afrikaans poem which she had, “Die vlakte”, by Celliers, and it delighted her. She said Afrikaans sounds so innocent and earthy. It is one of my favourite poems, apparently inspired by Shelley’s “Ode to the west Wind”, but much better than Shelley.

I went back to the UK, and began my studies at St Chad’s College, Durham, but in April 1967 my mother and a friend came for a holiday, and we hired a car in Amsterdam and toured round Europe, and on our return spent more time with Wieta Monquil and Ank Schoen. And I again spent a few days with them on my way home to South Africa in 1968. So they had become good friends.

As for Brother Roger, that was the longest time I had spent with him. He was my spiritual father, my guru, in many ways, and not just in theology. When I was 19 years old he plied me with books to read from the Community’s library in Rosettenville, and so was a kind of mentor in English literature as well. He turned me on to Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Charles Williams and many other authors, and talking to him seemed to me far more interesting and useful than three years of English study at university (I passed English I 3 times at two different universities, and none of them made literature seem as interesting and exciting as Brother Roger did).

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