Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “personal”

From hipsters to hippies: 50 years

Fifty years ago hipsters got abbreviated to hippies, and the world seemed to change, at least for that generation. Things changed visibly, and sometimes in strange ways. Young people dressed in bright clothes, and the drabness of the postwar years was exchanged for a kind of spring-time exuberance. People spoke of the Prague Spring, but spring was appearing in many places.

Warning: This post is full of boring personal reminiscences of that time, so now’s the time to stop reading if you don’t like that kind of thing.

Steve Hayes at Merstham, August 1967

In August 1967 I was halfway through my studies for a postgraduate diploma in theology at St Chad’s College, Durham, England, and was spending the summer vacation with the family of Mervyn Sweet, who had been the Anglican parish priest when I had been an undergraduate in Pietermaritzburg. They were housesitting a mansion in Merstham, Surrey, for a doctor who was himself on holiday in Spain. The house looked a bit like the house in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — the kind of place where anything could happen.

I stayed in a garret at the top of the house, reading and studying for a supplementary church history exam I had to write, and coming down to swim or play tennis or listen to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We watched top of the pops on television. On 13 August 1967 the cream was on the top: (1) San Francisco, by Scott McKenzie (2) All you need is love, by the Beatles (3) Death of a clown, by the Kinks, and what was underneath was real trash — Tom Jones wailing about something, and Vicki Carr who sang the most incredible mawkish mush about dying because he didn’t phone her. “All you need is love” stayed on top for several weeks and even Mick Jagger was in the audience singing with them, with flowers in his hair.

And on TV (black and white, in those days), a psychologist tried to explain changing styles of dress. As I wrote in my diary on 17 August 1967:

… we watched a television programme on long-haired boys, and a psychologist said why he thought their hair was long and their clothes so colourful — their parents were a hangover from the age when it was fashionable for men to dress like bankers, to show that they could offer security to their wives. Now the state looks after everyone’s security, so there was no longer any need for that.

Also the ratio of boys to girls was increasing, and so boys had to make themselves more attractive to girls by dressing in a more colourful way. They also said the previous generation of Englishmen had had compulsory military training, and so were more likely to fit into society because they felt society needed them, and with the present generation of youth it was not so — an interesting light on South Africa, where more and more whites are being called up for military service and a generation of conformist youth is being bred, and the short back and sides is considered a desirable symbol of young fascist manhood, like at Natal University among the Rhodesians, in whom the process had been more advanced — they were for the most part a close-cropped short back-and-sides rugby-playing type.

They had little to do with girls on a human level, and were happy with their segregated state behind the high wire fence of men’s res. Their attitude to girls was “fuck and forget”. True, they went to more parties and dances than John Aitchison and I ever went to, but meeting the opposite sex in such circumstances is an insulation rather than a catalyst. They only relaxed among males, and so their virility is really a sham. In fact they were afraid of not being able to hold their own in female company, so they relied on the security of that all-male ghetto, William O’Brien Hall. I went to bed and began to read Incognito by Peter Dumitriou.

Whereas in the 1950s the prevailing motif in clothing had been uniformity, especially for males, by the late 1960s diversity prevailed. While The Kinks satirised the “dedicated follower of fashion”, there wasn’t much fashion to follow.

The Beatles 1987

In the December vacation of 1967/68 I spent some time with some Dutch Augustinian friars in Breda and Nijmegen. They thought they were being “with it” by discarding their habits for business suits, and were distressed to find that I didn’t possess this latest item of relevant gear. They sent one of the fathers out with me to the shop to buy me one, and on the way to the shop, trudging through the snow and the slush, I talked him out of it. But on TV a DJ appeared wearing a monastic habit.

Even as a child I hated the idea of business suits, and dreaded the thought of growing up and having to dress like that, and so the “anything goes” freedom of the late 60s was a great relief to me. And it seemed that I was not alone, The hippie spring of 1967 seemed to express the repressed desire of a whole generation. It wasn’t just the Beatles music, they dressed the part as well.

The young Frank Sinatra

Yet this generation seems to be nameless,. People talk about Generation X or Y or Millennial or whatever, but the have no name for this hippie generation, or for the business suit generation that preceded it. But if the Beatles were the musical icon of the hippie generation, the musical icon of the business-suit generation was Frank Sinatra, whose childhood ideal was exactly the opposite of mine. When he was the age at which I dreaded growing up and having to wear a business suit, he was already wearing one by anticipation.

A couple of days ago a college friend from those days, Robert Gallagher, sent me this reminder of what else was going on at that time:

More of 50 years ago, in 1967

  • The number of American troops serving in Vietnam increased to 475,000
  • Peace-rallies and Protests increase
  • The Boxer Muhammad Ali stripped of his Boxing World Championship for refusing to be inducted into the US Army
  • Israel goes to war with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the Six Day War and occupies more territory
  • Rioting in Detroit with America’s National Guard brought in
  • Charlie Chaplin opens his last film, ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’
  • Twiggy becomes a fashion sensation and mini-skirts became shorter with paper clothing a short lived fashion
  • The Discotheque
  • While The Beatles release ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’, The Rolling Stones are involved in various drugs’ busts (thanks to ‘The News of The World’) and imprisonments, and release the single ‘We Love You’, with prison-door-slamming sound effects
  • The ‘Summer of Love’ and the birth of the Hippies
  • Donald Campbell killed on Coniston Water
  • Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine ‘HMS Renown’ launched at Birkenhead
  • The first North Sea gas pumped ashore
  • The supertanker ‘SS Torrey Canyon’ runs aground off Land’s End and bombed by the RAF
  • Anguillan-born Norwell Roberts the first black officer in London’s Metropolitan Police Force
  • ‘Puppet on a String’ by Sandie Shaw wins the Eurovision Song Contest
  • Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ Old Vic premiere
  • Harold Wilson announces the United Kingdom has decided to apply for EEC membership
  • The Roman Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King Consecrated
  • Celtic F.C. becomes the first British and Northern European team to reach a European Cup final and win it, beating Inter Milan 2-1 in normal time, with the winning goal scored by Steve Chalmers, in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Francis Chichester arrives in Plymouth after completing his single-handed sailing voyage around the world in his yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, in nine months and one day
  • The first scheduled Colour-television broadcasts on BBC2, with Wimbledon Tennis
  • Parliament decriminalised Consensual Adult Male Homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act
  • UK Government announces closing its military bases in Malaysia and Singapore (Australia and United States do not approve)
  • The Welsh Language Act allows the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and official documents in Wales
  • The British Steel Industry is Nationalised
  • Astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish first to observe a Pulsar
  • The Inquiry into the Aberfan disaster blames the National Coal Board for the collapse of a colliery slag-heap which claimed the lives of 164 people in South Wales in 1966
  • Pink Floyd releases debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Dunsop Valley Lancashire enters the UK Weather Records with the Highest 90-min total rainfall at 117 mm (As of August 2010 this record remains)
  • The ‘RMS Queen Elizabeth 2’ (the QE2) launched at Clydebank by Queen Elizabeth II, using the same pair of gold scissors used by her mother and grandmother to launch the ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and ‘Queen Mary’respectively
  • The Abortion Act, passed in Parliament
  • Charles de Gaulle vetoes British entry into the European Economic Community again – British troops leave Aden, which they had occupied since 1839, enabling the new republic of Yemen
  • Tony O’Connor the first non-white head teacher of a British school appointed head of a primary school in Smethwick, near Birmingham
  • Concorde unveiled in Toulouse, France
  • BBC Radio 4 panel game ‘Just a Minute’, chaired by Nicholas Parsons, first transmitted (still running under the same chairman 50 years later)
  • Ford Cars announces the end of ‘Anglia’ production to be replaced by the ‘Escort’
  • Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri’s poetry anthology ‘The Mersey Sound’
  • Hilary Annison and Robert Gallagher Marry.

And now?

The last of those who were in their twenties in the Summer of Love will be reaching their seventies and retirement.

Remember the motto?

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

 

 

An Orthodox hipster?

A few weeks ago I came across a Facebook group called Ask an Orthodox Hipster.

I’ve always had a yen to be a hipster, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it. I suppose the closest I got was a wannabe.

What is a Hipster?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary c1964 doesn’t have it, though I’d been using the word for at least four years before I bought the thing.

But my Collins English Dictionary (Millennium Edition) has:

  • hipster n 1 slang, now rare 1a an enthusiast of modern jazz 1b an outmoded word for hippy
  • hippy or hippie n, pl -pies (esp. during the 1960s) a person whose behaviour, dress, use of drugs etc., implied a rejection of conventional values.

It also gives hippy as meaning having large hips, which is why I prefer the spelling hippie for the other meaning.

Nowadays, however, hipster seems to have come back into fashion and is no longer outmoded, but probably about ten times as common as hippie.

I suppose the term hipster was first popularised with that meaning by Allen Ginsberg in his poem Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

And after a few weeks as a member of the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group I can see that yes, it is a place for those burning for the ancient heavenly connection to ask questions.

Christian World Liberation Front, Berkeley, California, 1970

And even before the Internet took off, other Orthodox Christians have had a kind of hipster missionary outreach, or started a hipster ministry and then were drawn to Orthodoxy, such as Fr Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.

From here on, this gets personal, so quit now if that’s not your thing.

I discovered that the Ask an Orthodox Hipster group differs from other Orthodox groups on Facebook, in that people do not seem to be angry, or attacking each other. If someone asks a question that people can’t answer, they don’t denounce the question as stupid and the questioner as stupid for asking it, they just pass on to the next thing.

I’ve also found that quite a lot of the questions are ones that I have already answered, at least to some extent, in blog posts I’ve written over the last 10-12 years, and if they aren’t, the question is also sometimes a good prompt for a new blog post.

And this perhaps can provide me with a useful occupation for retirement.

Before retiring one thinks of all the things one could do if one had the time, but one does not have time to do when one is working. Many of the things I hoped to do when I retired had to do with Orthodox mission and evangelism, and visiting Orthodox mission congregations and helping them along by teaching and training their leaders and so on. But they are fairly widely scattered, and visiting them costs money. And I think well, I can’t afford to get the car serviced this month, because I have to pay the doctor, or the dentist, so maybe next month. But next month the car not only needs a service, but also a new battery. And the month after that something else is broken, and the price of petrol keeps going up.

But helping people with answers to questions asked on the Internet requires no physical travel, and can actually reach much further, all over the world, in fact. So I think this Orthodox hipster business could be quite fruitful.

We still continue to visit the mission congregations at Atteridgeville (35km west) and Mamelodi (18km East) on alternate Sundays, but travel farther afield will be much more rare physically, but not necessarily electronically.

 

 

Postcards

PostcardsPostcards by Annie Proulx
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Loyal Blood is a farmer’s son who leaves home after his girlfriend dies. How she dies is never revealed, though he feels somehow responsible, and after that has an allergic reaction if he touches a woman. He wanders around doing various odd jobs. and occasionally sends postcards back to his family, but they can never reply because he leaves no address.

The book covers about 40 years, from 1944 to about 1984, and in some ways was an evocation of my childhood, remembering things like turning the handle of the milk separator to get the cream, and turning the handle of the wooden butter churn to make butter. Remembering what it was like to have no mains electricity, and waiting four years for the post office to install a telephone line. That was life back in the 1950s. I recall going to the Rand Easter Show, and looking at agricultural machinery, shiny in red and green paint, with springy metal seats for the operator, and then seeing such machinery, abandoned and rusted and useless, behind a ramshackle shed.

I wanted, at times to be a farmer in those days, and used to read Popular Mechanics and the Farmers’ Weekly. I never read the articles, just the small ads of farms for sale, or farm equipment. There was a course advertised in Popular Mechanics on “How to break and train horses”, which cost $50.00. That would have been about R40.00 in those days, but about R6000 in today’s money.

And this book brought it all back, with its descriptions of rural life, the life behind the Popular Mechanics ads. And the reason I never took it up is that farming is hard work with no let-up. Those cows have to be milked every day, rain or shine, winter or summer. The milking shed has to be cleaned or they get foot-rot. There are no weekends off, no holidays. And the book brings this out.

And I wonder if the urbanised people who talk about land redistribution are aware of this. Your grandfather may have been unjustly dispossessed back then, but are you prepared to go back and recreate his life, and take up where he left off? Back in the 1950s there were no big supermarket chains whose bulk buying could squeeze prices they paid for agricultural produce.

In Postcards Loyal Blood is sometimes a farm hand, sometimes trying farming on his own account, sometimes a fur trapper, sometimes a miner, sometimes a uranium prospector. And most of these rep[resent a way of life that has vanished. I remember those ads in Popular Mechanics for geiger counters and books on how to get rich quick as a uranium prospector in the 1940s and early 1950s. And somehow Annie Proulx manages to capture all of that.

So what genre is the book? A family saga? A snapshot of a period? Or a series of snapshots. It’s quite well done, in a way, and yet strangely unsatisfying. What happened to the girlfriend? Did he kill her? Did her family look for her? Did anyone wonder about her?

For the last 40 years we have been researching our family history, and in a way real family history is very like this book. There are snatches of recollections and old photos of cousins who disappeared and no one ever heard from them again. But they must have had lives, and perhaps some of them ended up like Loyal Blood in this book.

I recall Joan Rogers, who at one time lived in a caravan in our driveway. She had a horse called Royal and an old pointer dog. She worked in the lab at the South African Institute for Medical Research beyond Silvamonte, and at one time showed us the dessicated button spiders that they ground up and injected into the necks of horses to make the antivenin for the spider bites. She was something like Loyal Blood in the book, a wanderer, whose path intersected with mine for a couple of years but where she came from and where she ended up is unknown, at least to me.

And it was things like this that the book was evocative of. For other people it will be evocative of something else, other scenes, other people, other experiences.

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Embrace (book review): recollections of childhood

EmbraceEmbrace by Mark Behr

A book about a 13-year-old boy in Standard 6 (Grade 8) in the Drakensberg Boys Choir School.

It’s a long book (over 700 pages) and written partly in “stream of consciousness” style. It follows Karl De Man though his school year, but it also jumps back to his memories of earlier events in his life, from his earliest childhood.

The novel is semi-autobiographical, as the protagonist, like Behr himself, was born in Tanganyika (before it united with Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania). When he was 2 years old the family moved to South Africa where his father became a game ranger for the Natal Parks Board, and he then attended the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School from the age of 11. The main period covered by the book is his third year at the school, when he develops a crush on one of the teachers and also on a fellow pupil, as well as a girlfriend whom he sees in the holidays, who is two years older than him.

Another teacher recognises his ability in art and writing, but his macho father wants him to ignore his talents and prepare for a more lucrative career, even if it is in fields that don’t really interest him. So a lot of the book deals with teenage angst, and probably quite authentically, since it is based on the author’s personal experience.

The chronology is at times confusing, as the “present” moves through his year at school, but there are conversations in which he refers to previous events in his life, which he later recalls in stream of consciousness fashion. He also tries to sort out what are genuine memories, and what he has been told by others, and he becomes quite lyrical in his descriptions of the Mfolozi, Hluhluwe and Mkuzi game reserves where he lived until the age of about 7.

I found that in some parts the book, like Frankie and Stankie, was evocative of my own childhood and life. Both books mentioned not only childhood experiences that were similar to mine, but also people whom I had met in real life, though not as a child — Alan Paton in Embrace, and Ken and Jean Hill, and John and Andy Argyle in Frankie and Stankie.

At one point he writes of shooting mousebirds with an air rifle, and I remember doing that, standing in our paddock, and shooting at mousebirds in the almond trees. I was with someone else, I forget who, and my mother stormed out, very angry, and said she would confiscate my air rifle if she ever caught me shooting birds again. Eventually the air rifle was given to a younger cousin, but I sometimes wish, in my more xenophobic moments, that I still had it to take pot shots at Indian mynahs, exotic birds that tend to drive indigenous birds away.

Another similar childhood experience was when he was riding a horse behind another, which kicked him, and he had to have stitches in his knee. I recalled being kicked by pony Tom, on the sole of my foot, in similar circumstances. I could recall the cold and the wet and my bare feet in the stirrups, my wet jeans, my wet shirt clinging to me, and down below the Jukskei River, flowing through Lyndhurst. I thought he had kicked me on the knee too, but perhaps that was another occasion, and I remember my knee being bruised and swollen, though not so that I needed stitches.

But memory is funny. What I wrote in my original diary I don’t know. I still have the blue 1953 one from McDonald Adams that my father gave me, but the 1954 one, with a maroon cover, is lost. But what I wrote in it at the time was simply an aide memoire, to remind me when it had happened. My pony Tom had run away, and I chased him on our other horse Brassie. Five years later I wrote it down more fully, and ten years later I rewrote it, adding to it from what I remembered of the day — how Tom had run away from home, and I jumped on to our other horse Brassie, not even stopping to put shoes on, and caught up with him at Lyndhurst. At the time I was 12 yeas old, a little younger than the protagonist of Embrace. I could not get Tom to come home, and eventually put him in someone’s garage for the night, and returned for him the next day when I had dry clothes and shoes on.

With my pony Tom, March 1953

But now all I have as a memory is a snapshot, a single image of me sitting on Brassie, the feel of cold and wetness, and the cold slipperiness of the wet metal stirrup, and Tom flicking his hooves up and kicking the sole of my foot, and the anger I felt at him. The rest of what I wrote is like a story told by someone else. I know I chased him down to Lyndhurst, but I cannot recall the route I took, or even the garage where I wrote that he stayed overnight, or how I got him back home. There is just the single image of the cold, the rain, the wind and the kick. And Behr writes about memories like that. He recalls his father teaching him to shoot with a revolver at the age of five, but his father does not recall, or denies that he does. Memories of events seem to become compressed into snapshots, single images and one cannot recall what led up to them or what followed. So it is a book about memory and recall, and the narratives that shape our lives.

There were also considerable differences, however. Mark Behr describes the racist and white supremacist views of many of the pupils and teachers at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School in the 1970s. It was a private fee-paying school, and therefore under no obligations to give the National Party indoctrination that went on in government schools, but apparently it did. When I was the protagonist’s age I attended St Stithians College in the 1950s, and I don’t recall such racist attitudes among the teachers at all, and relatively rarely among the pupils.

The headmaster at St Stithians, Wally Mears, used to provide magazines for the common room, and when I went to fetch them one day he explained the selection — The Motor and Autocar for those interested in cars, Flight for boys interested in aircraft, Amateur Photography for those interested in photography, and Contact “because it’s best on the position of the natives,” as Mears put it.  Contact was the journal of the Liberal Party, which was then the only legal non-racial political party in South Africa, and was forced to disband about 10 years later when multiracial political parties were banned by the National Party regime.

Another thing that struck me, which has nothing to do with the content, was that the publishers (Abacus) had obviously paid no heed to the adage “Putt knot yore trussed in spell chequers.” The book really could have made use of a human editor, but was apparently produced by an el-cheapo publisher who tried to save money by dispensing with their services and relying on a semi-literate typist using a spelling checker. Among the numerous errors were “in cohort with” where “in cahoots with” was obviously intended, and “pallet” instead of “palate”.

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Cellphone blues

I have three cell phones. This puzzles people who try to phone me, and are not sure which number to use, But I’m sure I’m not the only person how has acquired a number of cellphones as “upgrades” of a previous model.

The problem is that the perfect cell phone has not been developed. Each one has particular features that the others lack, and which makes it useful, and very often the “upgrade” is actually a downgrade.

I don’t know if it will help anyone who wants to call me, but here are my three phones, with a kind of catalogue raisonne of what they are good at, and what I try to use them for. Perhaps if any cell phone manufacturer happens to read this they might use it as a resource for designing the perfect phone, with all the good features and none of the bad.

My current cell phones

My current cell phones

Here they are, with the newest on the left. The leftmost one (Phone 1) I’ve had for a year. It’s from Vodacom, but I think the manufacturer is LG. I got it as an upgrade for the middle one, an Alcatel (Phone 2), which was in turn an upgrade for an HTC Cha Cha (since lost). The one on the right, the Samsung (Phone 3) was one Val got as an upgrade back in 2008, and she gave it to me when it was itself upgraded in 2010.

The main advantage of Phone 3 (the Samsung) is that it has a good quality 5 megapixel camera, which actually works. The main disadvantages are that its battery life is pretty short, and if you want to send an SMS you have to press the same keys multiple times. Also, its ring is not very loud, so if it’s at the other end of the house I often don’t hear it ringing. I use it mainly for family members, and for sending SMS messages to remind people about church services. And, of course, as a notebook camera for recording all kinds of things.

The main advantages of Phone 2, the Alcatel, is that it’s battery lasts for several days, and it has a loud and unmistakable ring. It also gives me 100 minutes a month (on our Telkom contract) so I use it for outgoing calls where possible. It also has a comprehensive keypad, which is good for typing SMSs, but I’m not sure how many one is allowed to send, and it will suddenly offer 50 free ones, to be used the same day, but then no more till the end of the month. It has a crummy 2 megapixel camera, with no easy way of getting pictures off, so I usually carry the Samsung along as well. It’s not so good for incoming calls, however, because it tends to switch itself off when it’s in my pocket, so there are sometimes missed calls.

The main advantage of Phone 1 is that it a smartphone, and so can theoretically connect to the Internet and send photos of gravestones to BillionGraves. Like the Samsung it has a 5 megapixel camera, but the quality is not so good, when it does take a picture, and most times it doesn’t. It will take any number of test pictures of nothing in particular, but when it’s something you really want, it doesn’t work at all, so I always carry the Samsung with it. It also has no keypad at all. When I first got it it took me a month to discover how to answer it when it rang. The other two have a green button you push to answer the phone. This one has a virtual button that appears randomly, and pushing it makes not a blind bit of difference. After a month or so I discovered you had to swipe right, if you can find the screen you are supposed to swipe right from. So I get a lot of missed calls on this one too.

The Internet connection on Phone 1 is also useful for times (like now) when our ADSL connsction isn’t working, but connecting to the Internet by 3G is pretty expensive.

Phone 1 is also good for receiving SMSs and replying to them. Unfortunately it often gives me phantom notifications for SMSs that are not there. It is also not so good for sending SMSs to groups. The other two are good for that, except for the Alcatel’s tendency to suddenly offer 50 free SMSs on the 3rd of the month, and nothing for the rest of the month. I realise that’s not the phone’s fault, but some inexplicable policy of the service provder (Telkom).

Phone 1 also likes to show photos of some of the people in my contacts list. They are not people I often phone, except by accident, because when I put the phone down on the table I may accidentally touch one of the pictures and the phone dials their number without my being aware of it.

So if I get a missed call on one phone, I might return the call from one of the others (usually the Alcatel, because that’s cheapest). And if I get an SMS on the Alcatel, I might reply on one of the others, because the Alcatel may have reached its monthly limit.

And if any phone manufacturer is thinking of producing the perfect phone, then I’d like to see one with a decent camera, and an easy way of getting any pictures I take from my phone to my computer. The Samsung (the oldest) does that best. It has a cable, and an SD card you can remove without having to open the phone and take out the battery and put in the computer’s card reader slot, so you can plug it into the computer and get the photos off.

My old HTC ChaCha  Android phone, for all its faults, had a cable that you could plug into a computer and see the phone as an external disk drive. That doesn’t seem to work on the new one, so it is a downgrade rather than an upgrade, with less functionality. And even though it has four times the storage of the HTC ChaCha it still tells me that there is not enough storage to update the 18 apps with updates waiting, each of which is more bloated than the last, and most of which I’m never likely to use, but they are compulsory — they came with the phone, can’t be moved to the SD card, and utter dire warnings if you tr to remove them.

I’d like to see a phone with an easy and intuitive way of answering the phone when it rings.

But until I get one, whenever I buy trousers I look to see if they have enough pockets for three phones.

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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That was the weekend that was

It was the Western Easter weekend, but for us today was the second Sunday in Lent, when we recall St Gregory Palamas. Friday was the Feast of the Annunciation, and perhaps an opportunity to go to the Divine Liturgy on a public holiday, when traffic was lighter, but we had been invited to join our hosts at Atteridgeville, the African Orthodox Church at their Good Friday service, so we did. We contributed the singing of the Third Stsis of the Lamentation, which are part of Holy Saturday Matins in the Orthodox Church (sung on Goof Friday evening by anticipation).

And on Sunday we joined the Malahlela family in Mamelodi, where half the people were away for the weekend.

We go there every second Sunday, and it occurred to me that the Malahlela family are the people we see most outside the home, apart from our immediate family. Most other contact with people is via the Internet, rather than face to face, and that was one of the things we talked about. In Mamelodi you can go outside in the street, and you will see people. People are walking around, and you can see and meet your neighbours. In Kilner Park, where we live, you can walk all the way round the block and not see a soul, just hear different dogs barking as you pass the houses where they live. This came up in converstion because they asked when our daughter Bridget might come home from Greece. And we said there wouldn’t be much for her to do here. Athens is more like Mamelodi, where you can see people, and has a good public transport system, so there are places to go.

The Malahlela family and visitors, Mamelodi /east, Sunday 27 March 2016

The Malahlela family and visitors, Mamelodi /east, Sunday 27 March 2016

While we were having tea Grace Malahlela’s sister arrived, and then daughter Hellen and her children came back from wherever they had been, with loads of luggage. Since all sorts of people were there now, it was time to take a picture.

During the service there had been lots of noise from the next-door neighbours. They had a tent and lots of visitors, and periodical beating of drums and much noise. Grace sang louder than usual, perhaps to ward off the competition. Afterwards I asked what it was, a funeral perhaps, or a memorial for the dead. No, Grace said that the daughter of the house, who was about 15, was becoming a sangoma.

We come home and resume out everday occupations, family history research, and , in my case, also editing a doctoral thesis. Simon ios composing computer games, and Jethro is relaxing after a busy week at work, as a service advisor for LandRover.

That was the weekend that was. Tomorrow is also a public holiday, but it probably won’t be much  different, and, now that Val and I are both retired, neither will the rest of the week. The lawn needs cutting.

Old friends met or remembered

In the last few weeks we have made contact with a lot of old friends, or their families. All of them were friends from student days in the 1960s, and all of them had attended conferences of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF) at Modderpoort in the Free State in 1963-1965. So these meetings brought back memories of student years. Perhaps others who were there will see this and also make contact.

Nomtha and Antony Gray

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

First was Nomtha and Antony Gray. Nomtha is the daughter of my friend Stephen Gawe, and she contacted me through a blog post she read, in which I described our experiences of culture shock when we went to the UK to study.

Nomtha’s father Stephen Gawe was a student at Fort Hare, and was elected vice-president of the Anglican Students Federation in 1963. He was also on the committee of the national Students Christian Association (SCA) which, in 1964, was on the verge of being torn apart by apartheid. The ASF was a unified federation for all Anglican students at universities, teacher training colleges and theological seminaries. The SCA had four sections — Afrikaans, English, Black and Coloured, and the Afrikaans section wanted these four sections to become completely separate from each other, and Stephen Gawe had to attend executive meetings where this was discussed. He also attended the annual congress of Nusas (the National Union of South African Students) so for him the July vacation was rush of going from one congress to another.

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

Stephen Pandula Gawe, Modderpoort, July 1964

In August 1964 Stephen Gawe was detained by the Security Police under the 90-day detention law, along with 3 other students and was held for several months. Eventually he was charged with being a member of the then-banned ANC, and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. His father was the Anglican parish priest at Zwelitsha, near King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.

On his release from prison he was banned. He applied for, and was given, an exit permit, which allowed him to go to study in the UK The exit permit was given on condition that he never returned to South Africa, so it was, in effect, permission for permanent exile.

He studied at Oxford University, and while he was there he married Tozie Mzamo, on 19 August 1967 (click here to see wedding pic etc).

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

Antony and Nomtha Gray, Centurion, Gauteng, December 2015

On completing his studies he became a social worker in Southampton, and he and Tozie had two daughters, Nomtha and Vuyo. After the first democratic elections in 1994 he was able to return to South Africa and he joined the diplomatic service. We had a reunion in July 2001, just before he went to take up a new post as Ambassador to Denmark.

Ten years later his daughter Nomtha got in touch after reading the blog post that mentioned his wedding, and when she and her husband Antony visited South Africa in December 2015 we met them off the Gautrain and had a drink together in Centurion. It was really good to meet them.

Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba

Then last week there was another comment on a blog post by Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, who said I had mentioned her father, Sechaba Noel Lebenya, in the post on Tales from Dystopia II: Enemies of the State. I was writing about an official list of enemies of the apartheid state, and listed those I knew, or thought I knew.

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

Sechaba Noel Lebenya, Modderpoort, July 1964

So I wrote to her, and said I had met a Noel Lebenya at the Anglican Students Federation Conference at Modderpoort in July 1964, and I thought he was possibly the person on the list. I fished out an old photo of him taken at the conference, and she confirmed that it was her father, and said that he had died in 2005.

In July 1964 he was a 1st-year social work student at the University College of the North at Turfloop, and he lived at KwaThema, near Springs. Another friend, Cyprian Moloi, who had been a student at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice the previous year, and had been at that year’s ASF conference, was serving as a deacon in KwaThema, and those of us who were not (like Stephen Gawe) attending other student conferences, spent quite a bit of the rest of the vacation running around seeing each other, and talking incessantly about anything and everything.

I also found a group photo of several of us at Modderpoort, all wearing blankets, because Modderpoort was one of the coldest places in South Africa, and the winter of 1964 was one of the coldest winters ever. I had borrowed my mother’s car to drive to Pietermaritzburg and take some fellow students to Modderpoort, and as we drove up Van Reenen’s Pass with a full load the engine temperature dropped to “cold” and the heater stopped working — the water was simply not hot enough to warm the cold air. From Bethlehem to Modderpoort we passed patches of snow — but the snow had fallen a fortnight earlier.

Henry Bird, David Shory, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

Henry Bird, David Short, Jerry Mosimane, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Hayes at Modderpoort, July 1964.

I lost touch with Noel Lebenya after 1965. I went to study overseas in 1966, and on my return in 1968 I was in Durban and then Namibia. His daughter Palesa filled me in on some of the details, but her parents separated when she was quite young, so she is still hoping to learn more details of his life.  He seems to have spent some time on Robben Island, and perhaps with his social work background he was starting a centre for the disabled in Daveyton in the early 1990s and continued to work on it for about 10-12 years.

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Palesa Vuyelawa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

Nomvula Dwaba, Dambisa Dwaba, Palesa Vuyelwa Dwaba, Sechaba Noel Lebenya

It was good to have news of him from his daughter Palesa, and the picture of him, looking older (don’t we all?). Palesa completed her LlB degree at the University of Johannesburg last year, and is now articled as an attorney, but the picture is of her half-sister’s graduation.

Of the other people in the blanket photo, I last saw Henry Bird in the early 1980s. He was living in Eshowe, and working as an estate and general agent, when we were living in Melmoth. David Short visited us in 1987, and is living in Bedfordshire, England, where he is a shepherd; he has a web site here. I saw Jerry Mosimane in Johannesburg a few times in 1968, after my return from studying in England, but lost touch with him after moving to Durban.

Martin and Wendy Goulding

Yesterday we visited Martin and Wendy Goulding in Melville, Johannesburg. Martin also attended ASF conferences in the early 1960s, and we have seen them more often, since they were living in Durban when I went there in 1969.

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin Goulding, Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Martin has retired as a chemist in a glue factory, and they usually live in a cottager in the Drakensberg foothills, but they were in Johannesburg to help their daughter Elizabeth with their latest grandchild, Rebecca, aged just four weeks when we visited.

When we were students Martin had an old Morris Minor and we did some of our frenetic running around and seeing people in that, except that it often broke down, and so the journeys either took longer than expected, or had to be completed with another vehicle.

In July 1965 he drove to Johannesburg from Durban to give me a lift back to Pietermaritzburg for the next university term. The car died in Villiers, and he had to hitchhike the rest of the way. We hitchhiked back to Villiers, and discovered that the car dynamo was dead. We spend an uncomfortable night sleeping in the car, and fortunately discovered someone in Villiers who could sell us another dynamo on a Sunday morning.

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Wendy Goulding with granddaughter Rebecca. Melville, Johannesburg, 18 January 2016

Back in Durban Martin said that one of the stories that had always impressed him was the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic, and while the ship was sinking the orchestra sat on the deck playing “Nearer my God to thee”. We then went for a drive in the Morris Minor, with Martin sitting on the roof playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his ‘cello. A traffic cop stopped us and stopped our fun by insisting that all passengers must be inside the vehicle.

Barbara van der Want

Perhaps the most astounding of all these old friends meetings was when we had knocked on the Gouldings’ gate, and Martin had just opened it to let us in, I heard someone calling me from across the street, and it turned out to be Barbara van der Want (formerly Hutton), who happened to be passing at that moment and saw me.

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

My cousin Jenny Growdon (now Aitchison) and Barbara Hutton (now van der Want), Germiston Lake, 22 January 1964

I knew she lived just down the road at Westdene, but I hadn’t seen her since about 1973. She too had been at most of these student gatherings in the 1960s. We did not have much time to talk, as she was off to a meeting, but she did have time to tell me that another friend, Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) had died last year.

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick).at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

Pam Trevelyan (nee Taylor) and Isobel Beukes (nee Dick). at Holy Rood Mission on the Swaziland border, 26 September 1965

One of the memories we chatted about with the Goulding was of a journey we had taken in a short September vacation in 1965. We were meant to go in Martin Goulding’s Morris Minor, but it broke down, and we went in a borrowed car from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg — Martin, Pam Taylor, Isobel Dick (now Beukes) and me.

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

Martin Goulding at Holy Rood Mission near Piet Retief, 26 September 1965

After seeing friends in Johannesburg, we went east to Holy Rood Mission, on the Swaziland border near Piet Retief, and spent the night there. It was just the four of us, sitting round a table lit by candles and paraffin lamps, and we were telling each other the sad stories of our love life, tales of unrequited love.

When it was late, and we were about to go to bed Pam disappeared, and came back and gave us each a card, on which was printed. “Thank you for telling me your story. It is the saddest story I have ever heard. Please accept this card as a token of my deepest sympathy.” She said her father had had them printed to give to people who came to him with sob stories. And now it was sad to hear that Pam had died.

It has definitely been old friends month.

And perhaps there is just space for a couple more pictures and stories.

Cyprian Moloi

Cyprian Moloi

Martin Goulding playing "Nearer my God to thee" on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

Martin Goulding playing “Nearer my God to thee” on his Morris Minor, Miranda. Durban, 6 September 1965

After one of those student conferences at Modderpoort a group of us went to a Sunday service at Meadowlands, which was Cyprian Moloi’s home parish (that was when he was still a student, before he was ordained). There was quite a big group of us, with John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits, and his family. Mark Davies, aged 4, was deaf, and John Davies said that the only way a deaf child could see what the church was about was if people in the church showed him love, and did not scold him for being too noisy, as he had no idea how much noise he was making.

After the service we were gathered found the door, and Barbara van der Want (Hutton), leaned forward to look around some people to see Mark Davies coming out of the church, and Cyprian pulled out a packet of cigarettes and offered her one saying, “All right, I know what you want.” All the smokers roared with laughter. As a non-smoker, I didn’t get it at first, but it appeared that at the conference Barbara had been bumming cigarettes off everyone so that she no longer had to ask.

That same night I borrowed a friend’s motorbike to take Barbara home to Kensington , where she lived. It was a puny 75cc bike, and could not make it over Sylvia Pass with both of us aboard, so we went the long way round via Gilooly’s farm. We planned to go to Evensong at Barbara’s home parish of St Andrew’s. Because of the detour, we were late, and because of the cold, we were both wearing blankets, as we did at Modderpoort. That set the cat among the pigeons. Churches were a good deal more fussy about how one dressed in those days, and the following Sunday the Rector, Tom Comber, preached a special sermon on it, in which he said that the only garment one needs to wear to church is the garment of charity.

And to close off, here’s an extract from my diary for 3 July 1964, at the ASF conference, which mentions both Stephen Gawe and Noel Lebenya.

I woke up feeling sick, so did not go to Mass, but got up for breakfast at 8 am. Then Miss D. Aitken, principal of the Rhenish High School at Stellenbosch, spoke on Evolution, Science and Christianity, which was largely based on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

In the afternoon the Bishop of Bloemfontein gave a review of The Primal Vision which was interesting, but not of much use to people who had not read the book, and most hadn’t. Reports from discussion groups showed that most people had dismissed it as being of no value whatever.

In the evening we sang songs, and then later on a few of us – John de Beer, Noel Lebenya, Stephen Gawe and I, sat around talking long after midnight. Noel told us about his many girlfriends, and his steady in Bloemfontein. The rest of us argued with him about this – saying that if he expected to be able to trust his steady, she should be able to trust him. He is a nice guy, went to school in Thaba Nchu, and then worked for a while, and is now in his first year at Turfloop, doing social work. He had taken to wearing a blanket around the place, and it seems to suit him. His grandfather was a Mosotho.

Everyone else drifted off to bed, and only Stephen Gawe and I were left. We played a couple of games of chess – he beat me easily both times. Then we talked about people at the conference, and who would be suitable to elect to the executive at the AGM tomorrow. Mike Stevenson was the obvious choice for President, if he would stand again. Stephen thought Clive Whitford for Vice-President, and I thought Jeremiah Mosimane would be better. He is doing 2nd year BA at Turfloop. We both thought Mavourneen Moffett would be good as Secretary. Then, as it was about 4 am, we said Mattins together, and prayed, and went to bed, lying next to the fire in the common room.

One of the nice things about blogging is that it one suddenly gets discovered by old friends, or their children, so the last few weeks have been very interesting.

The missing ghosts in my life

Ghost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South AfricaGhost That Closed Down The Town,The: Stories Of The Haunting Of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck

I haven’t finished the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but rather some thoughts inspired by some of the bits I’ve read so far, that mention places that are familiar to me, or at least that I have been to.

Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and there is an overlap between urban legends and ghost stories, especially in the legend of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Hitchhikers have now vanished in more than one sense, and I’ve written something about that here and here.

In one of his earlier books Goldstuck mentioned the Uniondale ghost as a story belonging to this genre and he has dealt with it more fully in this book. I found it quite interesting as I recently travelled the road in question, though when he mentioned the Barendas turn-off the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I looked it up on a map I did find that the road we had travelled along passed a railway halt called Barandas. Perhaps the ghost entered the typesetting machine to add a little more mystery to the story.

The story is of a motorcyclist who have a hitchhiker a lift, and lent her his spare crash helmet, and a little further on he felt the bike swerve a bit, and looked round and the hitchhiker had gone, and the helmet was in its usual place.

We travelled that road four years ago, and again in September this year. On Friday 29 April 2011 we drove down the N9 from Graaff Reinet, noting the empty dam on the Groot Rivier (a trickle), and about 40 km south of Willowmore we turned west on to the R341, leading to De Rust. I think this is what Arthur Goldstuck refers to as “the Barendas turn-off”.

We had only gone a few kilometres when an ambulance came the other way, lights flashing, and the driver signalled to us, and stopped, so we stopped, and he asked if we had seen an accident involving a motorbike. We said we hadn’t so he turned around and passed us going the same way we were, and past the turnoff to Uniondale we came to the scene of the accident. The ambulance had obviously come up from Uniondale and hadn’t known which way to turn.

We didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, but passed by sending up a silent prayer for the rider, since the ambulance was there. Now, having read the stories in the book, I wonder if we had stopped, would we have found that the accident was caused by a ghostly hitchhiker?

The other thing that struck me in the book was the mention of the Sandringham Dip. I lived for 6 years at Sunningdale, on the ridge above the dip in question, from the age of 7-13, and four years down the hill in Sandringham itself. The dip actually leads from Silvamonte to Senderwood, and as you go that way the grounds of the Rietfontein Hospital were on the left, and on the right was the Huddle Park Golf Course. At the bottom of the dip is a stream, a tributary of the Jukskei, which runs between Sandringham and the golf courses. As a child I used to play in the stream, and I went through the dip many times, by car, bicycle and on horseback. I rode on horseback with friends to see another friend who lived in Bedfordview, and a little way up the hill past the dip was a gate that opened to the Huddle Park golf course. When the gate wasn’t locked we would take a short cut through the gofd course, galloping down the fairways. There was a danger of being hit by a sliced ball perhaps, but we were more afraid of municipal officials who might accuse us of trespassing and make us go back. Nothing could be further from our minds than the fear of ghosts.

Goldstuck mentions a grave at the bottom of the dip. I never saw that, but I did know of a graveyard at the top of the hill beyond the dip, and took photos of it because I thought it was picturesque, with mouldy wooden monuments and crosses rotting under the trees.It may have been the graves of people who died in the hospital, but I doubted it. It was too far from the main hospital, and looked more like old farm graves.

As children we also used to ride on horseback through the grounds of Rietfontein Hospital, because there were plenty of wide-open spaces, which were (and are) getting harder to find in an increasingly urbanised landscape. We gave the hospital buildings (a few old Victorian houses) a wide berth, partly because of the fear of Authority, which might chase us away, and also because it was an isolation hospital for infectious diseases, and we were afraid of catching something.

More recently I have been in correspondence with people who are concerned about proposals to develop the site, because apparently a lot of people who died at the hospital have been buried there over the years, and local history groups believe that these sites should be respected.

So I seem to have missed the ghosts. Though I was in the right places, obviously it was at the wrong time.

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Visit to Western Cape

friendsWe hope to visit the Western Cape in late August. Unless we win the Lotto or something this will probably be the last time in our lives that we’ll ever go there, and so will be the last opportunity to visit friends and family who live there, so it may be the last chance we’ll ever have to see old old friends, and cousins, some of whom we’ve met, and some of whom we haven’t.

famtreeIf you would like to see us when we are there, please use the form below to give us your contact information, so we can get in touch with you. We would not like to get back home after the trip and have people say, as so often happens, “Why didn’t you get in touch when you were here?”

There are more details about this proposed trip on our family history blog here.

So far the following are on our list of “people to see”:

  • Sam van den Berg
  • Edmund van Wyk
  • Lindsay Walker
  • Michael Preston
  • Sandy Struckmeyer
  • Brenda Coetzee
  • Jean Mary Gray
  • Jeanette Harris
  • Chris Saunders

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