who am I /who I am

Having been a taxpayer in five countries and a citizen of five, not all the same, including one in which I never lived, I sometimes ponder on the nature of my ethnicity and nationality.

My patronymic grandfather was born in Ireland and I believe is descended from 11th Century knights from Normandy, who assisted William the Conqueror invade England and later Ireland. They in turn were descended from Alaric the Visigoth, who trashed Rome.

Thus I am an Irish citizen by descent.

By naturalisation, I am also a New Zealand citizen and have been a citizen of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Swaziland and the United Kingdom and Colonies.

But I can’t really call myself Irish or Kiwi because I sound like a rooinek Japie from South Africa. My paternal grand mother is descended from Scottish Brownlees (landing in South Africa in 1817) and Dutch De Jagers (1697) – making me a 10th generation South African.

On my maternal grandfather’s side I am an Englishman descended from John Vialls of Orton in the 1600’s. My Gogo (grandmother) was descended from Danish and German settlers in 1700’s (perhaps Huguenots fleeing religious persecution?)

Now here’s a thing! Geni genealogy website tells me that I am directly descended from John Lackland Plantagenet, King of England following Richard the Lionheart, through both my father and my mother. Genealogy is a fascinating subject!

(No need to stand on ceremony, the occasional Milord will do).

So that is why why I support the Bokke then the Wallabies (I live there) and then the All Blacks, but Ireland above all of them.

Strangely I would probably never support the English!

Of course being white skinned and English speaking I am rejected by Afrikaner and black and brown Southern Africans. I have too many Afrikaner ancestors to be denied (at least 18 different Afrikaner family names in my family tree), but only a Timorese ancestor in the 1600’s to darken my skin.

I feel like a colonial mongrel, but I suppose at the end of the day, we all are!

A Magistrate’s curse in colonial times

Story suggested by Louis Boshoff Tuesday 23 March

In small towns in the colonies, the magistrate is often one of two senior government officials, the other is the District Commissioner. 

They are required to reside in large houses with large grounds, which if you are a young bachelor is a curse.

When I was appointed as Resident Magistrate in Mtoko in the North East corner of Rhodesia, the only furniture I possessed was my bed; my bedside table was a beer crate. I also had a hi-fi player.

I was given three weeks ‘ notice to move. All of a sudden I was required to furnish a 3 bedroomed house with a large sitting room and dining room. Then there were two acres of garden to keep neat. I was given three weeks’ notice and a day off to shop for furniture.

What to do? I didn’t have a girlfriend to advise me and Mum was still in Swaziland. My friends were beer drinkers and rugby players.

I went to an auction and bought a lounge suite, dining room suite, a bed, some bedside cabinets, some crockery and a tray full of cutlery.  There was also a set of Impressionist prints on boards which were quite good, so I took them to add colour to the walls.It took about an hour. 

Next door was a drapery shop where I bought some calico material for curtains, orange and green for the Irish flag. 

So I arrived in Mtoko and was taken on a grand tour by the departing magistrate: Police, Prison, District Commissioner and army HQ. Ex officio, I was appointed as Chairman of the local Sports Club. This was awkward as until then in the city, I had enjoyed the anonymity and freedom of an ordinary man in the street beer drinker…

The best advice I had been given was to engage a reliable man of all trades. Thankfully, I was introduced to John, a regal grandfather who introduced himself as Tickey (I am embarrassed to say I have forgotten his surname; I called him Baba which means father).

He was a real gentleman’s gentleman and cared for me as if I was a prince and not a dissolute bachelor with paltry, shoddy possessions and no woman. I gave him money and he bought food and fed us, telling me when we needed more. He fed the dogs and cleaned the house, removing the occasional reptile and washing and ironing. He took my curtain material to the local tailor and I had curtains in two days.

He would not do the garden, but fortunately a gang of prisoners would come up occasionally to cut grass and weed. Some became quite familiar and greeted me in a friendly fashion, even though I had sent them down.

So there were blessings to accompany the curse.

Learning about religion

Story suggested by Barbara Hatfield Tuesday 9 March

Religious rituals imprint emotions and memories early in life, for those raised in religious families. I suppose that is their function.

I am not talking about Christmas Carols and Easter Egg hunts and associated, market controlled commercial events, but family occasions.

Early Sunday was a tough time in our house, as my father hated being late for anything, especially mass. And my sister could never get her act together. I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t an early streak of the rebelliousness which bloomed in her older life. Certainly the nuns at Loreto could not quell it; in fact they probably caused it!

So driving to mass with a smouldering volcano and muttering sister was a fraught affair and my brother and I skulked low.

At mass, we were separated. He sat with Mum in the fourth pew from the front on the right, I was jammed into the space between the organ and the wall in the choir, of which Dad was the bass section. This was after we once had a fight over a holy bookmark card.

The little church was packed every Sunday. The best was when the Bishop came and there was incense and a throne for him. Except we had to kneel and kiss his ring which we didn’t care for.

Our Saturdays too were interfered with by religious stuff. We received religious instruction at Catechism classes, which were held at our house. As the priests and nuns were mostly Italian or Swazi, whose English was poor, my Mum used to take the classes.

A good illustration of Mum’s disciplinary powers was at meals if we forgot about “elbows off the table please darling” our elbows got jabbed by a carving fork. So we two Purcell boys mostly behaved. 

The others were four or five Smiths, mostly girls, a couple of Allardices and the occasional O’Kelly or two. They were wild boys and sitting still was not their forte. Adept at slipping under the tables, they tickled and pinched and generally disrupted proceedings.

They were eventually persuaded by the promise of cake and biscuits afterwards, or the threat of having to recite a decade of the rosary, out loud.

Nevertheless, a number of us duly made out first Confessions, which were always difficult as the concept of sin was so seriously guilty or not guilty. We resorted to a litany of transgreessions like:  bless me Father for I have sinned, I told a lie to my friend and thought bad things and I forgot to say my prayers… It was not easy to sound original every time.

Then Communion and the terror of not chewing Jesus’ body which  sat dry on the tongue or stuck to the roof of your mouth, while you looked pious and holy, which required a great deal of concentration. But I think there was a feeling of grace for a while afterwards.

Confirmation was weird – you had to choose a saint’s name and remember it was you they were talking to (don’t ask me why). We all lined up at a special Sunday parade and the Bishop came along and asked you a  question (you’d been told the answer). Then he marked your forehead with oil and slapped your face – apparently to chase the devil away.

Strange this practice of marking the head with oil and ashes on Ash Wednesday. We have no right to look sideways at the Hindus and their tikas.

For a while I was a devout Catholic, bound by duty and ritual and desire to please my parents. I was often the only boarder from school that walked the two or three miles through the winter frost across the icy river to mass. Then back again, too late for breakfast, if no-one gave you a lift.

I even entertained a fantasy of becoming a priest and saving lepers on a remote island like Father Damien. Maybe it was the island name Molokai that resonated some significance.

As life exposed the temptations of the flesh, duty and the basis of faith were examined and rationalisation gave excuses to avoid. Conveniently, I think, I embraced the mantra of Domine, non sum dignus * to avoid Communion, as I knew  I would continue to commit sins of the flesh like over-indulgence, idleness and neglect of holy obligations. It was sort of a sidestep about which I felt a little guilty.  

Over the years I have come to understand the place and need for religion in society. The vast number of different faiths and rituals seem to me as expressions of need, not the presence of gods in different forms.

Nevertheless the rituals still carry some reverence for me and I am conscious that we must acknowledge sin and need to try to improve. So a little stuck.

Sadly few of my Catholic contemporaries seem to have retained much devoutness. Some of my Protestant friends are more devout, but they have a wider menu and less demanding regime to follow. Generously, they include me in their prayers.

* Lord, I am not worthy

The Green Hand of Overdale

Story suggested by Keith Struwig 8 March Monday

The little boys at our boarding school, juniors ranging in age from seven to twelve, lived in Overdale House. They were under the care of a young Scotsman who was diligent but strict in his exercise of care.

Each morning the prefect awoke the boys with a little bell. No lolling in bed was permitted. All faces were to be washed in cold water (there was no hot); shoes polished, hair brushed, beds made before breakfast. Their appearance and clothes trunks were inspected. Then they were marched off to breakfast.

The housemaster ensured that the senior boys allowed them to get some food at meal times, but like all boys, they were always ravenous.

Every second night they were marched to Duncan House for a bath. On the intervening day grubbiness and dirt were to be removed under the cold water tap at the back, in the shade of the oak trees.

Lights out was at nine o’clock, with only the prefect’s light left on until later. The toilet was an outhouse, under the oak trees and it was very dark out there. But little boys were well aware of the horrible embarrassment and miserable disgrace awaiting those who wet their beds… so braved the dark.

Unfortunately, an idle, wicked prefect, who shall remain nameless, was struck by a brainwave.  He knew how to stop the littlest boys waking him in the middle of the night to take them to the loo, which he was under instruction to do. 

One winter night, just before lights out, he idly inquired if anyone had heard anything the previous night, like tapping on the window. No-one had. He admonished them all not to investigate if they ever did hear it. 

It could be “the hand” that was tapping…. 

He said he had been told by Sikwini, the Head Waiter, that many years ago, a man had slipped and fallen into the saw pit and his left hand had been sliced off. He was rushed to hospital but bled to death on the way. His hand had been forgotten in the panic and it is thought that Fly the school dog had stolen it. 

Now, it was said, usually at full moon the hand came to find its owner….

Boys were dumbstruck and everyone of them slept with their head under the blankets. No-one woke the prefect. 

Over the following days, any visits to the outhouse after dark were done before lights out, in company of at least two others, who took turns to wait outside while business was completed. Nobody moved after lights out.

Inevitably there was a sudden increase in incidents of bed-wetting, surprisingly including one or two older boys.

The canny young Scotsman conferred with the Matron (soon to become his wife) and she spoke to some of the younger boys. She soon extracted the legend of “the hand”, which had now become green and “scrabbled at the tops of windows and would strangle anyone who saw it and they would become ghosts of Overdale too….

Once such terrifying seeds have been planted, they grow unchecked and become rooted, despite pronouncements from the housemaster and the matron and a recant by the demoted prefect.

That is why, until Overdale was no longer a dormitory, chamber pots were used at night.

Everyone who was a boarder at St Marks knows the story and the duty monitors who fetched the cocoa at night always gave Overdale a wide berth, especially around full moon.

My fondest memory of my son

Story proposed by Janita Purcell Thursday 4 March

I have two sons and three daughters and all or nearly all of my memories of them are fond. I can’t remember any that are not fond, but there must be as nobody’s perfect, except perhaps John Eales. (it’s a rugby joke).

Bringing up five children, we practiced a sort of communist regime – everyone got the same share, first last time is last this time and always check that the dogs have water.

Our children were  and remain unfailingly good, mischievous, serious, loving, clever and beautiful and many other things that it hurts to remember.

They are all bright, talented and independent and love a family braai on a Sunday. They ask advice, listen and even sometimes seem to heed it. I think they ask me just because they know it makes me feel good. They ask their Mum when it’s something serious.

All of them are university educated, paid for by themselves, and have travelled abroad. They all like dogs and are polite and kind to people too.

I suppose the fondest memories I have of my eldest son is his pride in catching a slimy barbel on the farm, when he was about seven and his colours awards for hockey and Academics. 

The fondest memories of my youngest son is him consoling me in my rage when someone else was awarded Best Player when he  should have got it, and him reading to his baby daughter.

This is very difficult as I am somewhat sentimental. I think they all know that I am quite fond of them.

Patting a cow for the first time

for Max 3 months old 3 Mar Weds

Cows are friendly critters. 

They will remember you 

Mind you, there are cow pats and there are cow pats. You can pat a cow, but don’t pat a cow pat. Ask your Daddy to tell you why.

The first time I remember patting a cow was at the Hennessey’s dairy farm. They had a herd of Jersey cows and a few Shetland ponies.

First I will tell you a bit about these ponies. They are very small which is just right for little people to ride. Some can be bad tempered and some can be sweet.

When I was about seven years old my parents gave me a Shetland pony for my birthday. Her name was Sweetie. I will tell you why that was not a good name for her. 

Mum had invited all my friends to a birthday party for me. Even June Rose who had lived next door to us in Bremersdorp was there, looking very smart in  a bonnet and a frilly dress. She was only five.

The best thing about the party was that we all got to have a ride on Sweetie. Everybody was thrilled, except for one person. That person was Sweetie, who was not happy to have to carry lots of little children around the garden on her back all afternoon.

So, she had a huff. 

When ponies have a huff, they toss their heads, then jump forward onto their front legs and throw their hindlegs up into the air. If there is someone on their back, they get tossed off, over the horse’s head to crash down to the ground.

Poor June Rose, she landed in a rose bush and got quite badly scratched. That really spoilt the party. 

Sweetie was sent back to Hennessey’s farm, which is I suppose what she really wanted.

I always thought it was weird that June Rose was bucked off in the rose garden. Perhaps if her name was Daisy she would have been tossed into the daisies?

Anyway back to the cows. Jersey cows are a soft beige brown colour and have big brown eyes and long eyelashes.  They have big udders which give lots of milk every day. 

The farmer showed us how to milk a cow, after we had patted it of course. Cows like being patted and if they know you well enough will give you a big kiss. A cow kiss is a lick across your face!

Its not that difficult to milk a cow. You squeeze one of the teats on the udder and warm milk squirts out into the bucket under the cow. Sometimes the cow stamps her foot  and swishes her tail because she doesn’t like flies bothering her.

We gave some of the milk in a bottle to a calf, which was very sweet with big brown eyes too. It wanted more and sucked and sucked and moo’d  very loudly.

We patted its head and scratched its ears and it seemed to like that.

We didn’t want to go home, but the farmer said the calf had to go to the barn to sleep as it was getting dark.

It was lovely day – we got to pat a pony, a cow and a calf. We also patted the farmer’s dog and his cats. And he gave us a bag of big forest mushrooms called makhowe  to take home for our supper. 

Passion

I hope that this title got your attention. Getting sneaky is how we get buy!

This is about resurgence of my passion.

My pre-passion mulling over period came to an abrupt end when I buttered my toast this morning. I was smiling in anticipation of a great gobbet of our New Zealand made lemon curd on top. Never smile at a crocodile, it will get there first! The cupboard was bare! I had to make do with Anchovette fish paste.

This obviously called for immediate action to avoid any further disappointment.

We are blessed in Queensland by an abundance of passion fruit; so many that even friends and neighbours are full up. So I have essayed into beneficiation – Clem Sunter’s answer to South Africa’s reliance on primary industry; Australia should consider it.

I sprang into action: to Google for a recipe and the cupboard and fridge for ingredients.

Now Baby Boomers men will understand that the challenge before me was of some magnitude. Particularly we who originated in the Dark Continent were not equipped with culinary skills of any sort. The more progressives had mastered making a cup of tea and operating a toaster quite successfully.

In my retirement I have taken steps to avoid stagnation by writing blathering blogs and amazing autobiographies. But now I have experienced… YES, I will confess – a new passion which has brightened my life appreciably.

I am talking about the kitchen arts: those that our wives and daughters absorbed from an early age from their mothers and grandmothers. Whereas when Mum was cooking, boys’ focus was who got to lick the bowl and the biggest slice; girls noted utensils and spoon sizes, pot size and the advantages of butter and how to whisk eggs… the list is long.

So, Dear Readers (those who are still with me), you may agree that the challenge facing me to ensure never having to endure another disappointment in much anticipated indulgence, was great. It may even have daunted some.

By googling “passion fruit curd” I was blessed with about 4,230,000 articles… I read the first three and being health conscious, I chose the one with only 1/4 cup of sugar.

The recipe required in addition:

4 egg yolks

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

juice of 2 lemons

1/2 cup of passion fruit pulp

What could be easier than that?

Huh! Have you ever tried to separate egg yolks from the limpid, runny stuff, without getting egg shell in the mix? … and pips out of lemon juice after it has been added to the sugar?

What’s a double boiler?

What if you have no unsalted butter AND no whisk, which you discover only after you have started mixing the stuff …

In my passion, I took the bit between my teeth and combined pulp and sugar and warmed it over a bowl in a pot of boiling water (ingenious, I know).

I managed to separate most of the yolks and whipped them with the lemon juice (only a few pips remained) and I mixed it with the passion fruit, then added the cubes of butter slowly, while whisking the mix until they melted…To demonstrate my nonchalance at my new found prowess, I made a cup of tea and sterilized an old coffee jar at the same time. Multi- tasking I believe it is called.

A prime aspect of this curdling process is whisking, which is required to be continuous. Imagine my horror when someone knocked on the front door! I had to remove the pot from the flame, attend the inquiry (can I clean your gutters ?) and dash back to resume my whisking.

New-fangled culinary technology does not faze me – I even managed to take the temperature of the cooking curd as I whisked.

Once it reached 160 deg F, I whipped it off the stove and jarred it! I tell you now whisking for about 20 minutes requires perseverance and some endurance.

But I did it … and I got to lick the bowl and the spoon.

I am passionate about cooking …

Beware! Beware! 
His flashing eyes, his floating hair! 
Weave a circle round him thrice, 
And close your eyes with holy dread 
For he on honey-dew hath fed, 
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
*

*Samuel Taylor Coleridge

What I am / not

Regrettably Profundity is not really what I do.

It’s too deep and accurate;

Too honourable and wise.

Though sometimes, coincidentally, a time or two

I create a phrase or thought

Which may click or resonate.

But that is not my aim:

I prefer irreverence and whimsy,

quirks and stabs at the overfilled balloons of conventions

which have outlived their function.

To my granddaughter, at 5 days

In my day and my Daddy’s day, grown-up was 18, when most people finished school, got a driving licence and ordered a beer in a bar. You won’t need a driver’s licence, my beloved, as the cars that are still around won’t need drivers, they’ll drive themselves far better than we could ever do. Try to give beer a miss.

My grandfather used horses to get around. He never owned a car or a telephone. CMR Officer

He was a soldier and rode into battle on his horse, with a sabre and a rifle.

I hope that I will be able to read you stories, but I suspect that books will also have largely disappeared. I know your Dad has already started reading to you.

Sharing anything with anyone is always a good thing, because even if it is a bad experience you will be able to share the pain and if it is a happy one you will be able to double your joy!

It is very important that you take time to talk to other people and do things together. Try to eat one meal a day with your family – no distractions, just talk to each other.

You will probably be a vegetarian, although you will eat stuff that looks and tastes like meat – we have a braai tradition. But real meat will be too expensive so we will cook vegieSteak and goggaPrawns on the barbie…

If you are lucky, your family will have its own vertical TerraFarm next to your house, which will produce most of your food. Maybe one of your first tasks will be feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs.

mzikiWe had a fine rooster called Mziki when I was young. He was very fierce and crowed the loudest of all roosters in town. I hope you are able to keep a rooster so you can wake up when it crows in the morning.

I hope you will love growing things as well.

When I was a boy, this world was still being explored. New societies were still being discovered in deep jungles. You will be able to work on Mars and explore outer space. Remember to call home. Parents never stop worrying about their children. Perhaps you could rather send an avatar so you won’t miss dinner and your Mum won’t fret.

Do your best, be brave, be humble, help others.

Sing

dance!

Smile

Dance