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Why Do Lettuces Grow

Why Do Lettuces Grow

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Why Do Lettuces Grow

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554 pages
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Jun 21, 2014
ISBN:
9781311435866
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The author traces his life from snatches of memories starting in 1940. He was brought up in a suburb, close to Cape Town, on the slopes of Devil's Peak. This area was his playground until his mid-teens. He covers events that left an indelible impression on his mind as a child and then as a teenager.
He started attending the University of Cape Town at the age of 16 and shortly after, his family moved to a new home in Newlands about 10kms from Cape Town.
After graduating with a degree in Science he started his working career, first working with a manufacturer of industrial chemicals and then he relocated to the research department of a major international packaging company. His main area of work covered the interaction of food, beverages and non-food products with metal and plastic containers. During this period he authored and co-authored a number of papers, some of which were published in international scientific journals.
In 1977 he changed direction within the same company and embarked on a career in information technology and computing. Eventually he became head of the company’s information technology department and during his involvement introduced minicomputers, database usage, new computing languages, standardized operating system, pcs and pc applications, and finally a company wide network linking over 2000 end users and a link to the world-wide web in 1994. He began introducing a company- wide standard application system in the late 1980s.
During his working career he traveled extensively to the UK, USA and Europe for both educational and business reasons. He also traveled to these and other countries with his wife on vacation, whenever possible.
He retired in 1996 and he and his wife have continued to travel extensively, not only to other countries but all over South Africa.
In 1998 he began a deep interest in genealogy, a hobby which he still pursues today with considerable zeal.
His other interests and hobbies include, reading, gardening, computers, DIY, photography, politics, history, science, evolution and human behaviour.

Lansat:
Jun 21, 2014
ISBN:
9781311435866
Format:
Carte

Despre autor

Born in Cape Town, South Africa.Obtained a Bsc Degree in Science at the University of Cape Town. Worked in a research department of a major packaging company before switching to Information Technology in 1977. Lived in Johannesburg for twenty years. Travelled extensively on business to the USA, UK and Europe. Also travelled privately to these and many other countries. Hobbies include photography, genealogy, gardening, DIY, reading, walking and writing.Lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

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Why Do Lettuces Grow - Vernon W. Wilson

Why Do Lettuces Grow?

Vernon W. Wilson

Published by Vernon W. Wilson at Smashwords

Copyright 2014 Vernon W. Wilson

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This autobiography is a true account of the author’s life experiences from memory and includes his views on various subjects. In a few of the cases the names of people have been changed to protect their privacy.

ISBN: 9781311435866

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1 – The Early Years

Chapter 2 – ‘I see the King, the King sees me’

Chapter 3 – General Smuts and Sex Education

Chapter 4 – Westerns and the Puff Adder

Chapter 5 – Grandparents, the Boer War & Mona Lisa

Chapter 6 – Car Trips, Train Trips and the Age of the Earth

Chapter 7 – Adhesives and War Experiences in Singapore & Italy – Part II

Chapter 8 – Augrabies Falls, Philosophy & Dr Chris Barnard

Chapter 9 – Computers, the Moon Landing & Dogs

Chapter 10 – Nostalgia, Chicago & Venice

Chapter 11 – Parliament, Censorship & the Golden Hind

Chapter 12 – Radiation & ‘Two weeks that changed my life’

Chapter 13 – The Angola War, the USA & Europe

Chapter 14 – Mauritius, Rhinos & Las Vegas

Chapter 15 – The Concorde, the Seychelles, Greece & Turkey

Chapter 16 – Europe, Networks & Relocation

Chapter 17 – A New Way of Life – Part III

Chapter 18 – Fish River Canyon, Australia & New Zealand

Chapter 19 – Genealogy, 9/11 & Ireland

Chapter 20 – The Birr Telescope, Singapore & Pilansberg

Chapter 21 – Irish Visitors, Italy & Fiji

Chapter 22 – Losing a friend & our 50th Wedding Anniversary

Chapter 23 – Science, Religion & Economics – Part VI

Chapter 24 – Life & Lettuce

References

Summary

Chapter Sub Headings

List of Photographs

The Author, 1939 – Chapter 1

Chapman’s Peak picnic, 1946 – Chapter 2

1942 Green Willys – Chapter 2

Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak – Chapter 2

Statue of General Smuts – Chapter 3

The Dromadaris, Gordon’s Bay – Chapter 4

Pietermaritzburg scaled down steam engine – Chapter 6

Durban Beach, 1958 – Chapter 6

University of Cape Town – Chapter 6

Augrabies Falls, 1960 – Chapter 8

Chapman’s Peak, 1960 – Chapter 8

Diaz Cross, Eastern Cape, 1962 – Chapter 8

The Author at work, 1967 – Chapter 9

Victoria Falls, 1969 – Chapter 9

Sherry, the dog – Chapter 9

Venice 1971- Chapter 10

Legoland, Germany, 1973 – Chapter 11

Golden Hind, 1973 – Chapter 11

The White House, USA, 1980 – Chapter 13

Yosemite National Park, 1980 – Chapter 13

Kit Carson Pass, California, 1983 – Chapter 13

Saturn V rocket, Texas, 1983 – Chapter 13

Rhino at Pilansberg, 1986 – Chapter 14

Excalibur Hotel, Las Vegas, 1990 – Chapter 14

Bryce Canyon, Utah, 1990 – Chapter 14

Silverton-Durango train, Colorado, 1990 – Chapter 14

Mt. St. Helens, 1992 – Chapter 15

Ephesus, Turkey, 1993 – Chapter 15

Lindos, Rhodes, 1993 – Chapter 15

Giethoorn, the Netherlands, 1994 – Chapter 16

Penafiel Castle, Spain, 1996 – Chapter 17

Roman Bridge at Salamanca, Spain, 1996 – Chapter 17

Roman aquaduct, Sergovia, Spain, 1996 – Chapter 17

‘Town Musicians of Bremen’, 1996 – Chapter 17

Vollendam, the Netherlands, 1996 – Chapter 17

‘London Bridge’, Australia, 1997 – Chapter 18

Milford Sound, New Zealand, 1997 – Chapter 18

Alcazar Castle, Sergovia, Spain, 1998 – Chapter 18

Bellem Castle, Lisbon, Portugal, 1997 – Chapter 18

Guiness Castle, Leixlip, Ireland, 2006 – Chapter 20

Birr Telescope, Ireland – Chapter 20

Twin Towers (9/11) Memorial, Ireland, 2006 – Chapter 21

Lido De Jesolo, Italy, 2006 – Chapter 21

Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 2007 – Chapter 21

Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, UK, 2009 – Chapter 22

The First English Aeronaut, Oxford, UK, 2012 – Chapter 22

Hawker Hurricane Memorial, Windsor, UK, 2012 – Chapter 22

Cliveden House, Maidenhead, UK, 2012 – Chapter 22

Did you know that the only vegetable never sold processed or canned or cooked or in any form but fresh is lettuce? Did you know that the first vegetable grown in space was lettuce? Do you know how many varieties of lettuce there are?’

Why Do Lettuce's Grow (and some other ridiculous questions)?

Introduction

It was in 1997 that my father sadly passed away, a few months before his 84th birthday. He was in good health. He had all his faculties, excellent memory, eyesight, hearing, played bowls twice a week and played bridge every Tuesday morning. He enjoyed music and had a fair collection of audio cassette tapes. He moved into a retirement home two years prior to his death soon after my mother died. He drove his own car, but after my mother's death he was reluctant to drive beyond the suburb in which we lived. He was also a member of the retirement home's choir group.

He had a busy life but I was still able to see him several times a week as he lived only half a kilometre away. More often than not, I would fetch him to spend a few hours at our home, particularly over weekends when we had friends or family members visiting us. I had many questions I wanted to ask him about our family and distant relations, whom I had met when I was young, but always left the questions for the next time I would see him. There were always so many other present day matters of interest to discuss.

Alas, he died suddenly of a heart attack after taking his usual morning walk. After many years of considerable effort and expense, I have not been able to find the answers to some of those questions and probably never will. It is for this reason I decided to write down as many of what I think are interesting facts, experiences and questions, for any interested party. Assuming my children and grandchildren will possibly show some interest in the distant future.

Many years passed by without progress. Not a word was written. Recently, in 2011, on a trip to New Zealand we met with my wife’s third cousin. Her husband Bruce suggested we write down our early memories of interest. I wrote about the Royal visit to South Africa in 1947 and gave him a copy, while still in New Zealand. On my return to South Africa I eventually started writing. As I began to write more and more memories came flooding back. Incidences and people I had not thought about for many years occupied my mind and more and more details appeared as if I was lifting up layers to discover more below. I can only marvel at the capabilities of the human brain. How much information is unconsciously stored away?

Although I might add, you would have to be really interested, to read about all the boring events and my ridiculous questions I have included in this book. I was also inspired to make a start by reading Bill Bryson’s magnificent book, 'The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid', but it would be an insult to Bill Bryson to make any comparisons with his book.

Over a lifetime, one’s beliefs and understanding change. As new information comes to hand, an opinion may change. My attitude to war has changed from when I was very young. My attitude to religion has changed as I became more knowledgeable both on a cultural and scientific level. My earlier opinions and impressions of events, of people, of countries have changed with new understanding, new knowledge and new scientific discoveries. My curiosity has only increased with age. The more I discovered the more I wanted to know. My journey through life can be likened to a child, who enters a new garden with a main centre path and the need to get to the far side, but there are many side paths which beckon to be explored and in each side path there are more side paths that also need to be explored and so on. Every now and then I need to return to the main path regretting that I was unable to explore all the side paths of the side paths. Perhaps there will be time to go back.

I grew up in University Estate, a suburb of Cape Town. When I was young my parents had a vegetable patch, like many of our neighbours, and we grew tomatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages, lettuces, green beans and beetroot. I recall doing some of the planting of seeds and helping with the watering of the plants and removing weeds, which seem to grow quicker, more abundantly and were more robust than the vegetables. I think our success rate was just sufficient to prompt my parents to attempt the process again the following year. When we moved to Newlands (another suburb of Cape Town) in 1955, the soil was fertile and there was renewed interest in growing our own vegetables, which now also included potatoes and sweet potatoes (very successful).

I recall looking at rows of young lettuce plants, and then almost overnight, the snails or whatever would consume most of them. A few survived in the end. The yield of successful lettuce plants was the lowest of all the vegetables we grew. Looking at these frail lettuce shoots emerging from the black soil I wondered what made them grow, knowing the odds of maturing were stacked against them. Once they were ready for eating, they would be unceremoniously pulled out of their life support system and carted off to the kitchen to be consumed. I love lettuce but why does it grow? What is the nature of the urge to make them grow? I’m not questioning the purely chemical interactions between water, soil and the lettuce seed. What desire exists in the plant to carry on growing?

We had all as youngsters grown a green bean on wet cotton wool and watched in awe as the little shoot emerged and eventually grew a stalk with the bean split in two hanging on the stalk. I was told that the two half sections of the bean supplied the food for the bean to grow. But what makes them grow? All seeds grow if given nourishment and water, I was told by my parents, it is a fact of life. But why do lettuces grow or for that matter, why does anything grow? I can’t answer those questions ask your biology teacher if you must know.

My biology teacher, Miss Hayter who was a very attractive, popular and polite young woman, was amused by my question. I strongly suspected that she thought I had some mental defect of sorts. Embarrassment finally persuaded me to give up my quest at the tender age of thirteen but it did not stop my curiosity. It was over fifty years later that I finally found an answer that I could possibly accept, but I will leave that for later.

This book has been divided into four sections. The first covers my experiences up to the start of my working career. The second covers my working career. The third section covers my retirement years up to the time of writing. The fourth covers my thoughts and opinions on various subjects and includes my conclusions about the title of this book.

I have also included details of most of my travel experiences throughout the first three sections. My wife and I have many favourite pursuits and top of the list has been traveling. It has led to many enjoyable and learning experiences. It has opened our eyes to different customs, different ways of life, different means of transport, different peoples and given us a better understanding of life, both in South Africa and in the countries we have been fortunate enough to visit. The perceptions we had of various countries and of their peoples has not always been what we have expected. The perceptions of South Africa and South Africans by people living in other countries have been on some occasions amusing and others downright ignorance.

Memory

Memory is a strange but miraculous faculty. How are memories formed? How much can we remember? Why do some of the aged lose their memories? The aged are often able to recall early memories, but not recent memories. What are our earliest memories? How reliable is our memory?

These questions are difficult. I have some theories but they may have no substance. I will relate them later.

From the time I was 6 years old until I was 16 years old I walked down the street in which we lived, virtually every day. Whether it was on my way to school, on my way to the dairy, on my way to play with friends on the field, I had to pass Robin’s house, the De Santos’ house, the Simon’s house and Mrs. Scholtz’s house. Then there was the field with a short opening on the bottom left opposite the entrance to the dairy. Robin’s house had a high Plumbago hedge in front. Mr. De Santos drove a blue De Soto car and I often wondered why he did not change his name or the car’s name so that they could have identical names, which would make it easier to remember. The Simons often sat on the front porch and would invariably engage me in conversation, as I walked passed. It was only much later on that I realized that they were just being inquisitive. They were however a lovely friendly couple and I always enjoyed talking to them. Mrs. Scholtz the unpleasant old lady lived next door. When I was younger she looked like the type of person who would snatch you from the street and shove you into her oven or something equally dreadful, like Hansel and Gretel.

A 10 year old boy briefly lived in a house opposite the Simon’s house, when I was about the same age. For the rest of time, for some reason the house changed hands frequently. I can’t remember the family's name but their garage had a very cool feature. Of course when I was ten years old we were severely disadvantaged not having a word like cool in our vocabulary. The feature was a trap door at the back of the garage into the passage upstairs. I tried to convince my father to put a trap door into our garage. He pointed out that there were two problems. First of all our garage ceiling was concrete unlike the other garage which had a wooden ceiling. Secondly we would emerge into the middle of the bathroom, not in the passage as in the other house. Emerging into a bathroom could be very inconvenient for a person occupying the bathroom. We could always knock, before entering, I replied. My father was not convinced by my brilliant idea.

The point here is that although I can still remember all the above, and that Mr. De Santos and Mr. Simon had a low wall in front of their houses, there is very little more detail about these places that I can recall even after seeing them at least 3000 times. Ah, I recall one more item, Mr. De Santos had a daughter who was born on the 29th February, so she only had a birthday every four years, but she still grew at the same rate as all of us!

I can remember as a teenager, two friends describing the same scene in the same movie. I questioned whether they had seen the same movie?

Do you remember, more clearly, both the very good and very bad things that have happened to you? Is it possible that we subconsciously forget details of unpleasant experiences? Do we subconsciously modify our memories? When we are very young we quickly learn to avoid activities that cause pain. Are instinctive fears passed into our memory in the womb?

How often were you told, as a young person, when asking something of an older relative or person, I can’t remember? Perhaps, on many occasions it might have been easier to say, I can’t remember, to get rid of the questioner. I suppose, on reflection, my grandfathers must have found me tiresome. My paternal grandmother died before I was born and my maternal grandmother died when I was ten years old, so all my questions to find out about the 'olden days' were directed at my two grandfathers.

Cues act as a means to recall memories which otherwise one would forget. The memories must be stored somehow but often are considered inaccessible. For me, the photographs, cine and video I have taken during my life act as cues. Smell and certain sounds are also cues. A familiar scene triggers memories associated with an event, or a person or a location. That scene is effectively forgotten and would probably never be recalled without a trigger. Another cue I have used throughout my life has been year dates. I associate events with a year. It is a logical way of sequencing important events in one’s life and is useful in re-enforcing pleasant memories. I have snatches of early memories, starting when I was two and a half years old.

Return to Table of Contents

PART I (1940 to 1958)

Chapter 1

1940 - My Ironing Experience

One morning my mother was ironing some clothes on the kitchen table, when my father, who was doing shift work at the time, left to catch the bus. I was about two and a half years old, and my brother was about nine months old. My mother picked up my brother and accompanied my father to the front gate of our house. I must have scrambled up on a chair and grabbed the hot iron. I lost my balance and fell onto the floor alongside the table. The hot iron came down on my right thigh, the wide end towards the knee, the front end to the top of my leg. I can clearly remember trying to take the iron off my leg and burning my fingers.

I must have screamed and my mother removed the iron, which I don’t remember. My next clear memory was of me lying in my parent’s bed and the doctor removing a dressing and looking at my leg with a big red patch. This was, almost 6 months later.

My mother told me later, that she picked me up, forced several spoons of brandy down my throat and poured some on the wound. I was unconscious by then. She then asked our neighbour to look after my brother before running down to the hospital about a 600m away. Parts of the bone were showing and doctors wanted to amputate my leg. She refused and after some weeks in hospital I spent most of the next 5 months in bed.

She said that she would take my brother and me out in the same pram and people would remark on the fact that I was too old to be pushed around in a pram. Adding to her concerns and anxiety was the fact that I refused or did not try to talk for almost a year after the accident. When Doctor de Beer, who was our family doctor, removed my last dressing, he was amazed that the leg had healed so well. After 74 years, the scar is 24 centimetres long and 7 centimetres wide. About one third of the scar’s skin surface is insensitive to touch.

I have suffered from muscle cramp in my thigh regularly throughout my life, usually at the most inconvenient time. Like when sitting in the middle seat of an aircraft and all around you, the other passengers are sleeping, or when having dinner with a group of friends in a crowded restaurant, or even more embarrassing, trying to reason with your new boss at a crucial point over a critical business decision. There have been other instances and some very awkward situations, but modesty, precludes me from relating the details.

1941 - My Wandering Experience

We had a black terrier, named Jock, which I was very fond of and my father and mother used to take me for walks to strengthen my leg. We also had a veranda which faced east, where my mother used to place me so that I could see out into the street and across towards Devils Peak and De Waal Drive. It was probably a combination of all this that tempted me to wander off one morning with Jock, when I was a little over three years old. Parts of this adventure I can still clearly recall. My mother said I disappeared while she was feeding my brother, around 9 am. By 9:30 am she was panicking and called the police. By 11:00 am students from the nearby high school began searching for me. I walked up to De Waal Drive, a distance of about 200m, having crawled through a barbed wire fence where I left behind the sleeve of my pyjamas. I can still recall being stuck there with Jock. Once on De Waal Drive I walked a distance of about 800m just past Groote Schuur Hospital. I was sitting on the curb with Jock when my grandfather, driving back home discovered me. Unconcerned about finding me so far from home, and unaware of the people searching for me, he first took me to his house, patched up the scratches on my arm and then took me home.

I can recall walking along De Waal drive and looking down and seeing Roodebloem Road snaking up to join De Waal Drive, but I cannot recall any more of the incident. On reflection I must have walked that route with my father. He probably lifted me over the barbed wire fence, which was only single strand lateral wire to prevent people falling into the gulley to the left. The route I followed after I got past the barbed wire fence road was alongside a small stream, which only flowed in winter. At the place where I crossed the stream, the bank sloped gently down and up on the other side. The last time I crossed the stream at this place was in 1955 when De Waal Drive was being upgraded to a dual carriageway.

The author and Jock, 1939

1943 – Queuing for Meat at the Local Butcher and WW2

Below the Eastern Boulevard (which I think was built in the 1970’s and recently renamed Mandela Freeway, in honour of our first democratically elected president), there were a number of corner shops on both sides of Roodebloom Road. On one of those corners was a butcher shop and a little lower down was a barber shop. I stood in a long queue one day with my mother and brother. When we finally got to the top of the queue, we were told there was no more meat. On the way home my mother told me that meat was rationed as there was a war. We would have to queue for meat again the next day. I had no idea what war meant, but soon after I learnt that our neighbour, Mr. White’s son, who was a pilot, had been killed in the war. His plane had apparently crashed on a training flight.

1944 - My First Camping Experience (3 months before my 6th birthday)

In January 1944, a few months before my 6th birthday, we went camping at the Berg River Resort (formerly known as Camper’s Paradise). It was on the banks of the Berg River a few kilometres upstream from Paarl. The resort stretched for about a mile besides the river, was forested, and ranged from about 100m wide up to about 300m wide. It was and still is today adjacent to an extensive vineyard. We stayed in a small thatched circular dwelling. There were no windows, a single entrance with a stable door and an earth floor. There were several of these structures, which stood near the vineyard fence. The owner provided a pile of straw, which was used to sleep on. I can recall my brother and me helping my father to put down extra straw every day.

My grandfather and my step grandmother on the other hand stayed in a tent and slept on stretchers, the height of luxury. There were two other couples and their children in our party. They were lifelong friends of my parents and they regularly played bridge together. My father’s sister and his half- sister, who was about 11 years old, had their own little tent. There was also a woman who we addressed as Aunt Connie, who was related to one of the couples. One of my father's friends had a truck and brought all our camping equipment, including a large wooden table and two benches. My parents did not own a car until 1948. One of the men had a 1935 Willys and my grandfather had a 1938 Chevrolet. I can’t recall the journey to Paarl, but I suspect my father drove the Willys. I have no idea how the rest of the people and their children were transported to Paarl and back.

The river, about 100m from our camp, had a small sandy beach and was shallow. There was a sandy island in the middle of the river, and the lower end of the island was opposite the beach. My father’s half-sister used to take us across knee deep water to the island where on the lower end the adults used to swim. We were not permitted to cross the river without assistance. One morning, I was playing in the river and Aunt Connie told me I was too far out. My reply must have been offensive, because the next thing I remember was being dragged along to the camp. My father spanked me and I was forbidden to go near the river for the rest of the day. My mother also threatened to put soap in my mouth if I ever used those words again. I can’t remember what they were. My father used to collect a bunch of small branches covered in small yellow or orange berries. He said they were poisonous and it kept the flies away from our bungalow. He would hang a new bunch every day. I always wanted to know what the plant was, but it was one of those questions that I recalled when it was too late to ask him.

This trip made a huge impression on me and I can still hear the doves in the early morning in my mind. My grandfather made my brother and me a bow and several arrows each. I was upset that we were not permitted to take them back home with us due to lack of space in the car. On the way home, my parents, my brother and I, my grandfather, my grandmother, my father’s sister and half-sister all went to Cape Town in the Chevrolet! This was a serious case of overloading. The road was gravel for part of the way and I stood just behind my grandfather all the way home. The whole journey probably took a little over an hour. It was only in the early 1960’s that I returned to Berg River Resort. It had substantially changed by then, but I located approximately where we had camped, because of the position of the island, which was then overgrown with wattle.

1944 - Having my Tonsils Out

One morning, a few days after our return from my first camping experience, my brother and I were woken up early. It was still dark. We got dressed and our parents walked us down to Woodstock Hospital in Mountain Road, about 600m away. I clearly remember walking along a very long wide corridor, which was sloping upwards.

I can't remember all the details but I do recall the doctor or nurse putting a mask over my face and I felt a pounding sensation in my head. I could hear several people talking. It seemed to be a short while later we walked into the sunlight, which was painfully bright and climbed into an ambulance. My mother carried my brother, as he was still groggy. There were several other children in the ambulance and we were the first children to be dropped off at our house. I suspected the reason was that, within minutes of the ambulance leaving the hospital my brother vomited. The ambulance was a mess by the time we arrived home. He seemed to be proud of his achievement and wanted to know why I did not vomit. For several days after that he derided me for my shortcomings. Of greater concern to my mother was the fact that I heard people talking while my tonsils were taken out! When I was older my mother said that Chloroform had been used as the anaesthetic and a few drops had also spilt on my upper lip and had caused some blistering. She had complained to the hospital staff about the incident.

I was supposed to have started school a week later, but apparently my brother and I came down with measles and soon after with chicken pox. I only started school much later that year. My father started teaching me to read and to count. He did this to make up for my missing months of school. He put all these pennies out on the dining room table and explained that 30 pennies made a half a crown. I don’t remember anything else about these lessons, but by the time I started school I knew a half a crown was the same as two shillings and sixpence. Junior School covered the first 7 years of schooling. The first two years were named Sub A and Sub B, thereafter the classes were Standard 1 to Standard 5. On completing Standard 5 we could progress to High School.

Shortly after I started school, we started reading lessons. My teacher, a Mrs. Snow, told my parents that the school was going to move some pupils, including me, up to the next grade. This happened shortly after we were issued with reading books. The teacher wrote a few simple words on the board, which was the same as on the first page of our books. She first read them to us and then we were told to read them all together, after a few words I was the only one carrying on reading out aloud. I looked up as the teacher started walking towards me and shut up. When she questioned me about my reading, I kept quiet, thinking I was in trouble!

A few months after my first move to a higher grade, and along with a few other pupils, I was moved up again. After about 18 months at school, I had moved through 3 grades. All through my school life I found that being one of the youngest pupils in each class, was definitely a physical disadvantage. Worse was still to come, the last couple of years we had co-ed classes and all the girls were older than me!

1944 – Scorpions and My Mother

On my way to school I took a short cut across the former brick field which was at the lower end of our road. It was probably about 20 or 30m shorter. The path was well used but there was a considerable amount of shrub and the occasional large pine tree. Small scorpions were fairly abundant under the stones in the bush and an older child must have shown me where they were and how to catch them. One day I requested an empty jam can from my mother and went off to school.

When I returned home I was holding the can with a piece of paper over the top and instead of going inside the house went straight to the backyard, placed the can with a large stone covering it, under a fig tree. My mother saw me and asked about the contents. I must have then refused and she the demanded that I hand the can to her. She was very annoyed and after I tearfully watched her flush them down the toilet was severely admonished as to the danger of my actions. I would occasionally show my friends where scorpions were, but never attempted to catch them again! These scorpions were about 5cm to 7cm long and were black or dark brown in colour. On the slopes of Devil’s Peak I occasionally saw larger specimens which were more yellow in colour.

1944 – Visit to Simonstown by Train

Simonstown was established as winter shelter by The Dutch East Indian Company for sailing ships as early as the late 1600s. It was taken over by the British Royal Navy in the early 1800s. During World War 2, the dockyard was very busy and there were up to 5000 men and woman employed. Many ships were repaired there and over 2 thousand ships called there during the war. In 1957, this British enclave was handed over to South Africa. There is an electrified suburban train service running between Cape Town and Simonstown. Next to the harbour there is a very beautiful and safe sheltered beach, Seaforth. Over the years, when the wind had made most of the False Bay beaches unpleasant, we would often picnic on the shaded grass slopes just above the Seaforth beach. The beach is about 2km from the train station.

The first time I can recall visiting Seaforth was in 1944. Our party consisted of a friend of my mothers and her two children, my mother, my brother and I. We must have been the only civilians on the train as we disembarked at Simonstown station. Everyone else was dressed in sailor’s uniforms. A bus took us to Seaforth beach and we spent the day playing in the water and running around on the grass. It was also the first time I became aware of the tide. Before we had our lunch we played on the edge of the water next to a large rock which was on the edge of the sea. After lunch, the rock was out of reach!

We often visited Fish Hoek beach, a few kilometres closer to Cape Town and I could not recall this tidal phenomena. We stayed too late to catch the bus back to the station and I remember walking endlessly to reach the station. The train was full and some sailors stood up and gave their seats to my mother and my mother's friend. During the war there was a Great Dane, who was adopted by the sailors or the other way around. He frequently travelled on the train with the sailors. His name was 'Just Nuisance' and there is a statue of him today in the centre of Simonstown.

When we arrived home I looked at a map. My parents had an atlas with a map of the world and I could see Cape Town marked on the map. I could not see Simonstown. I could already read but many of the names on the map were beyond my capability to pronounce. I so enjoyed the trip I was looking for a place to visit the next weekend by train. I found a place and excitedly asked my parents to take us to Bombay (now Mumbai) next time. I had no understanding of how far away Bombay was, nor could I comprehend how large the world was. From our front veranda I could see the Hottentots Holland Mountains, about 80km away. My impression was that Bombay was another beach just out of site to the right, before the mountains, in the direction of Simonstown.

After all I said to my parents, who were obviously amused by my suggestion, England is just over the mountains. Who told you that? Aunt Hilda told me before she left for England a few days ago. My father gave me a lesson in Geography, but it was a little while before I realized just how insignificant the Cape Peninsula was in relation to the rest of the world.

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Chapter_2

1945 - VE day and VJ day

We started school at 8:30am, had a short break about 10:30 and until our 3rd year of school were sent home at 1:00pm. One day, instead of our school break, the whole school was assembled in the playground. The principal, Mr. Rayner, gave us what appeared to be a very long speech and then announced that all the students who had fathers in the army could take the rest of the day off, as it was VE day (victory in Europe). Later that year the whole process was repeated, because it was VJ day (victory in Japan).

When I got home, my brother, who had not started school, wanted to know why the boys living across the street were home early and I was late. Our bedroom window faced the sea and we had a very good view of Table Bay from University Estate where we lived. Our window was covered in black paper for as long as I could remember. I recall my father coming into our bedroom and removing the paper. The war is over, he said.

Many of my friends in our street did not have fathers. I did not know that I had four uncles, until one day in 1945 I met my father’s two younger brothers. They were dressed in Khaki uniforms. My mother’s parents lived in Newlands and she usually visited them about once a week. It was here that I eventually met mother’s two brothers. They had both been prisoners of war in Italy and my grandmother had received telegrams in 1941 to say that her two sons were missing in action.

When I started school, there were many children in my class whose fathers were away fighting in the war. Suddenly my friends had fathers. All these men had not seen their families for up to five years. I thought these soldiers had a great time, much less boring than being at home with their families!

The perception of war that one had as a child is profoundly different to the perception that one had of war as a parent. My maternal grandparents had no knowledge of their two sons for three and a half years. I can’t imagine the hell, the anguish, the sleepless nights they and their siblings, including my mother must have experienced.

One evening in the late 1950’s, my one uncle related his war experiences to me. His older brother refused to talk about his experiences. He would just smile politely and shake his head when questioned.

1945 - Riding on Coles Bakery Horse Drawn Cart

We were quite young when bread was delivered by Coles Bakery’s horse drawn cart. I was probably around seven years old. The approaches to the road where we stayed were rather steep and later I often wondered how it was possible for a couple of horses to pull Coles Bakery cart to our neighbourhood, unless they came via a lengthy roundabout route.

Several of the kids in our neighbourhood would walk alongside asking for a ride. The driver was friendly and occasionally he would choose one of the older kids to sit up beside him. My mother considered the ride to be dangerous and my younger brother and I were forbidden to climb onto the cart.

One day the temptation proved too much. The driver had halted the vehicle and said we could sit on his seat while he delivered some bread from the rear of the cart. The rear of the cart, where the bread was stacked on shelves was walled off from the front of the vehicle, a feature, which puzzled me. Four eager boys, including my brother, clambered onto the bench seat. Fortunately we were out of sight of my parent’s house. One of the horses raised its tail and farted. We were all sprayed with flecks of horse manure. There were lots and lots of flecks, some big, some small. We hurried off the cart and ran home as did the other two boys.

My mother did not accept our explanation that we were trying to collect some horse manure (a prized commodity in those days) for our garden. As angry as she tried to be with us it must have been very difficult for her to suppress the overwhelming urge she had, to laugh. And laugh she did as we made our way to the bathroom to change our clothes and have a bath after first being hosed down in the backyard.

That evening my mother informed me that 'fart' was a rude word and said that the correct language to use was to say the horse released some wind. It was a gigantic wind, my brother interjected. My mother continued to giggle for some time after. My father even managed a slight smile. Sometime later I realized the importance of screening the main section of the cart from the front.

1946 - Chapman’s Peak Picnic

One Sunday morning, my grandfather collected us in his car and we went for a picnic on Chapman’s Peak. This spectacular drive on the side of the mountain, about 100m and more above the sea, connects Hout Bay to Kommetjie. It was opened in 1928 and over the years it had often been closed from time to time because of rock falls, some of which have been fatal. Before the highest point there are a number of picnic spots on the sea side of the road. The memory that is so clear to me is walking along the road holding my teen-age Aunt’s hand to fetch water

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