I grew up on a poultry farm. My father was a specialist breeder of Light Sussex and Brown Leghorn stock. I was raised on eggs, but I never ate chicken, at least not if I could avoid it. I clearly remember when I was small and poked my head around my mother at the kitchen sink, just as she was up to her elbow in a chicken, removing its entrails, before she burned them on the kitchen fire, always causing quite a stink; that was the first of my many vegetarian moments on the farm.
I never had an omelette when I lived at home. They were not a part of my mother´s standard cuisine; she was a traditional Irish woman who deferred to the narrow culinary demands of my very traditional English father. Omelette would have been a bit too French for my father. Six years of WW2 left him with some indelible prejudices.
I had my first omelette in Paris in 1969. I was working with Singer Sewing Machines, installing a new computer system in their French head office. My good friend and Australian colleague, Geoff Rich met me for breakfast. He ordered an omelette with bread and coffee and so did I, not knowing what it was. Delicious it turned out to be. And he played ‘Lay, lady lay’ by Bob Dylan on the jukebox. The haunting lyrics and melody still recall Paris to me. To others, it may seem rather corny today, but those were magic moments for me.
Some years later, in 1978, omelettes came back into my life in Nigeria. It was on my first day of a short-term contract in Lagos. I went to the canteen, presented my plate and received what appeared to be the greater part of a goat, with a few steamed vegetables on the side. The meat was not for me and for the rest of my stay in Nigeria, I lived on beer, cashew nuts, bought by the bottle from street vendors, and omelettes in a French restaurant near to the office, or in the Ikoyi club.
When I was later based in Paris in 1998-2007, I frequented a nearby bistro, La Frégate. The Maitre d´, Patrick, would always read out the short list of specials, ending with resignation, ‘omelette au fromage o salade mixte?‘. I really liked Patrick and I miss his conversation . A very good man and an enthusiastic rugby fan. He always said that if he could not be French, he would elect to be Irish.
In recent years, I have spent a lot of time in Spain and South America. There, the traditional omelette is called tortilla francesa to distinguish it from the Spanish version, tortilla española. The latter is in a cake-form and includes potatoes, onions, garlic in the basic version and other ingredients in regional variations. It can be served hot or cold and on cocktail sticks as tapas or in slices, usually accompanied with fresh bread. With a glass of red wine, the latter usually serves as a meal for me.
And here in Cape Town I have my local bistrôt, Cafe Extrablatt, that serves a generous omelette, french fries, toast and wine at any time of the day. And super-friendly staff that never fail to feel one at totally home.
On Friday evening, there was something of a drama in our apartment building. First an ambulance and then a doctor’s car outside the entrance, blocking the lane that leads down to High Level Road. There are six apartments in our building and it was in our apartment that the event was taking place. But let me start at the beginning…
While I worked at my pc, I had started to peck at the remains of a taco with spicy pulled pork, left over from one of Lotta’s working lunches.. After a couple of mouthfuls, I started to experience a nauseating sensation in my lower throat. I stopped eating, but the sensation remained. I went to the bathroom, but could not vomit. I tried to drink some water, but my throat felt as if it was blocked and I could swallow nothing.
Lotta tried to intercede, but I told her to leave me alone; I would be fine. In the few times that I have been ill, I have always wanted to be left alone. I hate being mothered. I have always been like a sick animal that crawls into the bushes and does not emerge until recovered.
But the discomfort became more acute. I started to have hiccoughs, but soon they became quite extreme; my whole diaphragm shook with each occurrence. Up to then I had stood in the bathroom, but my bad leg was quite uncomfortable with standing in one position. I went out and returned with the chair from my desk and sat by the toilet.
Eventually the hiccoughs stopped, but I started to have spasms in my throat, followed my painful spasms lower down. I started to sweat and suddenly felt cold. I started to shiver and I was struggling to breathe normally. By this time Lotta had had enough of my ‘I’ll be fine, leave me alone’ and was convinced that perhaps I was having a heart attack. She offered to call for medical help and I reluctantly agreed.
She called her doctor’s out-of-hours telephone and was given the number of an ambulance service. She gave all the details requested and a few minutes later she received an SMS to say that an ambulance had been dispatched and would arrive in ten minutes.
In the meantime, I was struggling with the increasingly strong spasms and trying hard to breathe. Lotta said that when the ambulance arrived, I was shaking like a leaf and my face was completely drained of colour.
The ambulance was followed a few minutes later by a cardiologist. When the doorbell rang, Lotta would not let him into the building, thinking him to be a local tramp trying to gain entrance in the confusion. It was not until the ambulancemen assured her that it was their colleague, that she pressed the door release.
I really don’t remember accurately all that happened in the bathroom. I was asked lots of questions, a device was clipped on my finger, presumably to monitor my heart beat, my blood pressure was taken and I was hooked up to a angiogram. With all the equipment, Lotta said that the bathroom looked like a hospital emergency room.
It turned out that my heart was fine, which was a big relief and slowly I started to feel better. The spasms stopped, my breathing eased and I was able to sip and swallow water for the first time in three hours. The doctor said that it was possible that something had got stuck in my throat or perhaps I had had a reaction to a spice. They offered to take me to a hospital for further tests, but I declined, as I was already feeling much better.
Lotta escorted the three medical staff back to their vehicles, apologizing profusely to the doctor for having mistaken him for a passing opportunist tramp. I just wish that I had noted their names, for they deserve acknowledgement. They came from Netcare911.
So all’s well that ends well. And we had another first hand experience of the quality of the South African medical profession and the speed of reaction of their emergency services. Most impressive.
As for spicy pulled pork, I will give it a miss in future.
If foreigners were to be shown an aerial view of Portrush with calm ocean and relatively blue sky, peaceful harbour, small western and extensive eastern beaches, they would reasonably conclude that it was an idyllic location. And on a rare perfect summer day, they would be partially correct. But the water in the North Atlantic is never less than quite cold, there is a steep shelving beach and strong rip tides. On a rare warm day, swimming in the harbour can be pleasant, albeit bracing.
I never learned to swim when I lived there. My parents could not swim, few of their generation could, and of my age group only a handful, mostly those who had relatively prosperous parents, who took them away to more temperate climates on holidays.
When I was growing up, there was only one small indoor swimming pool in the area, that of the Northern Counties Hotel in Portrush. I recall that a small group from my school used to go there for lessons on a Friday evening, mainly those who were from the rowing club; to participate in rowing, the oarsmen had to be capable of swimming a length of the pool, a not very challenging task. The group was led by Dan Cunningham, our physics teacher, who, when a younger man, was reputed to once having swum from Portrush to the Skerries, a chain of islands off the coast.
When I first migrated to Canada, I stayed for a few days with my grandparents in Brampton, outside Toronto. The first weekend, they arranged for some older university students, grandchildren of their friends, to take me out for the day. Unfortunately, nobody told me that their idea of a day out meant a beach and swimming. We went to a nearby lake, where they immediately plunged into the water, leaving me ‘on the beach’. The students were quite incredulous that I could not swim and that I was not going to attend a university.
My day brightened up momentarily, when they offered me what I understood to be a beer. It turned out to be a can of something called Root Beer, a disgusting soft drink. When they told me that I had to be 21 before I could legally have a beer – I was 18 at the time, I felt quite discouraged.
It was when we were in Hawaii, on our way to Australia, that I decided that I had to learn to swim, at least well enough to survive. I swore that I would not leave Hawaii until I could swim out to a raft anchored a short distance offshore from Waikiki Beach.
But for day after day, I struggled. I had no problem with being under water, but I could not take my feet off the bottom. Sandra, who swam like a fish, tried her very best to encourage me, but to no avail. Both the problem and the solution were in my head.
Finally, I set off for the raft, swimming backstroke, and with no problem, I made it. And once there, I discovered that I could dive. It was a new element for me. Later, in Tahiti, I had the incredible experience of diving in the lagoon, and swimming among the multi-coloured fish. An unforgettable experience.
In Australia, I frequently went to the beaches – Bondi, Coogee, Manly etc. I even spent one Christmas Day on a beach. And when the waves were relatively friendly, I often managed to bodysurf. On one occasion I found myself caught in a riptide, and although I had no problem getting back to shore, it was a sobering experience.
When we lived in Kirribilli, across from the Opera House, we used to go to the nearby Olympic pool, just by the harbour. In those days, there was a 10-metre high diving board, and from it I used to throw a coin in the water, dive in and retrieve in from the more than five-metre-deep pool. I found that much more exhilarating than swimming length after boring length.
We only once owned a house with a pool, in Miami. After the initial surge of enthusiasm, the pool sat empty for month after month. Sometimes I would jump in after a run or while working in the garden on a hot day; there is not much else an adult can do with a small pool. I was left with the weekly chore of cleaning it and replenishing the copious expensive chemicals required to keep it relatively pristine.
I did once swim in the harbour at Portrush, during one of my fleeting visits. I tried to go into the water at the Western Strand, but the water was so cold that my feet pained me within a short time, before it was up to my knees. I went to the harbour and the water seemed to be more inviting, at least to tips of my fingers. In those days there was still a diving board near the harbour mouth and from it I dived in. I will never forget the shock of the cold water. I got out as soon as I could, and I have never been back.
If I were to be asked, which of my travel experiences had made most impact on my life, without hesitation I would have said that it was my realisation that there are many caminos (paths) that lead to Santiago de Compostela. From Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Bayonne, Seville and Porto, I have walked the paths and there are so many more to discover: from Alicante, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Geneva and further afield. To exhaust the possibilities, I will need the longevity of the Le Juif Errant (The Wandering Jew).
I have copious memories of my various walks over the past few years, occasionally supported by notes and photos, but it is the seemingly insignificant events that stand out for me, such as the vulture hovering above me, the first time that I descended through the foothills of the Pyrenees. Having previously had a serious stroke, at that time I was still not confident about being alone in remote country. And yet I clearly remember starting to feel that I was not alone and that I was being watched over. It is a feeling I have never since lost.
Then there was the long straight dirt road from Carrión de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza. I had started out quite early that morning and I could see no pilgrims on the path. I was lost in my thoughts, when a little bird plopped onto the path, a few metres ahead of me. I stopped and we looked at each other, neither of us moving. It then flew a little further and stopped, as if waiting for me. I followed and also stopped. We soon developed a rhythm – I walked and the little bird kept ahead, always watching me, as if leading and encouraging me. Suddenly there was the whoosh of a large phalanx of cyclists, arrogantly racing by, pedalling furiously and shouting to each other, as if they were on the Tour de France. By the time the dust had settled, the little bird had disappeared. The magic spell was broken.
One of my favourite memories was that of the little blue butterfly that landed on the end of Lotta’s stick and refused to leave it. When Lotta held out her finger, the butterfly popped onto it.
It happened between Hornillos de Camino and Hontanas, in an area where there were a lot of intense-blue cornflowers by the path. At one point, Lotta succeeded on depositing the little butterfly on a clump of cornflowers, but soon as she tried to leave, it flew back onto her stick. Perhaps it thought that she was a giant cornflower, for she was wearing a blue shirt that day.
The little butterfly hitched a ride for about twenty minutes and then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it flew off into the field and disappeared.
It was another of those magic camino moments that will stay with me for ever.
It was on the morning of Saturday, 31 October 2015, that my erratic journey through life took yet another unexpected direction. The previous evening, I had booked and paid for tickets back to Montevideo, to escape from the northern winter to the southern sun for the third year, but this time with a difference; once there, I intended to apply for permanent residency. Now that should not surprise anyone who knew me well, for ever since I lived in Venezuela, Miami and Peru in 1978-1985, I have longed to return to South America and spend extended time there.
But when Lotta put down the phone that morning, it was ‘all change’.
‘Cape Town want to know if I would be prepared to take on a permanent role in their operations, at least for as long as I am willing. What do you think?’
She had already completed two short assignments there, liked the environment and the people. As for me, the challenge of a new country was too tempting to pass over. Besides, South America would still be there.
It took me less that a millisecond to reply:
‘Go for it’.
It was not until we returned to Sweden the following May that she received a 90-day training visa, followed by four frustrating months of managing the operation by Skype and email from Uppsala. Finally, in November 2016, she received a 4-year inter-company transfer visa.
For me, the only option was to travel back and forth from Europe on 90-day tourist visas. After three such trips, I had enough of long-haul flights and decided to apply for a residency visa, permanent or temporary.
When it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy, I am not a ‘do-it-yourself’ person; if I want to get it right first time, I believe in getting professional advice.
I found several companies advertising their capabilities on the internet, two of which stood out from all the others, at least in my opinion. But the first company wanted too much personal information before they would contact me, so late that evening, I submitted a basic query to the second, Intergate Immigration Services.
The next morning, at 06:28, I received a personal mail from Jaime Catala. I was impressed with his prompt out-of-hours response, and after a couple of clarification meetings, I signed an agreement to have Intergate manage my temporary residence application. Subsequently, I was assigned to a dedicated administrator, Leandra Bantom, with whom I liaised for the duration of the application process.
So, once armed with a long list of documents that I would be required to submit, I started obtaining them, one by one. I started with the medical, in case there was a problem, in which case my application would probably be refused. There was no issue, and at the same medical centre, a nurse gave me a yellow fever vaccination. At the impressive new Christian Barnard hospital, I obtained an all-clear chest x-ray.
Then I started on the police reports. I was required to obtain a police certification from every country in which I had lived for more than a year. Although I would claim to have ‘lived’ in eleven countries, two of them were for less than one year, and with a generous helping of ‘poetic licence’, I ended up with four that I could not deny – Canada, Australia, US and England.
Canada, Australia and England were no problem; all three submissions were on-line, albeit with widely varying requirements. I obtained approval from Canada the same evening, from Australia overnight and from England within one week. The certifications followed in surface mail.
But the US was a ‘pain in the ass’. I had to print off two forms and fill them in by hand, using a black ink pen. The forms looked like they had been badly designed by a primary school pupil and included irrelevant details such as hair and eye colour, height, weight etc. Then I had to have a printer produce a finger print card on the correct specification card stock, otherwise the US internet site said that it could be rejected. Finally, a trip to a police station to have my finger prints recorded. To be sure of having a receipt, I couriered the forms and finger prints to an address in the US. Then I had to settle down for a long wait, as their website stated that their (lack of) service delivery was 10-12 weeks.
One would have thought that a simple query on the FBI databases would have shown that there was no record of a Leonard Douglas Blackwood, British/Irish citizen, of birth date of 05 November 1946, having ever committed a crime. Or perhaps the US is gathering details of every one that crosses its path, in the event they might one day commit a crime.
In the meantime, I obtained a copy of my birth certificate and, together with my divorce certificate, had them apostilled, a certification process that only applies to official UK documents.
And lastly, with the assistance of the consultants, I submitted copious evidence of my capital investments in the UK and US and obtained an accountant’s certificate declaring that I had sufficient capital to provide me with a monthly income after tax of at least ZAR 34k per month.
The US police certificate finally arrived after more than three months wait, I obtained an appointment for an interview at the South Africa visa centre in London and on 29 November I submitted my application. I was informed that the visa, if approved would tentatively be available by January 10.
Following is a summary of the expenses I incurred in the application process:
Having settled down to another long wait, I was delighted to learn that the visa was issued on 15 December and, after a short delay in arranging for receipt of the courier, was available to me on Christmas Eve. It was a most welcome Christmas present.
Of course, without the need to obtain US police certification, the whole process could have taken 3-4 months less time.
Was the cost of using an immigration consultant justified?
In my case, it certainly was, especially when it involved proving capital and income requirements.
Would I recommend Intergate Immigration Services for a similar assignment?
I have been researching my family history and those of others, for more than thirty years. If individuals were still alive in 1837, when UK registration of births, marriages and deaths became mandatory, I was almost always able to find them. For those who died before 1837 and had moved away from their parish of birth, prior to the expansion of the internet and database access, it would have been a matter of luck to locate them.
I had four cousins from Hethel, in Norfolk (see here), that seemed to have disappeared. They were present in the 1851 census, but not in that of 1861. Over the years, I repeatedly searched, but in vain, until I stumbled on some Australian sites. It turned out that all four Blackwoods had emigrated to Australia in the late 1850s.
Three of my missing cousins were siblings – Susanna, James and Isaac. Their grandfather, John Blackwood (1764-1848) and Mary Harvey, were my third great grandparents.
Susanna was the first of my cousins to migrate. She married Robert Lane in 1845 and in 1855 they set sail for Australia, with their three children. By that time three of her four sisters and her father were dead, and her mother had remarried.
On 6 October 1855 they set sail for Australia from Liverpool on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated ship, the ‘Schomberg’, with 430 passengers on board. It made landfall off Cape Bridgewater on Christmas Eve but next day it ran aground on a sand bank a mile east of Curdi’s Inlet, near present-day Peterborough. No lives were lost and the next day the passengers were transferred to a passing steamer, the Queen, on her way from Warrnambool to Melbourne. Due to dangerous seas, the wreck was eventually abandoned and subsequently broke up. The captain was later committed for trial for neglect of duty, but was acquitted, due to lack of evidence. (see here)
The coast of Victoria, where the Schomberg ran aground near Peterborough
The family survived the wreck, but lost all their furniture. From Melbourne they were eventually taken on to Tasmania, and settled at Longford, where they had five more children.
In 1852 James Blackwood married Hannah Mickleborough and they had two children
in Norfolk. On 14 May 1857 they sailed to Australia from Plymouth on the ‘British Empire’, arriving at Portland, Victoria, on 2 September. They were accompanied by William Blackwood, a cousin of James, together with William’s wife and daughter. James and Hannah settled in Hotspur, in Victoria, where they had a further 10 children.
Map of southern Victoria, showing the location of Hotspur
Hotspur developed as a small settlement on the banks of the Crawford (aka Smokey)
River in south-western Victoria in the 1840s. As with many of these early townships,
it developed near a creek or river crossing, which provided a major obstacle for early
travellers, with their heavy bullock-drawn drays and wagons, and consequently they
camped on the banks. Soon one or more inns were constructed to cater for the
constant stream of travellers from Portland Bay to the early pastoral runs of the
interior, and a settlement was established close to this difficult river crossing point. (Ballarat & District Genealogical Society)
James Blackwood and his family became established in Hotspur, as evidenced by Blackwood’s Road, running some 4 km from the town to a junction with the Condah-Hotspur lower road.
John James and William Thomas were two of the grandsons of James and Hannah
Blackwood (their parents were Robert & Agnes Blackwood), and they both served with the Australian Infantry (1st AIF 6th Battalion) in the First World War. William, a private, was killed on 4 October 1917. He is buried at the Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery at plot IV C 11. The cemetery is located on the N336, just over halfway from Leper to Warneton.
(Note: The three family photographs are from the website of a distant relative, Gary Ayton at his web site)
Like many rural settlements in Australia, the local Hotspur community commemorated the involvement of 40 of their young men, who participated in World War 1, by planting an Avenue of Honour. The Hotspur Avenue of Honour is a little unusual in that the trees were native Australian Kurrajong trees, whereas many similar avenues were planted with imported trees such as elms or plane trees. In addition, was erected a Roll of Honour for the 35 who were ex-students of Hotspur State School. The Roll of Honour is now housed in the Community Hall.
The Avenue of Honour began in front of the ‘Rising Sun Hotel’, and each tree
displayed the name of the soldier, the unit in which he served, and the name of the person who planted the tree. Fifteen of the soldiers were killed in service. John Blackwood’s tree was number 7, planted by Miss P. Blackwood and number 27 was that of William Blackwood, planted by Mrs R. Blackwood. The planting ceremony took place on June 2, 1918. In June 2001, The World War 1 Avenue of Honour was restored, with a ceremony to commemorate the 40 soldiers from the district and the unveiling of a new brass plaque with their names, mounted on a large rock.
(Note: The information about Hotspur comes from here)
William and Sarah Blackwood, together with their young daughter, Caroline, accompanied James and his family from Hethel. They eventually settled in Creswick, Victoria, about 18km north of Ballarat. Creswick was a gold mining town, founded only six years earlier at the start of the Victorian gold rush.
Caroline married John William Russell from Boorowa and had the first of their eight
children in 1876, at 12 Gardiner Street, Creswick, opposite St. Andrew’s church. Caroline’s last two children, Leila and Richard, both died in their early teens in 1899 and 1903 and this was cited by Bill Russell, one of Caroline’s great grandsons, as the cause of her sudden death ‘of a broken heart’ in 1904. Caroline was outlived by her mother, Sarah Anne, who died in 1916, aged about 86. The house on Gardiner Street has since been demolished.
Much of the information about Caroline and her family came from Bill Russell. He
twice visited Hethel and on one of the occasions found an old Blackwood tombstone
propped up against the wall of the church. He took a photograph of it, but was not able to
remember what he did with it. He also mentioned a portrait of Caroline that used to hang on the wall of her house in Creswick and an obituary of Caroline that appeared in the Crestwick Adviser on 28 June 1904, both of which have also been misplaced.
I do not know when the third sibling, Isaac Blackwood, migrated to Australia and nothing is known of his life until c1873, when he married Susan Simkin, a local girl, in Digby, Victoria. They had four children, three in Digby, and the forth in Ballarat. Isaac died in Portland in 1919.
I lived in Australia for five years, from 1971 to 1976. I left to see something of South and Central America on an extended trip, intending to eventually return. When I do finally get back, one of these days, I want to visit the graveyard in Hotspur and walk along Blackwood’s Road.
I am certain that I will not feel like a stranger there.
It was after I finished the Belfast marathon in May 1986, that I learned of the McArthur Dervock marathon, to be held two months later. I had never heard of McArthur and I had never been to Dervock, despite having grown up within 15 km. As my recently widowed father still lived on the family farm outside Portrush, returning in July would give me another opportunity to visit him.
Since early 1985, I was based in England, with a job involving an increasing amount of travel, and the job had to take precedence over my running. But I still loved participating in races, and ‘collecting’ them became an absorbing hobby; Dervock would be a new addition to my ‘collection’.
Dervock is a small village in North Antrim. In the 2011 census it had 302 households, with a population of 714. In that census, 99% of the inhabitants were recorded as being protestants, with only 1% catholic. In a province with a significant catholic population, the Dervock census underlines the fact that there still exists a marked divide between the two cultures.
There used to be a railway station in Dervock, on the narrow-gauge branch line connecting Ballymoney to Ballycastle, 25 km to the north-east. The line was opened in 1880 and eventually closed in 1950.
Dervock is the ancestral home of the US president, William McKinley. assassinated in 1901. His ancestry can be traced back to David McKinley, born in Dervock and who migrated to western Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. It was also the home of Kenneth Kane McArthur.
Ken McArthur was born in 1881 and at the age of 20, migrated to South Africa, where he joined the Johannesburg police force. In Dervock he had worked as the local postman and was known to often race against the train, when on his rounds. But it was not until he was in South Africa that he started to run competitively. He was an unlikely talent as a runner, for he was a tall man at 1.88 m and weighing over 77 k.
He ran his first marathon in 1908, beating the existing Olympic silver medallist, Charles Hefferon. In 1912 he was selected by South Africa, his adopted country, to compete in the Stockholm Olympic marathon. The race took place in sweltering heat and McArthur won the gold medal in the time of 2 hours 36 minutes and 54 seconds. During the race, one athlete died of heat exhaustion.
McArthur returned to South Africa, but never competed again, having injured a foot in an accident. He settled in Potchefstroom, just outside Johannesburg and died there in 1960. McArthur ran in six marathons and was never beaten. The Potchefstroom stadium is named after him.
I ran the Dervock marathon twice, in 1986 and the following year, with times of 2:54:06 and 2:5142. It was not until I was researching this article that I realized that McArthur’s best time, that of Stockholm, was 2:36:54, only 33 seconds better than my own best time of 2:37:27, run in Miami in 1981.
So, not only were our best marathon times almost equal, we were both raised on a North Antrim farms and we both migrated at an early age, in my case at 18 to Canada. And whereas McArthur often used to race a train leaving Dervock station, I often used to race a bus when I was dropped off at the stop near our farm.
And here I am today, after more than six months, still patiently waiting for my South African residency visa.
I feel quite sure that McArthur did not have to wait so long for his.