For the first time in several years, I managed to organize a two-week reunion, here in Cape Town, with my four sons and one of their girlfriends. They coordinated their flights from Frankfurt and Barcelona so that they all travelled out on the same flight from London. John and Hazel stayed with us in our apartment and Andrew, Bob and Philip stayed in a nearby hostel (see http://www.bigbackpackers.com).
Before they arrived, I sent them my own idea of a list of ‘Things you could do if you only have two weeks in Cape Town‘. They managed to do just about everything, except ‘ Shark Cage Diving‘, and visiting Robben Island, the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was held for so many years. They booked tickets for the island, but unfortunately, when they turned up at the dock, the tickets were reserved for the preceding day. Whoops!
Travelling around the Cape of Good Hope was a unanimous choice. When I heard that we were considering renting a minibus, I was not in favour, and instead I insisted that we contract Faried Fakier to show us around the peninsula. Apart from regularly transporting us and our friends to and from the airport, Faried is a qualified tour guide. He and his wife, Rosina, have their own company, Randy’s Tours. I would have no hesitation in recommending them to anyone visiting Cape Town and surroundings.
So at 09:00 sharp, we set off from our Green Point apartment, heading east around Signal Hill and Table Mountain, then south through Constancia to Muizenberg.
From Muizenberg we followed the False Bay coast, passing the colorful bathing huts of Saint James Beach.
We continued through the trendy fishing villages of Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek and stopped after Simon’s Town, at Boulders Beach. It is here that one can view the evidence of the positive conservation efforts of recent years. African Penguins can only be found in South Africa and Namibia and have been considered as a species on the verge of extinction. In 1982, two breeding pairs settled on Boulders Beach, and today there are in excess of 3000 birds on the beach.
From Boulders Beach we drove to the Cape National Park. It was there that we came across a troop of baboons. This guy was the obvious leader. He just sat with a stick up his bum, ignoring us.
The actual Cape of Good Hope is the sort of place I would normally never go near. Too many tourists and few, if any, locals. But at least I can say I have done it… 🙂
On the way out of the park, we can across this flock of wild ostriches.
And on the way back to Cape Town, we stopped at Chapman’s Peak with this view
Charles Ringwood was born on 6 November 1831, in Hethel, about 10 km to the south-west of Norwich, in Norfolk, England. He was the eldest son and the third child of William Ringwood, a shoemaker, and Hannah Peachment. William’s father was my 4th great-grandfather. In about 1832 the family moved to nearby Wymondham, where they had four more children.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in the US. He died in 1844. About 1840, his eventual successor, Brigham Young went to England to recruit new followers. In 1844 more than 70,000 people migrated from Europe to join the Mormons. The mass migration from Nauvoo, Illinois, west to Utah, took place in 1846/7.
In 1853, when he was 22, William’s eldest son, Charles, left England to join the Mormons in Salt Lake City. He traveled out with the Claudius V. Spencer Company from Liverpool. They set sail on 23 January on the ship, Golconda and after a voyage of 44 days, they reached the mouth of the Mississippi River.
There they had to wait for twelve days until a steam tug carried them to New Orleans, where they arrived on 26 March. From there they continued on another steam boat to Keokuk, Iowa and finally overland to the staging post at Kanesville, Iowa, present day Council Bluffs.
About 250 individuals and 40 wagons were in the company when it began the final stage of its journey, crossing the the river Missouri about June 3, and arrived in Salt Lake Valley on 24 September 1853.
In 1855 Charles married Dinah Elizabeth Forster. In 1866 Charles spent six months serving as a 2nd Lt. with Major A. Barts Infantry in the Blackhawk war. Dinah died in March 1869, two weeks after giving birth to her seventh child.
In June 1869 Charles married Caroline Althea Robbins and in the next 25 years Charles and Caroline had a further 14 children, only seven of them surviving infancy.
In the 1871 UK census, of the original Ringwood household in Wymondham there only remained the parents, William and Hannah, the eldest daughter, Mary Ann, and her two children – Emma and Charles, of unknown fathers. Later in 1871, the parents, daughter and grandchildren followed Charles in migrating to Utah.
Although I had found possible evidence of their deaths in Salt Lake City, I could not envisage William and Hannah undertaking such an arduous journey, as both of them would have been well into their seventies at that time. Not only did they have to travel across England to a port and undertake the ocean crossing, but they then had the long and sometimes dangerous journey across the United States to Utah. I had the evidence, but I really did not trust it.
So I remained in doubt for many years, until it occurred to me to find out when the railroad first reached Salt Lake City. And I came across the explanation that I was looking for – the line was opened in 1869, with a branch line north to Ogden in 1870. No doubt it was still not easy for the two in their mid-seventies, but there was now no doubt in my mind that they did it. So, William and Hannah Ringwood spent their last years in Salt Lake City, both dying a few months apart in 1887.
Charles himself died in 1914. On his death certificate his former occupation was given as a police officer. The cause of death was given as old age and ‘paresis of bowel’. Caroline died the following year.
And what happened to Mary Ann and her two children?
She married a Benjamin Culpitt and settled in Logan in Cache County, north of Salt Lake City and died there in 1890. Her daughter, Emma Louise married a Heber Chase Chatterton in 1880 in Logan and they had seven children. She died in 1902. And May Ann’s son, Charles Henry, married Lynn Vilate Payne in 1896 and settled in Pocatello, in Bannock County, Idaho. There is no record of them having had any children and he died in 1937.
Over the past years I have gradually traced and recorded the descendants of William Ringwood. My research is not yet complete, but the descendants already number in the several hundreds.
But the validity of my research was based on Charles Ringwood and his parents being those of Hethel and Wymondham in Norfolk. I remained reluctant to make that assumption. And then in recent days, I came across a paper called ‘History of Charles Ringwood by Flossie Ringwood Gray’, a daughter of Charles Ringwood.
For the past two weeks the weather in Cape Town has been unseasonably hot, the temperature hitting more than 30 C every day. The average high for October is 22 C and the record high 32 C (in 1997), yet last Monday my dentist recorded the temperature on her thermometer at 38 C. Considering that October is equivalent to May in the northern hemisphere, summer seems to have arrived very early. So, knowing that it was going to be another hot day, last Wednesday I decided to leave earlier than normal, at nine o’clock, for my habitual long daily walk.
When I set out from our ‘eyrie’ on the hill about Green Point, I could see a huge fog bank approaching the shore below. By the time I reached the Promenade along Beach Road, some 25 minutes later, the fog was approaching and the temperature had dropped from hot to cool, only the closest buildings were visible, and the little of the ocean that one could see was eerie calm. And the fog horn was regularly booming.
Now I grew up on the north coast of Ireland, where sea fog was not unusual, and in those days waking to the fog horn moaning during the night, was nothing unusual. But it never occurred to me to find out out what made that noise. I assumed that it came from something at the coastguard station on Ramore Head. So now was my opportunity to find the source.
I assumed that it came from the Green Point lighthouse, about a kilometer away, but as I got closer, it was obviously not from the lighthouse, but from something by the water.
And there it was, an insignificant object on a pole, rusting and badly needing a repaint job. I must have passed it a hundred or more times and never noticed it.
Just above the fog horn is a car park, and I saw a car arrive close to the horn. Just as an elderly woman got out of her car and stumbled down the slope to the promenade, the horn boomed and the poor dear nearly fell over.
There have reputedly been more that 450 shipwrecks along the shores of Table Bay, most resulting from inclement weather, from the gales that lash the shore in winter. In the case of De Visch in 4 May 1740, it was the result of a navigational error. During the night, mistaking the light at Three Anchor Bay beside the current lighthouse for that of Robben Island, the ship was driven onto the rocks. Thanks to a cable from ship to shore, all but two of the crew were saved.
One of the witnesses was Jürgen Leeuwenberg who later painted the scene of the disaster. The painting hangs in the National Library of South Africa.
No two days are the same along the Green Point promenade…
I well remember Saturday 16 September 1961, when hurricane Debbie hit the north coast of Ireland. I was 14 at the time. The previous day there were warnings on the radio of a major storm approaching, and as a precaution my father and Bertie Law filled bags with sand, placing them of the roof of our house, and roping them together. The next afternoon the storm struck.
A peak gust of 183 km/h was recorded at nearby Malin Head. Seven boats were sunk in local harbours, several caravans were blown over the coastal cliffs, and I saw two of my father’s hen houses rolling down the hill from the top field, complete with their occupants. No storm in living memory came close in ferocity.
And then the torrential rain started to fall; and it fell for hours on end. The road from Portrush to Coleraine was cut in several places with knee-deep flooding and the main drain under the railway embankment to the sea in Portrush was blocked with debris, causing deep flooding in the adjacent low-lying area.
It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience for those of us who witnessed it.
The storm that hit Cape Town on Wednesday 07 June 2017 was also well anticipated. The previous day I had an appointment with my immigration consultant, and she told me that the office would close the next day, in advance of the storm. And what a storm it was, as witnessed in the accompanying two videos, recorded nearby at Three Anchors Bay.
The next day I walked along the promenade and there was grey sand, broken kelp and small rocks and shells everywhere. The concrete coping on much of the newly built promenade wall was either loosened or was completely torn off and tossed into the park, as witness to the power of the waves that had struck it.
But the Great Storm that hit Cape Town on May 16 1865 was in another category. For eighteen hours the storm raged and 17 ocean-going vessels, 30 cutters and uncounted small boats were either wrecked or stranded, with the loss of 60 lives.
The last to go was the Royal Mail Ship, Athens, which was swept onto the rocks near the lighthouse. Although those on shore could hear the cries of the men, there was nothing that they could do to help them. The crew of 29 perished.
Today all that of the Athens that survives is the engine block. From the shore it is not clear what one is looking at, but with a better camera all is revealed.
Despite the US government being in denial and withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, most scientists agree that our planet is going through a period of rapid warming, and that storms, such as those I mentioned above, will become much more common in future years.
I first noticed the Cape Weaver when I stopped on the bridge that crosses the channel that connects two of the lakes in Green Point Park, in the ocean suburb of Cape Town. The little yellow-breasted bird was busily constructing a nest, tying together some stout reeds, about a meter above the water’s edge, using strips of grass. By the next day, the nest appeared to be almost complete and he had started on a second. As the days passed he continued to build more and more nests. In the end there were at least ten that I could see. But where were the females?
And then one day two females appeared while I was watching. The little male predictably became hyper-excited: flapping, wiggling, screeching. But to no avail. The females checked out his attempts at building nests, turned their backs on him and flew off. My little male disappeared into each nest that they had rejected, to see what it was that they did not like. He was like a randy real-estate agent who had tried to seduce his prospective female tenants and pathetically failed.
A passing local lady explained to me that the little male was fortunate: normally females which do not like a nest can rip it apart, before heading off to find a better suitor. She told me that the entrance to the nest is on the underside and if the female accepts the male, he will construct a tunnel, while she lines the nest, and then they mate.
And then came a storm, with strong winds, and the nests were rather greatly shaken, some of the reeds being bent down almost to water level. Perhaps the females knew what they were doing in refusing my little male.
Some time later, I noticed weaver nests at the other end of the pond. And there was a little yellow breasted weaver, and a female disappearing into and emerging out of a nest. Was it my little male bird? I like to think that it was.
But he can’t control his urge to build more nests and attract more females.
In the meantime, I look forward to watching the next weaver generation emerge…
Until 1969, I had been muddling along in the ‘old technology’ of Quantity Surveying or Estimating, as it was known in the US and Canada. It was Singer Sewing Machines in London that gave me my opportunity to enter the relatively new world of computer programming. And I have never looked back.
Our office was in West London, on the Uxbridge Road, in Ealing Broadway. and it was there that we did our program design and coding on paper. As a recently inaugurated European division, we did not have our own computer; for program compilation and testing, we went to the UK Guildford office. I spent as much time in Guildford as I did in Ealing Broadway. And it was there that I first met Bob Baylis and ‘almost’ met Mark Samuels; our paths were to cross again in 1978, at P-E International, where Bob was employed and when Mark was the Managing Director, but that is a story for another day.
Now I won’t attempt to explain the intricacies of programming in the 1960’s; our world was one of coding sheets, punched cards and tapes, large air-conditioned computer rooms, and one or perhaps two compilations or tests a day. For the successful programmer, acute attention to detail was mandatory.
I thrived in the environment and was part of a small team sent to Germany in the summer of 1969, to test and install our new inventory system in the German head office in Frankfurt, near the central station and a few minutes stroll from the river Main. Our hotel was between the office and the station. The red-light district was adjacent; it took us perhaps one hour to completely orientate ourselves.
We could only have access to the German computer systems after daily production had been completed, so we started late afternoon and worked to very late every evening, rarely finishing before midnight. We usually met for lunch in a nearby restaurant and on the first day the waiter recommended a local white wine from Rüdesheim. It was #28 on the menu and we soon learned to order additional bottles of achtundzwanzig. It was delicious, and day after day, it contributed greatly to the eventual success of our project.
On one weekend, we decided to go to the source of achtundzwanzig. We took a local train from central station to the nearby river Rhine, and then travelled on a boat down the river to Rüdesheim. After ample ‘refreshments’, we took the local gondola to Niederwald. Almost silently gliding over the vineyards, gradually ascending, was an experience I will never forget. I was in love with life; nothing new there.
At the summit was Niederwalddenkmal, a patriotic monument, 38 m tall and finished in 1883. The view across the valley was stunning and the weather was idyllic.
On one of our last nights in Frankfurt, when the project was almost wrapped up, we went to a nearby striptease show called ‘The Dolly Bar’. It was luxurious, compared to the normal seedy dives that I had previously experienced in Toronto, the US and London. The girls were stunning, but what struck me most was experiencing the wall-to-wall sound; I had never heard such wonderful acoustics before. And it was the first time that I had heard Mary Hopkin singing, ‘Those were the days’.
That was 1969, and the sun had arisen and set many times before I was once again back in London; it was late-1984 and I was on my way to the wedding of my good friend, Laín Burgos-Lovece, in The Wirrall, south of Liverpool. I had a room in a hotel on Half Moon Street, just off Piccadilly.
That evening I went around the corner to an old familiar pub in Shepherd’s Market, a pub that I had frequented many times over the years. I bought a pint and sat in my usual corner. I had not been there since those bitter sweet days of the summer of 1978; bitter, because my personal circumstances at that time were a mess, but sweet, because I had been deliriously happy with the prospect of an exciting new relationship.
We arrived in London in early December 1968; we had been travelling for more than three months since we left Toronto. It was the era of ‘Europe on $5 a day’. I had even bought the book. It weighed almost as much as my meagre luggage. After carrying the wretched book for a couple of weeks, I put it in a bin. At the time, five dollars a day seemed rather extravagant to me. Of course, with inflation, today a coffee in Paris can cost more than that.
After having spent a few days in New York, completely failing to understand why anyone could possibly rave about the city, we sailed in the bowels of the Queen Elizabeth to Southampton, via Cobh and Cherbourg. It was a cold and stormy crossing, one of the last voyages of the liner, and there were few passengers. Not very long after, it ended up on the bottom of Hong Kong harbour.
But once back on dry land, we had almost three months of glorious weather. We wandered around south-west England and Wales, a visit to Dublin and my parents in Ulster, then through France, Spain, Gibraltar, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and back through France to England.
For the first few weeks, we hitch-hiked, eventually as far as Biarritz. We survived on my schoolboy French, but with no basics of Spanish, Italian or German, we took to the trains, mostly in third class wherever we could.
Once back in London, we had to decide: to go back to Toronto, where work was easy to come by and we had lots of contacts, or to stay in London in the unknown, at least for a time. It was not a hard decision to make. We bought the evening newspaper and looked for a room for rent.
We were staying in a cheap ‘bed-and-breakfast’ near to Victoria Station, so we concentrated on finding accommodation on the main-line into Victoria. On the first day we noted three rooms that we could afford. When we arrived at the first room, it was already taken. At the second, there was an obvious sign stating that no Irish need apply. And at the third, we were met by a rotund Jewish gentleman, with whom we quickly felt totally at ease. We signed a lease there and then, paid the deposit and the first month’s rent, and left with the keys.
The ‘apartment’ was a large room on the ground floor, with a high ceiling and a partitioned kitchen, that also contained a bath. The toilet? That was on the first floor and each ‘apartment’ had its own toilet. And electricity and heating were paid for by inserting coins in a box on the wall. In Toronto, I only used to have a tiny room and a shared bathroom. I felt as if I had arrived!
But now we needed to find employment and soon, for our reserves were getting alarming low. Sandra was soon employed. She was a beautician by training and found a job with a salon at the corner of Oxford and Dean streets, removing unwanted facial hair, using electrolysis. Most of the clients were West-end showgirls, but it was Sandra’s boss who took care of hair removal from the client’s private parts!
In the meantime, I went to the Institute of Quantity Surveyors, just up the street from the Houses of Parliament. I left the meeting with the feeling that I had little chance of finding employment; construction in England was suffering a severe recession and the unemployment queues were long and there were no quantity surveyor jobs advertised in the evening papers. What a contrast to Toronto, where construction was booming at that time. So, it was ‘back to the drawing board’.
I quickly found a temporary job, selling potatoes, door to door. It lasted one day. I have never aspired to be a salesman and there are limits as to how many doors being slammed in my face that I could take, often coupled with expletives. I soon realised that being Irish in London was no advantage.
Then I found a temporary job distributing leaflets, door-to-door, for a carpet company. I had to note every address and a salesman called soon after. It was a success, at least for the company. But I soon ran out of addresses within a feasible radius to leaflet, although I loved the walking.
Just before New Year, I spotted an advertisement for an ‘Institute’ training Cobol programmers, with a guarantee that the training would continue until one found a position. Their office was just around the corner from Hector Powe’s main store on Regent Street. My father’s best friend worked for Hector Powe and I took that as a good omen. I signed up for the training and paid the fee. It was a gamble on my part, for by then I had little money left. Sandra earned enough for the basics, but not enough to cover the rent.
The first two weeks of the course were an eye-opener for me. I found that I had a natural talent for programming and at the end of the second week the tutor took me aside and told me that a friend of his had just called, looking to hire a junior programmer. When he asked if I would be interested, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.
The interview was on the following Monday and the company was Singer Sewing Machines, in Uxbridge, west of London, about two hours travel from our little apartment. I met Robin Nicolson, was offered me the position, and needless to say, I gratefully accepted. I started the next day.