Swimming

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.

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Portrush, circa 1960, with the Skerries to the north

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.

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Waikiki Beach, Honolulu (photo from internet)

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.

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Bondi Beach, Sydney (photo from internet)

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.

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North Sydney swimming pool in recent years (photo from internet)

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.

As with the weather, I don’t do cold.

That’s why I follow the sun…  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applying for South African Residency

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:Residency

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?

Definitely.

Hotspur

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)

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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.

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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.

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Map of Hotspur, with Blackwood Road

 

 

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James Blackwood with his wife, Hannah Mickleborough, daughter Martha and her son Clem

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.

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Photo taken c1920
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Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, where William’s grave is on the right, to the rear (photo from internet)
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Agnes Blackwood, formerly Wilson, wearing ‘widow’s weeds’, after the death of her son

(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.

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Hotspur State School roll of Honour

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McArthur

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.

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William McKinley (1843-1901)

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.

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Ken McArthur (photo from internet)

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.

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The Stockholm Olympic Marathon (photos from internet)

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.

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The Kenneth McArthur Athletics Stadium in Potchefstroom (photo from internet)

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.

 

 

 

 

Hawaii

Uppsala

9 December 2017

It is late afternoon and already bible-black.  Earlier it was universal grey.  The sun seems to have long-deserted this forlorn northern country in winter.  It is no wonder that the old people have a look of desperation when they pass.  They know that they have several months before they may smile again.  Younger people seem to be more cheerful, but in time, many will also succumb to glum.

I pass my time waiting for my long-sought South African residence permit.  I started the process back in June.  I had all my papers and certificates available within a month, except for one; an FBI certificate from the US.  Somehow the Americans managed to take more than four months to respond.  When I thought that I would patiently pass 6-8 weeks in Europe in pleasant autumnal weather, waiting for the wheels of South African bureaucracy to slowly grind, I have found myself shivering once more in the frozen north.  Two years ago I was stuck in winter months waiting for a new passport and last year it was a wintry wait trying to prove to my bank of more than 30 years that I was not now a money-launderer.

Ya basta…

But I am never lost for things to occupy me: my investments, writing and family research, never mind my daily 2-hour walk, regardless of the weather.  And in the late evening, I have the life-long habit of reading before going to bed.  At the moment, I am once more reading James Mitchener’s Iberia, based on his four decades of travels and extensive research in Spain.  It is a book that never fails to whet my appetite for walking on the Spanish caminos.

Over the years, I have read many of Mitchener’s books – The Drifters, Sayonara, Caravans, Centennial, Chesapeake, to name but a few.  The first that I read was Hawaii.  When we set off from Toronto in February 1971, I had that book in my bag, and most evenings I slowly progressed through the epic tale, covering the history of the islands, from their creation to modern day; it is a formula that Mitchener has oft repeated in other novels.

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James Mitchener (1907-1997) in 1991 (photo from internet)

For four days we crossed a frozen Canada by train, to be welcomed by Vancouver to four days of torrential rain.  We flew south to San Francisco, but the weather was not much better, with more rain and fog.  By the time we flew west to Hawaii, I had had enough of crap weather; I never wanted to be cold and wet again.  And with its tropical climate and luxurious vegetation, Hawaii did not disappoint.

For the first few days we stayed near Hilo, before moving on to the island of Oahu and Honolulu.  We found a lovely small hotel on the beach.  It was bliss to lie at night with the screen doors wide open, a warm breeze, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore.  What luxury that was!

On one of the days there, I set off alone to walk into the nearby hills.  I walked all day, following a quiet country road, seeing nothing more than occasional plantation buildings.  At one point I came across a small museum, set back from the road.  I paid the modest entry to an old regal-looking Hawaiian lady and for a time browsed among the exhibits.

As I was about to leave, I noticed that I could buy ice-cold drinks there, so I rested in a comfortable chair, while I sipped on a beer and chatted to the lady.  It turned out that she was something of an expert in Hawaiian history and culture and the contents of the museum were items that she had collected over very many years, for she appeared to be quite ancient.

When I mentioned that I was currently reading Hawaii and asked if she had ever come across it, she clapped her hands and with enthusiasm told me that not only had she read it, but that James Mitchener was a great friend, and that she had assisted him in the research for his book.

I have never forgotten that day.  My life has been full of coincidence.  It is almost as if there is an unseen plan for me and every now and then I come across an encouraging sign that I am on the right path.

And here I am, once more in the frozen north, waiting to go back to the warm south.

As Yogi Berra once said, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again‘.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buquebus

Each northern hemisphere winter, from November 2013 to April 2016, we spent five months in Montevideo.  As a Uruguayan tourist visa only allows for a maximum stay of 90 days, we had two options; we could either request a once-only ‘prolongación‘ of a further 90 days at the immigration office (Dirección Nacional de Migración), or we could leave the country and return, same day if we wished, whereby we would be granted a new 90-day stay.  We have done both.

The most convenient way of crossing the Uruguayan border was to take the ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires.  In March 2014, we chose to travel with Buquebus, an Argentine company, which operates ferry services between Buenos Aires and both Montevideo and Colonia, and also has a fleet of coaches in both Argentina and Uruguay.  Our ferry was the ‘Francisco‘, one of the fastest in the world, capable of travelling at up to 107 km/hr, with 1024 passengers and 150 cars.  Compared with all the hassle of air travel and airports, international travel by ferry is both comfortable and relaxing.

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The newest Buquebus ferry ‘Francisco’, named after the Pope (photo from internet)

I was very much looking forward to going to Buenos Aires.  In late 1984, when my project with Bank of America in Lima was completed, my next assignment involved my moving to Argentina, where BofA had recently acquired a large retail bank.  The BofA HR department handled all the paperwork for the application for my work permit.  Unfortunately, in that era, I was travelling on a British passport and the Americans did not seem to realise that that might prove to be a problem; it was not long after the Falklands War and UK citizens were about as welcome in Argentina as pork chops would have been at a Jewish wedding.  My application seemed to disappear into a black hole and we could get no feedback.  After two months of waiting and marking time, I unexpectedly received an attractive offer for a senior management position with a computer services company in England.  I accepted, but that is a story for another day.

When I finally got to Buenos Aires, I confess that I was rather disappointed.  At the ferry terminal, locals warned us not to leave the terminal and to only take a certain type of taxi; apparently there were a lot of muggers in that area and many of the taxi drivers were less than honest.  And later that afternoon, within ten minutes of leaving our hotel, in a bar in the square outside, a young tourist at the next table was robbed and a crowd set off after the thief.  Compared to the relative security of Montevideo, Buenos Aires seem to have its problems.

We were staying beside the Plaza del Congreso, about 2 km from the Casa Rosada and the waterfront.  For the next eight days, we walked all over the inner city.  Although we found parts that were clean and well taken care of, with small parks, in general most of the city was grubby and had seen better days.  The pavements were narrow with irregular surface, the streets full of traffic, and every doorway seemed to be replete with smokers; at times the pollution was very noticeable.  And not a day passed without parades of protesters with their banners and chants, accompanied by heavily armed riot police.  Buenos Aires seemed to be a city in stress.

In comparison, the waterfront area was a welcome contrast, with its wide walks, fresh air and interesting modern architecture, with several very large parks.

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A small section of the waterfront
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The former navy training frigate ‘Sarmiento‘, now a naval museum

We returned to Uruguay as we came, by Buquebus, but this time by the relatively short crossing of 1:15, to Colonia del Sacramento.  It was noticeable that the water was thick with silt and occasional tree trunks; it looked more like a ploughed field than a river.

Colonia was founded in 1680 by Portugal, to protect its southern border with Spain. But the Portuguese were repulsed by the Spanish later that same year.  A treaty between Spain and Portugal, signed the next year, returned Colonia to Portugal.  Colonia changed hands no less that nine more times until the founding of Uruguay in 1828.

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Pórton de Campo – the City Gate

Colonia is renowned for its historic quarter and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  One can find whole streets with Portuguese architecture and others with Spanish.  And with streets and pavements of cobbled stones, just as one can see in the villages and small towns in Portugal.

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A typical street in Colonia
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And a street leading down to the river, brown with silt
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Sunset across the Río Plata

From Colonia, with our new 90-day visas,  we travelled back to Montevideo, once more  by Buquebus, but this time on the highway.  When we got back to our little apartment, it felt as if we were home again.

Bertie Law

Since my mother died in 1985 and my father in 1995, my visits to my homeland have been few and far between; Portrush is about as far from NW Europe as one can go.

In the spring of 2005, I drove over to Ulster, via Stranraer and the ferry to Larne, to spend some time in the archives in Belfast; I wanted to research part of my Irish family history.  And afterwards, for two glorious days I went walking in the Mourne mountains.

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An abandoned ice-house on the lower slopes of Sleive Donard, in the Mourne mountains

Instead of returning directly to Larne and Stranraer, as I had intended, I decided to take a detour north to Portrush and around the stunning coastal road.  Almost without exception, when I have returned to Portrush, my first stop has been the graveyard of the ruined church at Ballywillan.  For in that graveyard are buried my Douglas ancestors, as far back as the early 1700s.  My parents and paternal grandparents are also buried there and for a while I wander from one known grave to another, lost in memories of when many of them were alive, especially in the case of my first schoolmaster (see Jimmy) and Derek Aiken, a school friend, who died at age 44.

Existimos mientras alguien nos recuerde

(We exist while someone remembers us)

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Further down the hill, was the grave of Molly, the wife of my first cousin, Bertie Law.  After leaving the graveyard, I intended on passing by his house in the hope of spending some time with him.  I had just found new data on ancestors in which I knew he would be most interested, for like me, he was an enthusiastic amateur genealogist.

But when I arrived at Molly’s grave I was momentarily confused; she had been dead for thirteen years, yet the soil had still not settled.  And then of course it dawned on me that Bertie was dead, and only very recently buried.

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Bertie’s mother, Annie, was my grandfather’s sister.  She died three days after giving birth to Bertie’s younger brother, John, commonly known as Jackie.  Twenty years later, Sergeant John Douglas Law of the R.A.F. died over Germany and is buried at Rheinburg War Cemetery. I believe Jackie to have been the only WW2 casualty of the village.

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Bertie was my mother’s first cousin and the most complete example of a handyman that I have ever known.  He was an accomplished carpenter, bricklayer, plasterer, roofer and decorator.  He built his own house in Glenmanus and most of the buildings on my father’s farm: the housing for the incubators, chicks, poultry, turkeys, the pig pens, and all of the storehouses.  And when my mother was on one of her ‘I’d like to change this room’ moods, Bertie would construct cupboards and partitions.  It was through observing Bertie at work, that when the need arose, I knew instinctively how to lay bricks, plaster, rebuild a shower, decorate etc.

Bertie was something of a workaholic.  During the day he worked as a conductor for the local bus company and later he would work on the farm buildings.  And when he returned home, he would spend time in the evening in his extensive vegetable and flower garden.

It was after the death of my father that I discovered Bertie’s interest in family history.  He showed me the charts that he had drawn and we ended up by combining our research.  And we supplemented it by mail, by telephone and occasional visits by me.  Bertie’s charts are the backbone of what I know today of the history of the Douglas family of Glenmanus.

I felt very sad that day in May when I eventually left the graveyard.  It felt like the end of an era, for Bertie was my last close contact with my parents.  I still have two cousins living in the village, Hughie and Brian Douglas. I have recently renewed contact with them and long may that contact last.

Sometimes I feel most fortunate, for I am rich in memories.