As I sit at my desk in our apartment on the hill above Green Point, I can see over an apartment complex below. Further back is another slightly elevated building, which does nothing to intrude on my overall view.
To the right is the clock tower of Reddam House, a rather exclusive private school, the clock of which recently only told the time accurately twice a day. And slightly further to the right there are three elevated palm trees, whose fluttering of fronds would indicate to me the wind force I could expect on my daily walk through the park and along the coast. When the trunks of the palms thrash and bend, I know that I will have to brace myself.
Below, all day long pass huge tankers, container ships and smaller vessels, pass on their way to and from the Cape Town harbour and around the Cape of Good Hope. If they are early for their berthing, they anchor just off the coast.
The sun sets to the left of the apartment complex, behind the steep slope of Signal Hill.
On a frequent clear day, the sky is a piercing blue. It reminds me very much of the sky that I used to experience in Sydney, so any years ago. It is a blue that one seldom, if ever, witnesses in Northern Europe.
I am usually at my desk in the early evening and I am a frequent witness of the setting of the sun. The line above the blue of the ocean first starts to turn a mellow yellow that gradually become more golden. And it spreads across the sky. When there are light clouds around, the sunset can become quite spectacular.
It is dark now and I draw the curtains on another beautiful African day.
I was 42 when my first son was born and six and a bit years later, my fourth son took his first breath. I felt myself to be a very fortunate man, a feeling that persists to this day.
A few years ago, it occurred to me that if I ever had grandchildren, it was likely that they would not remember much, if anything, of me and my ancestry. I decided to write down what I could remember of my parents and their history, of my own travels, of people that had been a great influence on me, of places where I had lived, of some of my experiences.
But how to go about publishing it without boring the pants off a poor reader. I recall discussing my aspiration with my good and learned Chilean friend, Laín Burgos-Lovéce. He suggested that I write it as a blog.
Do you know the meaning of the word ‘blog’? I certainly did not, so I looked it up. It turned out to be a web-log, or a form of shared on-line diary. I learned something new, but I still did not have a clear idea of how to go about formally writing my memoirs. My aspirations marked time.
It was later, when I read Camilo José Cela’s classic, ‘La Colmena’, that I realised that I could write my thoughts in stand-alone articles, and later piece them together in chronological order. It is a lot like a seanchaí, a traditional Irish story teller, comfortably seated by the fireside, a drink in hand, entertaining his audience with his tales.
Initially, I restricted publication to family and close friends, but eventually, I opened it up to the public; it was pointed out to me that somebody that I once knew, but with whom I had lost contact, might stumble upon my writings and contact me.
And that has now happened several times and I am so grateful for the opportunity for the renewed acquaintances. With each has come a flood of nostalgia.
It has now been two years since I published my first article, and to date there have been 111 of them. And there have been viewers from 46 countries. It is humbling to evidence the power of the internet to connect people.
So what’s next?
Well, I still have more than 50 articles that I have yet to write and no doubt there are a plethora of others that have not yet surfaced. Every time I finish writing one, I get at least two new ideas. Sooner or later, I will put then into a book form, to gift to those of my relatives and some friends who have no access or no desire to access the internet.
Hopefield Cottage Hospital was situated on the edge of Portrush. It was one of the many rural hospitals that performed minor operations and provided for the chronically sick. It enabled local patients to remain close to their families and the latter to avoid having to travel to a distant county facility. In the years before and after the 1939-45 war, few local people had a car. It was to Hopefield that I was taken when I was six years old, in 1953.
In my early years, I was a sickly child, repeatedly suffering from sore throats and fevers. The medical verdict was that I had to have my tonsils removed. I have only two vivid memories of Hopefield. The first was of my lying on a bed beside a window, looking out across fields. The other was that of a man in white, picking me up and carrying me to another room, laying me down on a table, and a black hissing thing that smelled strange, being placed over my face. I have no recall of my mother or father being there at any time; I just remember feeling alone and scared.
Of course, I soon recovered, put on missing weight, and health-wise, I have never looked back.
It was in Hopefield that my grandmother, my father’s mother, died in 1958. She already had had two strokes and had been bed-bound for several years. She did not survive the third stroke. I remember my father putting down the phone and saying, ‘She has gone’. Before that I had never seen him cry.
Beside the hospital lay the fields of Caldwell’s farm, the fields that I looked out at from the hospital. When I was young, during the summer season a small plane used to land on those fields, and for a fee the pilot used to fly tourists over Portrush, the Skerries and along the north coast.
Every Easter Tuesday, always a public holiday in Ulster, those fields were the scene of the Glenvale point-to-point horse races. It was a grand occasion and people drove, cycled or walked from a long way to be there. The venue was only a mile from our farm, so I often went too. It was exhilarating to be close to the horses as they galloped by, jumping the hurdles and hedges.
Access to the Glenvale races was along a lane beside John Rainey’s house and past Caldwell´s farm. The entrance to the lane was off the Coleraine Road, opposite to the road that led into Glenmanus. In those days Glenmanus village was on the edge of Portrush and on the road to Coleraine were just fields and the occasional house and farm buildings.
It was at the entrance of that lane that I had arranged to meet my first love. We were too young to be seen alone together, so she brought along her best friend, as did I. We slowly walked the length of that secluded lane to the far end and back. We held hands and said little. We were eleven years old.
For my part, my attraction to her remained intact. We had little opportunity to meet. She went to the grammar school in Bushmills and I went in the opposite direction, to that of the C.A.I. in Coleraine. She lived in the town and I in the country. Our paths sometimes crossed in church, but she was always with her parents. It was only at the rare church or school social event that the flame was temporarily relit, only to be once more extinguished. In 1965 I migrated to Canada and she finished school and moved away from the area. We had no further contact.
Today, the Hospital at Hopefield no longer exists, and the Glenvale races ceased to be held around 1977. For many years they continued at Myroe, near Limavady, before recently returning to the fields of the old Adams farm at Loquestown, just across from our farm at Islandflackey.
The former Caldwell fields are now under a maze of new houses and Portrush no longer ends at Glenmanus Road, but advances relentlessly towards Coleraine. Soon there will be no fields left between the two towns.
The romantic lane of my youth still exists, albeit sandwiched on both sides between the rears of houses.
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.