Greenacres

My father’s WWII duty ended in Northern Germany, at Lübeck, northeast of Hamburg. He was demobbed in late January 1946, after more than six years of active service, having been involved in the invasion, wounded in the fighting in France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. He made his way back to England, where he received £95 and a suit from the UK government, visited his parents in Norfolk, and reunited with my mother in Glenmanus, a small rural village just outside Portrush on the north coast of Ireland.

Nine months later, almost to the day, I was born.

My father had a commitment from his former employer, Sainsbury, to enable him to resume his pre-war managerial career, but he turned it down. Despite having no agricultural background – his father was a classical musician and his mother a teacher, he had decided to start a poultry breeding farm. His interest in poultry dated from when he was rested from the fighting and spent two weeks at a poultry farm in The Netherlands. With most of his limited capital, he bought a pedigree cockerel and twelve hens and started his fledgling breeding farm on a small plot of land allocated to him by his father-in-law.

In the meantime, while his stock of birds slowly expanded, he subsidized his income by playing piano with his dance band, initially at Barry’s dance hall in Portrush, and later at the Northern Counties Hotel, in that era one of the premier hotels in Ireland.

By 1951, the poultry flock grew too large for the small plot of land in Glenmanus. My mother’s uncle Bill Douglas, a retired farmer, granted my father a 99-year lease on some fields that he owned beside Carnalridge Primary School, on the road to Coleraine. A new house was built and in 1952 we transferred to our new home. It was the start of Greenacres Poultry Farm. Expansion was rapid and within a relatively short time, the fields were fully utilized. All income was reinvested, and my parents never had a holiday; they worked every day of every year. There is never a break from livestock on a small holding.

The house and farm buildings, the photo dating from circa 1960
A schematic layout of the farm, together with the neighbours – Ard Rua, where my paternal grandparents lived, the Collins farm, the Bankhead (the Carnalridge headmaster), Boyd and Gurney, Houston and Walker.
The fleet of small arks that housed the young chickens, while they grew accustomed to being outdoors. The arks were moved every few days across the field, leaving behind manure to fertilize the grass.
There were four houses thay housed the free-range laying flocks. In the background can be seen the family house.
One of my father’s Light Sussex cockerels. Note the spurs!
A small flock of Brown Leghorns, with a laying house in the background

My father’s reputation soon spread and in 1958 Silcock, the leading animal feed company, sponsored a ‘Poultry Demonstration’, to which were invited farmers over all the north of Ireland. A large tent was erected, with tables and chairs, and for two days the invitees arrived and were hosted with presentations, demonstrations, tours of the farm and Irish hospitality.

It was judged to have been a great success and my father’s business prospered.

The farm was never exclusively for poultry breeding. A herd of pigs was introduced together with a small flock of 30 sheep, to keep the grass under control. In addition a flock of turkeys was added and once a year pheasant chicks were hatched for a local landowner.

My father’s prize boar

But disaster struck in Northern Ireland in about 1964 with a severe outbreak of fowl pest, a devastating chicken disease. Ireland was very dependent on its agriculture and despite strict quarantine practices, somehow the disease had entered the country. The government mandated that there could be no movement of any livestock between farms. My father had little capital and in a short time he was out of cash. Despite his years of being a solid client, his bank was of no help. It was yet another example of banks being your fair-weather friend!

Everything on the farm that could be sold was sold and with the pittance that he accumulated, he bought a small grocery business that was then available in Portrush, across the road from the train station. It belonged to a Mr Gibson, who was retiring.

The business was never a great success. Portrush was in long-term tourism decline. There were fewer and fewer visitors and a new supermarket in Coleraine negatively impacted local small grocers. My father persisted for several years but finally surrendered to the inevitable and finished his working years as the store manager at Kelly’s, a nearby complex of hotel, bars, restaurant and nightclub.

After my mother died in 1985, my father returned to his first love – music. He bought a then-state-of-the-art organ and re-stablished his reputation as a talented musician. And until the week he died in November 1995, he provided background music in several local hotels and restaurants.

My father was talented at everything in which he was involved. He was a brave and courageous soldier, wounded but refusing to succumb. He was an innovate farmer who challenged the boundaries of poultry breeding. He survived through his prior training in the grocery business. And his talent as a musician never failed him.

He has proven to have been a difficult act for me and for my sons to follow.

Going for it

‘One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you wanted to do. Do them now.’

(Paolo Coelho)

BC (Before COVID), I had a clear vision of how I wanted to spend whatever time I had left – four months in South America, similar in Southern Europe and the rest in South Africa, repeated ad infinitum. That was my ambition. ‘Following the Sun‘ was my mantra and it seemed to be within my grasp.

Until COVID came along and screwed up the world.

Now we are all in life’s waiting room. And governments have seized their opportunity to legislate and control us. But given their inevitable incompetence, they will mostly fail, and we will eventually regain some independence., albeit probably with another useless layer of bureaucracy.

In the meantime, I continue with my efforts to improve my ability in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. In Spanish, I am conversant and relaxed, in French I can defend myself, and in Portuguese I still valiantly struggle, but I hope to eventually sufficiently improve.

My linguistic goal has never been perfection, but to be able to communicate effectively, with a minimum of glaring error. I will always have the intrusion of my Irish accent, and that I am unlikely to lose.

At school, I was never a great student of Latin and French, although I generally achieved acceptable marks. I never understood why we bothered to study languages. I received no encouragement from my parents, who were monolingual. My father always said that he had had enough of Europe after his six years of war service, and he never ever wanted to return. My mother used to say that ‘the only good German was a dead one’, a view that caused many a clash between us. I understood her bitterness, but I also felt that my generation and our children had to turn the page and start a new chapter.

I first travelled around western Europe in 1968, and it was then that I was bitten by languages. I was fascinated by the communication challenges, and when I later realized that ability in Spanish and Portuguese could open new opportunities for me in Central and South America, I was well on my way.

And I have been going for it ever since!

The Clock

Every day I sit at my desk, looking toward the green wall of Signal Hill on my left, and the South Atlantic Ocean to my right.  To be tired of that view, one would be tired of living in Cape Town, to paraphrase the reputed saying of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Directly in front of me, across the red-tiled roofs of an apartment complex, stands the clock tower of Reddam House (http://asb.reddamhouse.com/), a well-respected private school.

But despite the reputed quality of the school’s teaching, the accuracy of the school’s clock leaves a lot to be desired.  During my almost five years of living here, the clock has rarely displayed the correct time.  It has always been a few minutes slow and it has frequently stopped for days after a heavy rain storm or strong winds. Recently one of the segments of the clock face disappeared in a high wind, and for a time, there was only one hand on the side facing me.  To compound the confusion, the four faces of the clock don’t all display the same time, on the occasions when the clock actually works!

I confess that I find it very frustrating to see a clock that is often only accurate twice a day.  But here in Green Point, we have a reliable alternative: the Noon Gun.  Every day, save Sunday and public holidays, it booms across the city, at precisely 12:00. And these days, the guns are fired by an electronic signal from the South African Astronomical Observatory.

,The Noon Guns – there are two of them, with one as a backup, stand above the city at the end of Signal Hill.   This historic time signal has existed since 1806. Originally the guns were located in front of Cape Town Castle, but were relocated to their position on the hill in 1903, no doubt to the relief of the city residents and all pigeons.

The guns were cast in 1794 and were brought to Cape Town during the 1795 occupation. They are reputed to be the oldest guns in daily use in the world.

If you stand in the square by the Cape Town Stadium, at precisely noon, you can get a practical example of the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound. You first see the puff of smoke from the cannon and what seems like at least a second later, you hear the boom, for light travels at about 300 million metres per second, almost a million times faster than sound, which trundles along at only 340 metres per second. The difference is even more apparent from further away at the promenade along the ocean.

It sometimes occurs to me that Reddam students have excellent local conditions to enable them to conduct experiments to measure the difference between the speed of sound and light.

But they can’t rely on the accuracy of their clock!