Dalzell & Campbell

In my fifth year of grammar school, 1962-3, I felt quite lost. Having abandoned my ambition of a military career, I had no plan ‘B’. The school assumed that I would go on to a university, but I knew that there was no way my father could have contributed to my support, even if I were to obtain some form of scholarship.

In that era, there was no career advice available at my grammar school. Perhaps some of the teachers took their successful pupils under their wing and coached them. More likely, the parents were the guides. In my ‘A’ class, most, if not all, of the parents fitted into three categories – professional, businessmen or farmers. My parents were not able to advise me and I had no uncles or aunts to lean on.

After the ‘O’ level exams in June 1963, a good friend, Raymond de Zeeuw, suggested that I might want to consider his career of Quantity Surveying, for which GCE ‘O’ levels would suffice. It was a form of professional apprenticeship, with part-time study and culminating in a qualification – R.I.C.S. (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors). As he always seemed enthusiastic about his work, I decided to get an interview with Crofton Dalzell, the principal of Dalzell & Campbell, Raymond’s employer.

I confess to having been taken aback with Crofton’s first question – ‘What religion are you?’. Perhaps it was just a standard statistic required for governmental reporting, but I suspect that if my answer had been ‘Catholic’, the interview would have been soon terminated. Is the situation different today? I would like to hope so.

In any case, I appeared to have impressed him sufficiently, and soon after, I received a job offer of £8 per month, subject to my passing the GCE exams. I started work the following Monday. And my mother informed me that I would have to contribute £2 a month for my board!

Dalzell & Campbell was a partnership between Crofton Dalzell and his son-in-law, the architect, Noel Campbell. Crofton was a dapper little man, he looked very fit, and reputedly walked along the beach from Portrush to the White Rocks, some four miles in total, every morning before work. I know little about Noel Campbell, except that he drove a Jaguar, at one time was a drummer, was married to Crofton’s daughter, and designed my parent’s house at Carnalridge.

If you know little about a Quantity Surveyor’s work, I will attempt to give you a very brief description.

A Quantity Surveyor stands between an architect and the client. The Quantity Surveyor’s ‘bible’ is the Bill of Quantities (BOQ), which contains the specification, the quantity and the unit cost of all the items involved in the contract. It is the basis for any variations or dispute regarding the original contract.

My first year as a Junior Quantity Surveyor was spent extending and summing the measurements of other more senior staff and producing physical Bills of Quantities (BOQ). We had no calculators in that era, so all calculations had to be made by hand. And don’t forget that it was before monetary decimalization and metric measurement. Try calculating by hand an area of 9 feet 7 inches by 21 feet 4 inches or 1279 cubic yards at £2-17-11 per yard!

For Bills of Quantities, we had no copy machines or printers as we know them today; they were not yet available. We had stencils that were thin sheets of paper, coated with wax. The Bills of Quantities were typed on the stencils. I wrapped the stencil around a Gestetner roller and produced as many copies as were required. I then had to collate the pages, drill holes and bind the final product with ribbons.

It was not so long before I progressed to measuring earthworks, landscaping, asphalt, kerbs etc. And most weeks, there were visits to sites to measure actual versus the BOQ, and calculating progress payments. I was quite happy in my work.

And there was a great camaraderie in the office. In particular I remember John Dalzell, George Darragh, Stuart Barnes, Jim Morrison, Tom Clarke, Raymond De Zeeuw and our Chief Quantity Surveyor- Brian Watson, a little Scot. I wish that I could recall all the other names.

Sooner, rather than later, I moved on, in my case to Canada. But I learned an important lesson at Dalzell & Campbell, that I have never forgotten, and that is, no matter how lowly the job, do it well.

As in this recording of Charley Pride…

I wanted to be a soldier

It was September 1961 when I returned for my fourth year at C. A. I. I had already decided that I aspired to an army career, as an officer graduate from Sandhurst, in Surrey. The physical outdoor life, the sports, and the opportunities to travel very much appealed to me. I had already received a package of information from the recruitment office and in it was suggested that I join the local Army Cadet Force. One Friday evening in early September, I set off for the Territorial Army Barracks in Coleraine.

The Army Reserve Centre in Coleraine, formally known as the Territorial Army

It was there that I met Captain Kitson, who was responsible for the local Army Cadet Force. I remember him as a slim and very well spoken man and I was immediately quite inspired by him. He noted all the necessary particulars and we agreed that I would return same time the following week to collect my uniform and join the Force.

My father was not greatly enthused by my career aspirations. He had survived seven years of war, had seen many of his friends die, and did not wish that life on his eldest son. He would have very much preferred my going to agricultural college and then joining him in his farming business. But as much as I loved the soil, the lure of travel and seeing the world prevailed. Dad reluctantly kept his peace.

The uniform consisted of everything except underwear, plus a beret, boots and a heavy greatcoat. that reached almost to my ankles. In cold wintry nights, the greatcoat was most appreciated. The shirt and trousers were made from a heavy khaki material that initially I found most itchy, but in time I became almost accustomed to it.


On my first full night at the barracks, we were lectured at length on the uniform, how to dress, what never to do, how to polish our boots and clean our brasses. we were warned that first thing, every night, we would be inspected and reprimanded if fault was found. Our Sergeant Major was a tough little Irishman, a long-serving soldier whom I shall call Jerry, for I cannot recall his full name. When not on duty, he was a chain-smoker and always stank of nicotine. He has an extremely loud and raucous voice and when he called ‘Atten shun’, windows in nearby houses rattled.

After inspection, we spent a lot of time on drill, eventually including a rifle. If you have ever observed a squad of soldiers on parade, performing complex manouvers, you perhaps can understand how much practice is required to train a group of individuals to act as one. And most evenings we moved to the rifle range to practice our shooting skills, using .22 rifles.

In the summer of 1962, we went to the Ballykinler Army Barracks, in County Down, about 12 kilometers SW of Downpatrick. We were met at the station in Belfast and taken in Army lorries to the camp. For a week we were treated as any other soldier, with all the disciplines and obligations. It was the first time that I had been away from home. I recall two memorable days.

Ballykinler Army Barracks, as it is today

The first was when we were taken in a truck and dropped off in the countryside, with maps, bivouacs, and enough food and water for a day. Our objective was to decide where we were and in 24 hours to find our way to a second pick-up point quite far away, on the other side of a lake. To complicate the mission, we were to leave no trace of our passing. Our officer, Captain Kitson accompanied us, but he made zero effort to influence our decision making. It was a character enhancing experience and we all learned a lot from having to disguise our overnight camp.

The second memorable day was when we were split into two platoons, one to defend a hill and the other to attack it. I was with the latter. We were armed with .22 rifles and a few blanks. We decided to have a frontal attack, with two of us, another guy and myself, crawling a long way through scrub to attack from the rear. Unfortunately, the defending force spotted the frontal attackers, some blanks were shot and the ‘attack’ was foiled.

On our last night at the camp, we went to Newcastle, the nearby beach resort. We had a few hours to ourselves. Most of us went up the mountain – Slieve Donnard; a few joined me in unsuccessfully looking for girls.

During the long summer break, something changed in me. I spent much of the holidays working on the farm, feeding and watering the livestock, clearing, cleaning, painting: I was already quite strong and could do most of a man’s work. In return, my father gave me gave me generous pocket money. Most evenings I went down to Portrush to meet and mingle with friends. The summer season was in full swing and there were lots of girls on holiday also wandering around. I relished my new-found freedom, to come and go as I pleased.

Eventually that summer I realized that I would have very little freedom to come and go if I were to join the army. Whether one agrees or not, orders have to be obeyed, without question. That would not be a problem if I agreed with the direction. But what if I didn’t? And I was reminded of the quote – ‘Lions led by donkeys’.

When September came around, I returned the uniform and resigned from the Army Cadets.

In 1985, some 23 years later, for one year I found myself living at Harvard Road in Sandhurst, and passing the military college every day.

What goes around, sometimes comes around…

Definitely not three of my best years…

Most of us have come across them, often rather uninspiring people who confess as to how much they loved their secondary school years – their supportive teachers, the absorbing subjects, their wonderful friends etc. ad nauseam. Of course they probably never failed to present their completed homework, they were always in time for class, they never had to be reprimanded, they were perfect students. I suspect that their parents had a great part in supervising and aiding them in their homework. In my secondary school years, I was very far from being an exemplary student.

I had been quite happy and successful during my primary school days at Carnalridge. I had a caring and inspirational headmaster and teacher – James Bankhead. In those days – 1952-58, Carnalridge was a small country primary school, less that 100 m from my from door.

In my last year there, there were only four of us attempting the 11-plus exams – David Hunter, Michael Moore, Joan Gurney and me. The 11-plus examinations were a test of mathematics, English and IQ and they were held in Coleraine. Depending on the results, one went to a grammar, a technical or a secondary school. For most of us, the 11-plus result dictated our future careers.

Known locally as C.A.I. or The Inst, Coleraine Academical Institution was founded in 1860 and had a large boarding facility until 1999, with extensive playing fields. In 1958, it was to this institution, as a day pupil, that I was sentenced. As a result of my having attained a decent mark in the 11-plus examinations. I was allocated to the ‘A’ class. There were four classes – ‘A’ through ‘D’, each with 30 pupils.

But the move to C.A.I was rather a shock to my system. Firstly, there was my having to catch a bus to Coleraine – to miss it was to be late and subject to punishment. I was never late. Then there was what felt like a long walk in all weathers, from The Diamond in Coleraine, up the Castlerock Road to the school. In my first two years I attended the Model School, across the Castlerock Road from the main C.A.I. buildings. The Model School had been recently taken over by C.A.I. To me, the Model School seemed like an reluctant survivor from the very early days of Charles Dickens. It no longer exists, having been demolished and replaced by yet another housing estate.

Early days at CAI

I was in no way prepared for the curriculum. My poor parents had only very basic education to age 15 and subjects like Latin, French, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics etc. were foreign to them. I had no educated uncles or aunts to lean on and frankly, I struggled. Much of the subject matter made absolutely no sense to me.

And I did not respond well to the discipline that they tried to instill in us. Nothing will ever convince me that, having been detained after school for a minor misdemeanor and having to write 500 times, ‘I must not talk in class’ or ‘I must remember my school book’, has made me a better citizen. Nor has having been caned across the hand or the buttocks. There were several teachers that, were they to be alive today, I would happily punch. In those days, corporal punishment ruled.

As a day pupil, I was free to go home at the end of the day. It was not so for the young boarding school pupils. I never envied their lives, separated from their families for months on end. I feel certain that there was an element of bullying of the younger students by older pupils and prefects. If the various churches have had to face up to a multitude of scandals, I suspect that CAI has had some of its own ‘skeletons in the cupboard’.

But there was one really positive side to my secondary schooling – the sports; C.A.I. was a leading rugby school. I had never before seen rugby – we had no television in those days, but once I was involved, rugby very much appealed to me. Sports at C.A.I. were compulsory and only excused if subject to a doctor’s note. And in the summer months, there was cricket; in the morning break, lunch and after school, I could usually be found bowling in the cricket nets.

C. A. I. with its extensive playing fields

I will never forget my first exposure to rugby. It was in my first days at my new school and there was a schools cup match. We were excused classes to support our senior team and it was then that I first heard the school’s war cry:

HEE-YAH, HEE-YAH, HEE BILLYWANGA, HEE-YAH HEE-YAH HA

HUNKA, HUNKA, HUNK BILLYWANGA, KRA KRU KRA

RICK, RICK, RICKETY RICK

ISKY ISKY AYE

HEE BILLY WANGA, TING TONG TANGA

C.A.I.

C-O-L-E-R-A-I-N-E

The war cry was written after some CAI boys watched the All Blacks perform their famous Haka, prior to playing Ulster in the winter of 1924-25.  The CAI war cry was first heard in public on 17 March 1925, at Ravenhill, now the Kingspan Stadium, when CAI won the Schools Cup.

So, for my first three years at CAI, I struggled through the junior school, sometimes with ‘an excellent mark’ when I was interested in the subject, at other times ‘must try harder’ prevailed. At the same time, I was very much involved in the sports.

But I was definitely never an exemplary student.

The Great Storm of 1865

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.

HMS Athens

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.

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Capture

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 find that a sobering thought…

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Walter Scott

When I was young, Ramore House was the oldest dwelling in Portrush.  It was at the lower end of Main Street, on the corner of Ramore Street, overlooking the harbour.  I remember it as a building having external wooden stairs and a shop selling second-hand books.  After I left for Canada, in 1965, the building was demolished, together with the local fishermen’s cottages on Ramore Street, and all were replaced with a ‘modern’ block of flats.

I remember my primary school headmaster, James Bankhead (see Jimmy), telling us that a famous writer once visited Portrush and stayed at that house.  I remember the writer he spoke of as being Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and many others.  But search as I have several times, I have never found any evidence that Swift had ever visited the area.  So, when I wrote my article, Early Memories of Portrush, I omitted mentioning Swift and my memory of the oldest house.

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Jonathan Swift 1667-1745 (photo from internet)

But I was not happy with that omission, for I was convinced that I could not have imagined the visit of such a famous writer.  I contacted a friend who had attended the same primary school as I, to see if she had a similar recollection.  She referred my query to her husband, Hugh McGrattan – journalist, retired editor of the local newspaper and author of three books about local history.  Hugh was able to correct my confused childhood memory.

According to Hugh, there was indeed a shop at Ramore House, an antique shop, full of old books.  It was owned by a Mr Cochrane and outside there was an imposing coat of arms.  The distinguished visitor whom I recalled as being Jonathan Swift, was actually Sir Walter Scott, many of whose works remain classics of English-language and Scottish literature.  And at that time the house was occupied by a Dr. Hamilton.  Hugh mentioned that Thomas Carlyle, the writer, historian and mathematician, was another distinguished visitor to Portrush during that era.

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Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 (Portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn)

 

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Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881 (photo by Elliott & Fry c1860)

Once knowing that the visitor to Ramore House was Sir Walter Scott, I searched and found a book called Sir Walter Scott’s Tour in Ireland by D. J. O’Donoghue.  In it there is a brief reference to his visit to Portrush, but there are several references to Jonathan Swift and Sir Walter Scott’s reverence for the man and his writings and his desire to visit any place in Ireland associated with him.

As a child, I had read Scott’s Rob Roy and Ivanhoe and part of Swift’s Gulliver’s travels.  When James Bankhead was telling us of the oldest house and the famous visitor, and perhaps the visitor’s great respect for Jonathan Swift, I must have confused the two writers.

So after more than 60 years and thanks to Hugh McGrattan, the fog has now cleared.

Now if only I could find a photograph of the old house before it was demolished….

 

 

 

 

The Wall of Death

In my previous blog, I wrote of some of my earliest memories of Glenmanus and nearby Portrush.  I wrote of a couple of stunt motorcyclists and their act, ‘The Wall of Death’, and how they boarded with my grand-parents at Seaview Farm.  My memory of their act is so vivid, but I could not recall their names, despite my mother often speaking of those years when they returned for the summer season.

I posted the article and next day I received a comment from Australia, from Iris, who like me, also grew up in Glenmanus.  She recalled the couple and said that she remembered their surname as being Goosen or similar.  The name sounded Dutch or perhaps German but rang no bells for me.

The Northern Irish marriage records over 75 years old are accessible for a fee, so on the off-chance that they married in Ulster, I went to https://geni.nidirect.gov.uk/.  And in 1938, I found a Theunis Christophel Goosen who married an Ena Birmingham in Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland, in Ballymena.  And both had their profession as ‘Amusement Caterer’.  It looked as though I might have found them, but I wanted more evidence.

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When I searched on the internet, I found a site focused on the Goosen genealogy (http://www.goosen.nu/index.php/documents/192-wall-of-death) and in it was an article about Chris and Ena Goosen.

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Chris and Ena Goosen (from the Goosen genealogy site)

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I am almost certain that I have found the couple and how thrilled my mother would have been to read my little account.

Perhaps the warm and contented feeling I am experiencing tonight is a reflection of her approval, and maybe also that of Chris and Ena Goosen.

 

 

Early Memories of Portrush

What is your earliest memory?

Are you certain that your earliest memories are genuinely your own memories, or are you remembering and imagining what your parents or others have told you?  I confess that I am never quite certain of the authenticity of mine.

My early years were spent in Glenmanus, a small village now totally enclosed and obliterated by the relentless expansion of Portrush.  Until I was five years old, my parents lived in a small wooden hut, at least I recall it as being small and wooden.  It was just up the road from the farm of my great-uncle Bill Douglas, and great-aunt, Letitia.  I can clearly remember going down the steps to the stream that flowed in front of Bill’s farmhouse and falling in the water.  And in an out-building, Titia making butter in a large churn, paddling up and down. And offering me a ‘piece’, a thick slice of bread, coated in butter and jam.  Delicious it was.  The stream has long since been piped and covered over, and the farmhouse demolished and replaced with modern houses, owned by two of my cousins, Hughie and Brian Douglas.

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A butter churn, similar to that of Titia

And one freezing morning in winter, when the older boys came flying down Loquestown Hill on a sled, and one of them crashing into a hedge, and injuring his cheek.  I remember it as being Maurice Elliott who crashed, but he has no recall of it. One of us is correct…

My mother contracted TB when I was very young, and for some six months she was interned in a sanatorium in Derry.  It was Louise Wilson who looked after me, while my father worked on the farm during the day and played piano with his dance-band at Barry’s Ballroom at night. My only clear memory of that era was sitting at the table, having breakfast and my father telling me that a fox or a badger had broken into one of the hen-houses and killed all the hens.  He could probably have ill-afforded the loss, as he was just starting out on his new farming venture.

And there was the day when my mother took me down to Portrush, through the archway under the railway embankment, and we sat up on a sandhill, waiting for the ‘mock invasion’ to start.  In those days there was no seawall, only sand dunes leading down to the west strand.  Out in the bay there was a battleship and it began to fire its guns and then several landing craft were launched.  The troops were disgorged just offshore and there was lot of firing of machine gun blanks, as they charged up the beach.  Predictably the ‘enemy’ soon surrendered.  For many years after, until I was about 16, I dreamed of joining the military, despite my father’s lack of enthusiasm.  He had had enough of war after six years of fighting in WW2 and wanted me to join him on his farm.  I ended up doing neither farming nor military.

In those days there was a tram that ran from Portrush to the Giant’s Causeway and I remember seeing it setting out past the gasworks, down Causeway Street.  It was probably one of the last trips, as it stopped functioning at the end of the 1949 season.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, my father’s dance band played every night in Barry’s Ballroom.  My mother took me to see him play one evening, and afterwards, we went outside, to an exhibit called ‘The Wall of Death’.  It consisted of a circular wooden tower, inside which a couple rode motorbikes.  We stood at the top of the tower and looked at the bikes going around and around, horizontal to the ground at dizzying speed.  I later learned that my mother knew the couple.  During the war, in the summer season, they used to board at my grandparent’s farm in Glenmanus.  I wish I could remember their names.

So few memories, but so vivid are the few.  I sometimes wonder which vivid memories of their early years my four sons will recall, when they are older.