In 1924 my grandfather made a dollhouse for his only daughter, my mother, for her fifth birthday. He used a wooden packing case to build a doll’s house with four rooms, each with a glass window, meticulously crafted wooden stairs, and a bathroom upstairs with a door on tiny hinges. To that was added a pitched roof. This was in Johannesburg.

Over time, the dollhouse was sent by rail to cousins in the Karoo where it resided until I was about five years old. My mother decided it was time for the doll house to ‘come home’, which it did from Aberdeen in the Karoo to the Sheba siding in the then Eastern Transvaal.

While I was at university, my parents moved to live at our farm permanently and the doll house moved to the De Kaap Valley and was played with by all the grandchildren who visited them there.

At last, I had a daughter. So, in due course, we loaded the doll house onto our truck and brought it down to the Eastern Cape. Here it was also well used by my grandchildren.

Then … my daughter had a daughter … and we loaded the doll house onto our truck and took it all the way to Cape Town …

… Not bad for a doll house made from a packing case 98 years ago!


From an old notebook …

While on the subject of Dutch Reformed churches, it was during a military history tour of the Adelaide area in the Eastern Cape a few years ago that we were told an interesting story by our guide of an event that took place a year into the start of the Anglo-Boer War. In response to the Boer commandos invading towns along the  border of the Cape Colony, the British forces defending Adelaide at the time commandeered the well-built Dutch Reformed church for their headquarters and used it as barracks. Naturally the congregants of the church were angry at this rough-shod invasion of their church and the resultant damage to the interior. According to our guide, the rectory of the church was, for a time, used as a stable!

Once the war was over and the British troops had left, the Dutch Reformed community set about trying to restore the damage done to the interior of their church. There was little money available and their donation drive did not yield enough for the refurbishment of the pews and pulpit.

Three months later, however, they were astounded when two wagons entered the town of Adelaide laden with finely cut oak timber – apparently some sources say the consignment included a beautifully carved pulpit and matching chair. The townsfolk assumed that the British had sent this by way of compensation and as an apology for the damage the troops had caused. Within a few months the church and rectory was fully restored – all was well.

Except … two years later the mayor of the town received a letter from the mayor of Adelaide in Australia wondering whether the consignment of oak they had ordered from England for their new church had possibly been delivered to the wrong address …

Well, of course it had! What to do about it? Photographs were taken of the refurbished interior of the church and sent along with an explanation of what had happened.


I have been sorting through piles of ‘stuff’ in my study …

Click on Google images and you will find a plethora of images of rosettes. These are decorations made from ribbon that emulate the shape of a rose. Few people seem to make them anymore – certainly not for sports days or even for political campaigning (in South Africa anyway) as they did when I was growing up

It used to be important to know how to make a rosette: getting the right colour ribbons, folding them accordion-style ‘just so’, threading a needle through the layers, shifting the folds so that they were evenly spaced, cutting the cardboard circle to sew them onto and ensuring that the ribbons hanging down were the right length and had a little V-shape snipped into the ends to prevent fraying or curling up.

Rosettes pinned to one’s clothes showed allegiance to particular teams during inter-school athletics meetings, or swimming galas, for example. Instead of rosettes these days, I have noticed the use of a thin strip of ribbon pinned to clothing or a wider strip simply folded over and pinned seems to serve the same purpose. Colours now seem all that is required in terms of acknowledging say breast cancer (pink), or AIDS (red).

In my youth, the different colours representing rival political parties were sported by citizens, especially on Election Day, when people queued at the voting booths. Candidates wore particularly large ones to make them more easily identifiable in the crowds. The rosettes lent a festive air to the otherwise serious issue of casting one’s vote.

Now, people queue with ID books or cards in hand and hope to meet friends and acquaintances with whom to pass the time whilst waiting to enter the voting area. Any outward signs of political allegiance are now verboten (in South Africa). While on that topic: there used to be a festive rivalry between parties on voting days. They lured the electorate with koeksusters, pancakes, waffles, boerewors rolls and jaffles! Now, you cast your vote and head for home!


A large number of our principal citizens gathered in Church Square yesterday afternoon, with the many immediate friends of the bereaved family, in order to follow to the grave the funeral of this lady, whose decease was recorded by us on Monday last. The ceremony took place in the Wesleyan Cemetery, the neatness and beauty of which bear testimony to the kindly care of Mrs. FLETCHER, with whom (as well as with other members of her family since her illness) it has long been a labour of love to attend to the adornment of the last resting place of so many of our early colonists and their descendants.

Extract from The Grahamstown Journal Wednesday 5 April 1882.  [Bolding of words is mine].

The Wesleyan Cemetery forms a part of the larger cemetery in Grahamstown that is often referred to as the ‘old cemetery’ as the ‘new’ one is situated much further away. Look on in horror at what this historical cemetery looks like today:

This overgrown unkempt cemetery filled with historical graves that provide a capsule of the history of the town is not only scattered with litter, but has been vandalised and it is in fact unsafe to clamber through the weeds and bushes on one’s own. Ironically, a strong metal fence, fancy gates and a sturdy lock guard one roadside frontage, whilst the fence has been torn down elsewhere as people have made a path through it – a shortcut into town.

Most of the rusty metal railings surrounding graves have either been broken or removed – doubtless to sell as scrap metal. This is one of the few that has survived such an onslaught. For how long?

We had visited the cemetery with out of town friends who were looking for graves with a family connection – a very difficult task under the circumstances. Not many graves were still upright and in a fairly good condition like this one:

An astounding number of gravestones have been deliberately pushed over:

Given the climate and the age of the cemetery, it is probably natural that some of the sun-baked bricks would erode – although we felt that some were being deliberately gouged out:

Even the marble lion atop a memorial honouring men from various regiments who had died while serving during various Frontier Wars has had part of its face smashed:

Sadly, this is the fate of many cemeteries, especially those in rural towns.


Long before the first light shows behind the hills, the nightjars have fallen silent to make way for the morning sounds to begin. It pleases me to listen to the gradual awakening of the birds as they each add a gentle layer to the growing dawn chorus. Cape white-eyes chatter excitedly; African green pigeons chuckle quietly; while a Cape robin-chat defends its territory with low grunts.

While the sky is still a blank canvas of brightening soft grey suffused with pink, the Hadeda ibises begin fidgeting in the fig tree. The rustling sound of their feathers works its way through the branches until one ibis calls out reluctantly … a faraway reply can be heard giving the signal for the raucous calls to break the morning peace – along with the first vehicles passing by. A vivid smudge of orange intensifies above the horizon followed by fingers of light glowing low through the trees. The hadedas fan out across the valley, calling loud greetings as they go. Close by a Red-eyed dove persistently tells me it’s the ‘better get started’ time and a crow calls gruffly from a treetop. It is in the high branches and on the telephone cable where the Laughing doves meet to catch the warming rays of the rising sun.

As it rises higher, the sun highlights the yellow blossoms of the canary creeper.

Another day has begun.