FORT FREDERICK

The Internet is a potential maze that can lead one down alleyways that divert one from the initial track one set out upon. I was wondering who Fort Frederick in Port Elizabeth was named after and discovered it was Frederick, Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. The fort, overlooking the harbour, was built in 1799.

Duke of York – that rings a bell:

The Grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

When they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only halfway up

They were neither up nor down.

The maw of the maze opened wide and I got sucked into some sites claiming that the rhyme refers to Richard, Duke of York, claimant to the English throne and Protector of England and the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December 1460. Others are convinced that Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, is the one mocked in the nursery rhyme. When war broke out between Britain and France in 1793, he took control of the port of Dunkirk but was later pushed back in a battle at Hondschoote. Although his troops performed well, they were outnumbered three to one and lost their siege guns during the retreat. Given the date Fort Frederick was built, this one is the likely candidate.

Back to Fort Frederick.

This stone fort is reputed to be the oldest surviving British fortification in the Eastern Cape. It was built by the British Forces to defend the mouth of the Baakens River and contains a powder magazine

As well as a blockhouse, the upper storey of which no longer exists as it was built from timber.

The fort was originally defended by two 8-pounder guns and one 5.5 inch Howitzer, but now contains a selection of muzzle-loaders dating from the later part of the eighteenth century.

It is has been partially restored over the years and is a declared National Monument.

If you wish to read about the background to the nursery rhyme, here are two sites to start you off

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/the_grand_old_duke_of_york.htm

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/7-facts-grand-old-duke-york-british-military-reformer-x.html

Advertisements

NAMAQUALAND DAISIES

These indigenous Namaqualand Daisies (Dimorphotheca sinuata) are grown in gardens all over South Africa, providing a riot of colour during the late winter months. All gardens except for mine that is! Somehow, neither the many packets of purchased seeds, nor handfuls of collected seed have ever found favour here – until the first sprinkling of rain at the end of September this year.

I see these flower seeds are now marketed under the umbrella name of African Daisies, which I think is a misnomer – there are so many ‘African’ daisies to choose from. Interestingly enough, the name ‘Daisy’ originates from the ancient Saxon term ‘Day’s eye’ referring to its habit of  opening during the day to show its ‘eye’ and then closing at night – or when the sun is not shining. As you can imagine, these Namaqualand Daisies look their best in the full sunshine.

MUSHROOMS

I often think of Sylvia Plath’s poem, Mushrooms, whenever I happen across one or other form of fungi in the garden.

Overnight, very

Whitely, discreetly,

Very quietly

Our toes, our noses

Take hold on the loam,

Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,

Stops us, betrays us;

The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,

The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.

Our hammers, our rams,

Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,

Widen the crannies,

Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,

On crumbs of shadow,

Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.

So many of us!

So many of us!

We are shelves, we are

Tables, we are meek,

We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers

In spite of ourselves.

Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning

Inherit the earth.

Our foot’s in the door.

THE STORIES WITHIN US

In his autobiography, The Outsider: my life in intrigue, Frederick Forsyth explains that within the mind of a writer entire worlds are created or erasedPeople come into being, work, love, fight, die and are replaced. Plots are devised, developed, amended and come to fruition or are frustrated … In children, daydreaming is rebuked; in a writer it is indispensable.

Few of us think our lives are particularly interesting or remarkable enough to record. If we did, publishers would be inundated by autobiographies. Yet, eavesdrop at dinners or the meeting of strangers on holiday and you will become attuned to the stories plucked from the lives of ordinary people to inform, build bridges, or merely to entertain. We all have a story to tell.

Some of these anecdotes have been told so often that partners often finish them for each other, or egg each other on towards the highlight. The familiarity of these stories fixes them, making them difficult to change. They nonetheless get retold to show an alternate side of ourselves to people who have come to know us in a different context; to confirm our allegiances to others; or to illustrate the connection between the present and the past. An element of trust is at play when we share our personal stories.

This was particularly evident when I attended a series of workshops a few years ago. The participants were issued with pens and paper and, as we sat in a circle, we were asked to write down various aspects of our lives on cue – describe one of your most frightening moments; an occasion that made you face your innermost fears; a choice you made that was out of character for you. Of course these did not happen all at once, but as we diligently set about writing in response to the first instruction, none of us realised we would be required to share them.

Sometimes we read them ourselves. At other times a randomly chosen partner read them on our behalf; yet on other occasions we were asked to talk about the particular experience during a shared ‘chat session’ with yet another randomly selected partner. As uncomfortable as this was initially, the experience proved to be both interesting and enlightening. We ended up being surprised at the hitherto unknown inner strengths, fears and accomplishments of colleagues who gave no hint of such things on the surface. We unwittingly learned about empathy, respect and to realise that so much more lies behind the faces we work with every day. I recently threw out my notes from those sessions. Before doing so, however, I reread what I had written and surprised myself by what had been laid bare – I would never have imagined that anything in my life was ‘write worthy’, yet some aspects of it had been gently coaxed out of me.

No matter the occasion, when people are together for any length of time, an exchange of stories will begin. This might be in the form of a tentative exploration of where we come from; a delicate process of sussing out what we have in common; an exchange of opinions; or even a confession of sorts about health, personal circumstances, concerns or joys.

Stories are part of the way we understand our history and shared anecdotes go a long way towards understanding the lives of the people within our social and working orbit. In this sense, the stories we tell about ourselves can be powerful – as are those stories we tell ourselves while seeking an understanding of where we are, why we are, and what we are becoming.

Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety is a marvellous depiction of the friendship between two couples through their waxing and waning fortunes, as well as their trials and tribulations spanning forty years or so. Their back stories and shared experiences form the weft of their relationship, weaving their lives together with increasing strength and flexibility.

I have just finished editing the first draft of my late father’s memoirs. On the surface he was as ordinary a person as any of us are: a miner, a farmer, an amateur historian, a husband, a father and grandfather. If only I had known about this endeavour before he died, I would have been able to explore so much more! What a story he has to tell of life as we will never know it again; of courage and perseverance; of love and adventure. It proves the point that the unfolding of our lives are stories with no end. As ordinary as they may be, they help others to make sense of our lives and they deserve to be shared – at least with the next generation.

MY GRANNY’S ALBUM: 2

Here are three more pages from my Grandmother’s autograph album. These entries date from 1903 to 1905. It is amazing to think this was done by hand – such a labour of love, patience and good penmanship:

These cats have each got such a character. The headline of the lefthand newspaper reads: FRESH RATS Just imported 1/3 per lb. Cheap. Take your chance. The middle newspaper reads: FOR SALE Tinned mice, locusts, rats etc. All arranged in latest style. The righthand newspaper reads: Music allsorts … A Rat Hunt to be held at Ratfield on Cat Monday. Wonderfully intricate detail!

 

This is a fun entry too:

NYCTALOPIA

Do you suffer from nyctalopia? It is that condition which makes it difficult for you to find your way in the dark or in the dim light. Basically, it is a condition we know better as night blindness. I wonder if that is why some people are afraid of the dark – because they are unable to see.

It is only in the last decade or so that I have felt comfortable driving through the countryside at night. I have even become used to the dimming of the light as day fades into the night, which used to be the very worst time for me to drive. Perhaps necessity helps one to overcome such adversities. A strategy I have learned while driving at night is to focus on the line on the shoulder of the road when faced with a stream of headlights. Moonlit nights are the best for driving and walking though.

I have always enjoyed the silvery wash of moonlight. Walter de la Mare describes it so beautifully in his poem, Silver:

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
This, incidentally is a poem I learned to recite for a school concert when I was about ten – and have never forgotten!

It must be a form of nyctalopia that makes it difficult for my eyes to adjust quickly from a bright light to the dark at night. That is the moment I step outside at my peril, especially if there are steps to negotiate – a fall waiting to happen.