For years there was no electricity at our farm, except when the generator was switched on in the evenings. A coal stove burned in the kitchen throughout the day, having been lit early in the mornings – apart from providing boiling water for tea and heat for cooking, it also heated the water in the geyser. Food was kept cool in a paraffin ‘fridge – note I said ‘cool’ for the Lowveld summers were hot enough to make even an electric ‘fridge battle – or preserved for longer in a paraffin chest freezer. Laundry was done by hand, mostly in cold water, and dried in the sun and the breeze.

With no electricity, we relied on sadirons to iron our clothes. My mother accumulated quite a collection of them, ranging from very simple ones, similar to the image below, to more expensive ones that had place to add charcoal to make the heat last longer.

The large wooden table in the kitchen would be covered with layers of old blankets and sheets. A bundled up wet cloth was placed next to the metal trivet on which we would rest the sadiron whilst reaching for another item to be ironed or while folding a garment. The various sadirons heated up on the stove and were used in a particular order so that one always had the hottest one to use. Each had to be wiped on the wet cloth to remove any dirt or soot from the stove before being gingerly applied to the garment. The old sheets bore many scorch marks from testing an iron that was too hot.

When they were young, my children would laugh when they saw an array of sadirons in museum, knowing that their mother had used similar ones in her youth – I’m not that old, even though these useful domestic appliances have been around since the mid-1700s! I wish with all my heart that I had one of the original farm ones in my possession. My wise, kind and eminently practical mother quite rightly passed them on to the farm workers she left behind when she exchanged farm living for the security of urban living: they needed them far more than I ever have. This one was purchased for me fairly recently by one of my brothers – apparently they are still popular items among migrant workers returning to their homes in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, where electricity is not necessarily an option.

I used to wonder why these irons were called ‘sad’ – did one ever find ‘happy’ irons? I have since discovered that the ‘sad’ comes from the now obsolete sense of the word meaning heavy or solid – which is an apt description for them!



Contrast in size of a cannon wheel and a wagon wheel

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Excerpt from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ringing out from our blue heavens,
From our deep seas  breaking round;
Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound;
From our plains where creaking wagons
Cut their trails into the earth
Calls the spirit of our Country,
Of the land that gave us birth.
At thy call we shall not falter,
Firm and steadfast we shall stand.
At thy will to live or perish,
O South Africa, dear land.

English version of the former South African national anthem.


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


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.