Nearly 40 years ago we went on holiday to the Western Cape. Val and I had been married for a year, and we had just started our family history research, so we visited whatever relatives we could find and badgered them with questions about the family history.
My maternal grandmother was Janet Hannan who had married George Growdon, and we visited Growdon relatives in the Eastern Cape and Hannan cousins in the Western Cape. We called to see Alex and Una Hannan in Fish Hoek. Alex was my mother’s first cousin, the son of my mother’s uncle David McFarlane Hannan, who lived in Rhodesia. I had only met Alex once before, about 10 years earlier, when I scarpered to England to avoid a meeting with Detective Sergeant van den Heever of the Security Police, and while I was changing planes at Salisbury airport (now Harare), some of the family came to see me.
This time we found their house in Fish Hoek, and managed to chat for longer, and stayed for tea. Alex’s wife Una was known locally as the Bird Lady — she took in sick and injured birds and nursed them back to health, and they had quite large aviary.
In his youth Alex had been a boxer and represented South Africa in the 1936 Olympic Games. His elder son Clyde has promised to tell us more about that.
While we were having tea there was a huge hail storm, and the whole garden was covered with hailstones about a foot deep, so that it looked almost like snow. Hail seemed to feature quite a lot in visits to Hannan cousins — more of that below.
Their younger son Stanley was also visiting, with his wife Norma and two-year-old daughter Debbie, so we were glad to meet them as well. Stan was thinking of becoming a Baptist minister, and later he did, and I saw him a few times after that in Johannesburg. He and his family later moved to the USA.
We then went up the hill, still in Fish Hoek, to see Chris and Ivy Vlok. Ivy Sharp was the daughter of my mother’s auntie Em, and I knew them somewhat better. I’d first met them when I was about four years old, and they were living in Berea in Johannesburg. My mother and I went up from Durban on the train, and it was my first long-distance train journey, or at least the first one that I could recall. Ivy and Chris had two sons, Arthur and Terence. Arthur was about my age, and Terence was younger, and I don’t think he was born on that first visit. Arthur is now a grandfather, living in Fish Hoek, and we visited him and his wife Jean, and their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren a couple of years ago — picture here.
On that first visit Ivy’s half sister Nellie was also there, and she took me into the centre of Joburg on the tram one day. I can’t remember why, or what we did in town, but I do recall that on the way back there was the father and mother of all hail storms while the tram was climbing up Twist Street. The hailstones jammed the points where the tram had to turn into Kotze Street and the conductor had to get out in the downpour and clear it with a metal lever before the tram could turn. My mother later told me that Nellie was a kleptomaniac, and rather strange and mysterious. She married twice and divorced twice, and had no children, and nobody seems to know what happened to her. Her first marriage was to Edward “Scotty” Davis, and her second was to Ernest Edward Turner, but she was divorced from him when I met her.
Chris Vlok was in the army, and it was war time on that visit. Later we visited them again in Lyttelton, it must have been soon after the war, where they lived in long bungalows in the barracks. I would then have been about 5 or 6 years old, and my memory was that the Sunday newspapers were different, and had different comics. In the Sunday Tribune in Natal we had Brick Bradford, who travelled around in a “time top” that looked a bit like the rubber bulbs that mens’ hairdressers used to squirt talcum powder down the necks of their customers — a kind of predecessor of Dr Who, perhaps. There was also Rusty Riley, who lived on a ranch with lots of horses. But the Transvaal papers had the Katzenjammer Kids and Moon Mullins and Kitty Higgins and Jiggs and Maggie. One of the neighbours in the bungalow was a girl called Bridget, and she had a bicycle, and that was where I first learned to ride a bicycle.
Later the Vloks moved to Roberts Heights, later known as Voortrekkerhoogte, and now as Thaba Tshwane. Chris Vlok was an electronics fundi and taught people in the military about radar and such things. We used to visit them quite a lot there when we lived at Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg. In the 1960s they were transferred to Simonstown, where Chris Vlok did the same with the navy, and when we visited them in 1975 he was semi retired, but still looked after the library of books on electronics.