On Saturday 16th August Val and I drove down to Pietermaritzburg, through Delmas, Standerton, Volksrust and Ladysmith (thus, among other things, avoiding the toll roads). We had breakfast in Delmas and lunch in Ladysmith. The road from Delmas to Leandra (which I still think of as Leslie) has recently been resurfaced, and the road between Leandra and Standerton has ruts and potholes. The poor condition of the roads is a result of privatisation. When the roads were built, they weren’t designed with today’s 26 and 32-wheelers in mind. Most of the heavy goods went by rail, and in fact most of the heavy trucks we saw were carrying containers, which could just as easily go by rail between the main centres, and be distributed from there by trucks. But deregulation has meant that a lot more of the heavy stuff goes by road, so for the first time the sight of a raised middelmannetjie is becoming quite common in tarred roads.
We arrived in Pietermaritzburg in mid-afternoon, and went to see John and Jenny Aitchison. Except that my cousin Jenny Aitchison (nee Growdon) was in the UK, visiting her newest granddaughter. So John was there, and their youngest son James with his wife Eloise. James and Eloise are taking part in a play Cabaret, which got a good review in the local paper, the Natal Witness. We are staying at the Aberfeldy bed and breakfast in Scottsville, which is in a traditional Victorian pink-brick house, with very comfortable cottages in the ground, also built in the Victorian style. We stayed here once before a few years ago and enjoyed it, and now it is under new management of Phyll and Ron Geyser, it is still very comfortable and convenient. The cottage we are staying in thas a bedroom and a sitting room, so when I wake up at 3:00 am, as I often do, I can work in the computer or read without disturbing Val. Unfortunately we discovered that I had left the AC cord for my laptop behind at home when we were packing, so I wasn’t able to do any work on the computer.
On Sunday we went to church in the new St Nicholas Church in Durban North, where I served with Fr Chrysostom and Deacon Raphael Hawkes. Afterwards we visited shopping centres to see if we could get a spare AC power supply for the computer, without finding any. On Monday morning we went to the archives to do some family history research. The archives buildings are being renovated, so the hours have been shortened, and there is also a limit on the number of items one can look at in a day, as the reading room is crowded into a tiny back room, and the records themselves are being moved from place to place ahead of the builders. Every now and then there is the sound of drilling, and the smell of wet cement is all pervasive. It seems we picked the wrong time to do our research. We’ve made no astounding discoveries so far, but have managed to confirm quite a few items of information, and been able to add some names of spouses and children, and dates and places of birth for some family members.
In the evening we went out to dinner with John Aitchison to have more time to chat and catch up on news of family and friends. In addition to being married to my cousin, John is one of my oldest friends, as we werer students together in Pietermaritzburg more than 40 years ago. We’re considering a joint project of analysing South African security police surveillance of opponents of the apartheid regime in the 1960s. We have both got copies of the reports they sent about us to the Department of Justice, which are quite revealing of the mentality of the apparatchiks of the regime at the time. Back then we could only speculate on their motives and their mental processes, but now the evidence is available, so it is perhaps worth recording.
We spent more time in the archives this morning (Tuesday), and then at last managed to get a spare AC cord for the computer, so I was able to write this blog update.