Death of Joan Pearson (1924-2014)

The other day we were heir-hunted, by two firms that specialise in tracing relatives of people who died without leaving a will, and so learned of the death of Joan Pearson, Val’s first cousin once removed. In the 40 years of doing family history we had not been able to find her address, and so contact her directly, and so we only learn something about her after she died.

Joan Pearson was the daughter of Gilbert Pearson, a watchmaker of Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, and part of a fairly large family of Pearsons. Gilbert Pearson married Maud Dixon in 1922, and they had two daughters, Joan and Barbara, neither of whom married or had any children.

As far as we know, Joan and Barbara Pearson worked in the civil service. Joan worked in the Colonial Office and is said to have spent some time in Uganda, where her great-uncle, Charles Pearson, had been a pioneer missionary in the 1880s.

So, having learned of her death, we found this:

PEARSON Joan OBE formerly of 13 Wharf Mill. Died peacefully on 3rd September 2014, aged 89. Sister of the late Barbara. ———- Funeral service at Basingstoke Crematorium on Thursday 16th October at 11.45am. Flowers welcome or donations, if desired, to Alzheimer’s Society (Winchester Branch) c/o Richard Steel & Partners, Alderman House, 12-14 City Road, Winchester, SO23 8SD or via http://www.rsponline.co.uk (Hampshire Chronicle, 9 Oct 2014)

The OBE was presumably for her work in the civil service, and I also have a vague memory that she or her sister Barbara were involved in secret intelligence work during the Second World War.

The nice thing about being contacted by heir-hunters (whose activities have been documented in several TV shows) is that it provides an opportunity for members of different branches of the family to get in touch with each other again. The rather worrying thing is, when someone dies intestate, and apparently in an old age home, whose living relatives have to be told of her death by specialist firms of heir-hunters,  what happens to her stuff. I don’t mean her money — I doubt there will be much of that, since she was presumably living on a civil service pension, much of which would probably be going to her care in an old age home.

But what happens to family photos and papers? Will they just be tossed out by someone who doesn’t care, and doesn’t care whether anyone else cares? Perhaps there are letters and diaries documenting her time in Uganda, or some interesting information about the family history. Maiden aunts and uncles are usually good sources of such things.

The good thing is that it has got members of the scattered Pearson clan communicating with each other again. The sad thing is that one learns more about a relative after they have died than when they were alive.

 

So few are free

So few are freeSo few are free by Lawrence George Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lawrence G. Green‘s books follow a similar pattern, and there is a certain amount of repetition. He tells the same story in more than one book, sometimes with more or less detail.

This one deals with the west coast of southern Africa, from the Cape to the Kunene, with anecdotes of out of the way places, and characters who played a minot role in history. As a journalist he collected notes on all sorts of topics, and every now and then he would work them up to a story with a connecting theme, and in this one the connecting theme is the places on the “Diamond Road” and the Skeleton Coast.

As I’ve already noted about his Thunder on the Blaauwberg not all of his tales are accurate. He is a raconteur, not a historian.

We have several of his books on our shelves, and the story of how this one came to be on our shelves is almost like one of his stories. It has been in our bookshelf ever since I can remember, and has the inscription, “To Frank Hayes, the most genuine of pals, from Tromp van Diggelen.”

Frank Hayes was my father, and Tromp van Diggelen was my godfather, and it is just the kind of book he would give as a gift to a friend, because he loves such stories, and lived them himself. Like Lawrence George Green Tromp van Diggelen loved to go on journeys to out-of-the-way places, drawn by tales of lost cities and buried treasure. In his youth he was a wrestler, and later he was a physical fitness instructor, and my father, originally one of his pupils, became one of his friends.

I’ve been pulling the books off the shelves and rereading them for reasons related to family history. A researcher is trying to find out more about the life of Abraham Morris (1866-1922) the guerrilla fighter against the Germans in Namibia in 1906, and leader of the Bondelswarts Rebellion in 1922, in which he was killed.

Abraham Morris’s mother was Annie Schyer of the Bondelswarts, and the story is that his father was a white trader named Morris. My wife Val’s ancestry is part of the Morris family, who were traders in Namibia, so there is a possibility that Abraham Morris was related to us — but how? There were two James Morrises, cousins, each with a brother William, who could possibly have been his father. So we search books like this looking for tiny clues that could place one or other of the Morrises in the right place at the right time to be Abraham’s father.

This book mentions Abraham Morris only briefly, Thunder in the Blaaurberg gives more detail. But it has plenty of fascinting stories about various places and events.

One of the places of particular interest was the Leliefontein Methodist Mission Station, near Garies in the Northern Cape. It was a place where traders between Namibia and the Cape often called in the 19th century, and many people passed through there.

Other stories that interested me were those of the 1934 floods in Namibia, when the highest rainfall was recorded. It was the highest recorded up till then, and has never been exceeded since. When I lived in Windhoek 40 years ago there were still people around who remembered the floods of 40 years before, and there were signs in improbable places showing the levels that water in the rivers had reached then. Green tells several stories of the floods from people who actually experienced them. He also tells of odd characters and eccentrics, like the one who built a castle in the desert, and those who tried to climb lonely mountains, and, rather more sadly, those who kill baby seals for their fur.

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We got a Wendy house

Today we got a Wendy house.

Thirteen years ago a crook builder by the name of Lukas Neethling undertook to build an extension to our house, and started it, but then scarpered with the money.

Wendy01

So for 13 years we we had a ruin in the back garden. We built a raised garden with some of the salvaged bricks, and decided to put a Wendy house on the concrete slab. It wouldn’t be as big or versatile as what we had envisaged, but might serve as a guest room.

Wendy02Ar 10:00 am, as promised by A & H Wendyhouses, the house arrived on a trailer with six workmen.

Wendy03They unloaded the bits and set to work to erect it.

Wendy04In less than half an hour it was beginning to take shape.

Wendy05They seemed to work pretty fast, and fortunately it didn’t rain, and Eskom wasn’t doing its usual load-shedding, so they were able to use their elctric drills and saws.

Wendy06There was a slight delay when one of the ceiling insulation panels broke and they had to go and fetch another one.

The finished Wendy house

The finished Wendy house

By 4:00 pm it was all done, and we just need to paint it inside, and set it up with some furniture.

We are very pleased with the work of A & H Wendyhouses, and recommend them to anyone who is looking for something similar. They didn’t mind our pestering with questions, and the workmen did a quick and very professional job.

How does my garden grow?

About 9 months ago we started to turn our ruin into a garden.

Now the building has been completed, and we’ve started to plant things in it — tomatoes, parsley, potatoes and lettuce. If the birds and insects let them grow, perhaps we’ll be able to eat some some day.

Garden01When I was taking the photos our dog Squiffylugs came along and posed, so I took some of her too. She has many nicknames, which probably gives her an identity problem. She was Fatty Lumpkin (because she was the fattest and greediest in the litter when she was young), Pidlet, and several others. But Squffylugs because her ears stand up at different angles. She is threequarters Alsatian and one quarter border collie.

Squiffylugs

Squiffylugs

 

 

Retirement: imagination and reality

One of the images I had of being retired was sitting at a cafe in a courtyard on a Greek island, with a grapevine providing shade overhead, having literary discussions with old men wreathed in cigarette smoke and clicking their worry beads.

It was pretty unrealistic. For one thing, I don’t smoke. For another, coffee in cafes is certainly far too expensive for pensioners to drink every day. Et cetera.

But I once came quite close. A young lady called Theodora took us on a walking tour of Tirana, the capital of Albania, and we ended up at a cafe, sitting at a table in the open air, and she said that the man at the next table was the most famous novelist in Albania, Ismail Kadare. So while I didn’t have an elevated literary discussion, I was close enough to passibly inhale the smoke from his cigarette.

Albania is a small country, and so it is quite possible to bump into famous people. While we were walking around, Theodora pointed out the most famous film star in Albania, riding past on his bicycle. I forgot his name, but I remembered Ismail Kadare’s name, and when we got back home, I bought one of his novels to read, though not is best-known one, The General of the Dead Army.

Tony McGregor at the +27 Cafe in Hatfield

Tony McGregor at the +27 Cafe in Hatfield

And then last week we again came close to the vision when we had coffee with Tony McGregor at the +27 Cafe in Hatfield. It didn’t have grapevines as shade, but it was in a courtyard, which used to be the loading bay of the old Hatfield Bakery, and there were olive trees in it, which provided a Mediterranean background of sorts.

It was rather a nice cafe, and in a way reminiscent of the brewery we had visited at Nieu Bethesda a couple of years ago.

We didn’t have elevated literary discussions, but rather discussed education, and the way Bantu Education has messed up the country, so that we still haven’t recovered from its effects. If I wass a literary man like Boswell, I might have recorded our coffee shop conversations in detail, but I didn’t quite manage that.

It was, however, a very pleasant couple of hours, and something I hope we can repeat sometimes.

Slava and Ruby Wedding

On Saturday 8 November we celebrated our Slava and Ruby Wedding at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg. In addition to friends from the church, we were glad to celebrate with family and friends, some of whom we had not seen for a long time.

Entrance procession at Vespers: Fr Athanasius Akunda, Fr Elias Palmos & Deacon Stephen Hayes

Entrance procession at Vespers: Fr Athanasius Akunda, Fr Elias Palmos & Deacon Stephen Hayes (photo by Jethro Hayes)

After the regular Saturday evening Vespers, we had our Slava. Slava is a Serbian custom, which is a family celebration, remembering the day when the first members of that family were baptised, and you can find an explanation of the service here, on a blog post we posted on a previous occasion, so we won’t repeat all that here.

As we explained in our blog post about our wedding 40 years ago, we were actually married on 29 September 1974, which in the Western Church was the feast of St Michael and All Angels. We were received into the Orthodox Church 27 years ago on the 8th November 1987, which was the Orthodox equivalent of the same feast, and so became our Slava. We had the opportunity to choose new saints. names, and our son Jethro (then aged 7) chose Raphael, one of the archangels celebrated on that day. And so, because of the coincidence of the saints, we celebrate our wedding anniversary on the same day.

Nicky (Nektaria) Reynders, Val & Steve Hayes, celebrating name day and Slava at St Nicholas, Brixton

Nicky (Nektaria) Reynders, Val & Steve Hayes, celebrating name day and Slava at St Nicholas, Brixton

This time we had the parish priest, Fr Athanasius, and Fr Elias Palmos, with whom we are working on several mission projects. Also the celebration overlapped with that of St Nektarios of Pentapolis, who died on 8 November 1920, but is commemorated on the 9th because the 8th was the Synaxis of St Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven. So it was also the name-day of another member of the parish, Nektaria (Nicky) Reynders, and so we celebrated that too.

In addition to members of the parish, we were also joined by friends and family, who represented different periods of our life.

The family was representred by Graham Downs and his wife Elmarie (whom we had not met before). As the family tree calculator tells us, Graham Craig DOWNS and Valerie Muriel Katharine GREENE are 3rd cousins 1 time removed.  Their common ancestors are Henry CRIGHTON and Petronella Francina Dorothea FLAMME. An interesting point there is that Graham is actually just a year older than our son Jethro, but is a generation further back. Val is descended from the eldest son of Henry and Petronella Crighton, William John Crighton, while Graham is descended from a younger son, Frederick Crighton, and Frederick’s descendants seem to have had children when they were quite old, so there are fewer generations in between.

Family gathered for our Slava: BacK Elmarie Downs and Jethro Hayes. Front: Graham Downs, Stephen & Valerie Hayes

Family gathered for our Slava: Back Elmarie Downs and Jethro Hayes. Front: Graham Downs, Stephen & Valerie Hayes

There were also some old friends. One was Lionel Murcott, an artist, whom I had known before we were married, and in fact we had not seen each other for more than 40 years, but since he was living in Gauteng, he thought it would be quite easy to come and join us, and we were very glad to see him.

Stephen Hayes and Lionel Murcott.

Stephen Hayes and Lionel Murcott.

Another old friend was Phillip Pare, whom we knew from St Stephen’s Anglican Church in Centurion in the early 1980s. At about the same time that we joined the Orthodox Church, Phillip joined the Roman Catholic Church, but he and his wife and children live in Silverton, which is not far from us, so we’ve kept in touch.

Phillip Pare and Stephen Reynders

Phillip Pare and Stephen Reynders

There were also several friends that we knew from St Thomas’s Church in Sunninghill, including Mira Mihaljevic. It was good to see them again too.

Val Hayes and Ivo (from St Thomas;s Serbian Orthodox Church in Sunninghill.

Val Hayes and Ivo (from St Thomas;s Serbian Orthodox Church in Sunninghill).

Many people gave us gifts, which were somewhat unexpected, and much appreciated. and thanks for all for their kindness and friendship. We can’t mention all of them here, but only one or two.

Anthia Falekkos gives Val Hayes a bunch of flowers on behalf of the parish of St Nicholas

Anthia Falekkos gives Val Hayes a bunch of flowers on behalf of the parish of St Nicholas

And these helped to make it a memorable occasion. Father Athanasius read some special anniversary prayers for us as well.

Stephen and Valerie (Katharine) Hayes, Ruby Wedding

Stephen and Valerie (Katharine) Hayes, Ruby Wedding

It’s quite interesting, looking back, to see how many things have changed, since we were first married. I’m typing this on a laptop computer, but back in 1974 personal computers were known only to serious technonerds, and were very limited in what they could do. Television broadcasting was just beginning to make an appearance in South Africa, and soociologists from other parts of the world were making a study of South African children because they were the last generation in a relatively developed country who had grown up without TV. The Sunday Tribune had a weekly Charity Jackpot, a crossword puzzle competition, where the prize was a car worth about R5000. Most people could not afford a television set (they cost about R1200) and so they changed the prize to a TV set, and the name of the competition to a “Tellypot”. I wonder if they’ve changed it back. The price of petrol had just increased to 8c a litre, which everyone thought was iniquitously high.

Ruby grapefruit for a ruby wedding, from Grahasm and Elmarie Downs

Ruby grapefruit for a ruby wedding, from Grahasm and Elmarie Downs

Cellphones were unknown too. We were just starting our family history, and we corresponded with relatives overseas by snail mail, writing out family group sheets by hand, and occasionaly making photocopies — plain paper copiers were cutting-edge technology as most of them still used special coated paper. Occasionally we would type out family trees on wax stencils and run off copies of a Gestetner or Roneo duplicator. When did you last use an actual typewriter?

Finally, for closing, one of the most interesting presents we received was from Graham and Elmarie Downs: since it was our Ruby Wedding, they gave us “His” and “Hers” ruby grapefruit.

 

 

 

Springtime and catkins

In the corner of our garden is a large thorn tree. A very large thorn tree.

It was big when we moved into this house 30 years ago come December, but it is now much bigger. And for the last three weeks it has been in its spring livery of yellow catkins.

Thorn tree with yellow catkins

Thorn tree with yellow catkins

The catkins are now almost ready to disappear, and the first shoots of green leaves are beginning to appear at the end of the branches. Soon the tree will be dressed in summer green.

The first shoots of green leaves are beginning to appear at the end of the branches

The first shoots of green leaves are beginning to appear at the end of the branches

And this is what it looked like last month, on 21 September.

Catkins on the thorn tree, September 2014

Catkins on the thorn tree, September 2014

In summer it is all green, and sometimes a resting place for butterlies on their migratio9n to Madagascar, or wherever it is they go. The catkins will turn to seedpods, and before we know it, it will be autumn again, and it will be a different shade of yellow, and the brown seedpods dropping all around.

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