Category Archives: Out & About

It is Time!

It’s time – time to soothe the itchy feet and sate the wanderlust just a bit. On this occasion, though, I’ve rustled up a partner in crime – my Mum! Watch out for her guest interruptions, er, I mean contributions (in red italics), along the way 😉 Our destination? Malta.

But why?
Why? Well, I think it’s really the fault of my maternal grandfather. He was born there, you see, in Valletta. Now doesn’t the very name stir up at least some measure of intrigue? It’s this intrigue, and possibly the fact that I knew so little about Malta, that fuelled the yearning to visit this island country some 80 kilometres off the southern coast of Sicily, in the Mediterranean.

Breaking new ground
The day has arrived and it is indeed time for us to be on our merry way. I “hail” an Uber, or whatever it is one does – a first for me (yes, yes, I know – I’m slow; don’t judge!) – and within a couple of minutes,
Tshepo arrives and we’re on our way to the Gautrain station.

Selfie on the Gautrain.
Selfie on the Gautrain.

Having checked in online, we clear the baggage drop, security and immigration without a fuss and are soon seated in Jacksons, Mum ordering a Savannah Light and myself a cappuccino with a side helping of caramel muffin.

Cappuccino- & muffin-assisted planning.
Cappuccino- & muffin-assisted planning.

I haul out my tablet and log on to Planapple (a free, online trip-planning app), which I used for the first time while planning this trip. We work on fine-tuning our itinerary for the first few days, interrupted only by a lady from a neighbouring table asking what I was drinking which was, by this time, a rock shandy, which she then promptly ordered for herself.

Reflections in Jacksons.
Reflections in Jacksons.

With an hour and a bit to go before departure, we pack up, pay our dues and make our way to Gate A19. We’re flying SWISS – another first for me – and boarding is swift and efficient.

Our Airbus' wing from our seat.
Our Airbus’ wing from our seat.

And we’re off!
We’re soon taxiing across the tarmac. However, after about 5 minutes of this, I lean over to my Mum. “Do you suppose we’re gonna taxi all the way to Zurich?” I ask her, which got us wondering what it would be like to change an aircraft’s tyre!

Hey, gimme the pen. It’s me – Mum! Our Airbus sits poised at the end of the runway, two glistening rows of lights ahead of us converging into the blackness. We shudder down the tarmac, gaining speed, and lift off smoothly above the lights of Jozi. My stomach lies some place below us on South African soil.

Rowena reads my contribution and bursts into hysteria. “What kind of word is that? Is it German?” she asks. She’s referring to “poisedat”. What’s her problem; I only left out a space.

Can you blame me?
Can you blame me?

No sooner do we reach our cruising altitude than the stewards and stewardesses start swarming around the cabin. Appetizers (mini rosemary breadsticks) arrive first, followed by drinks and then supper (potato salad, pasta in a mushroom and cream sauce, a bread roll, cheese, and a chocolate brownie), followed by more drinks.

Thus far, the gentleman seated in front of us has slept continually, hunched monk-like against the window, with his hoodie pulled over his head. Except when he came-to, 15 minutes after dinner and managed to coerce a steward into bringing him a late meal. The steward was clearly unimpressed and responded by saying he would “see what I can find, sir”. I had a graphic vision of him raking through the rubbish…

There’s sufficient turbulence during dinner to prevent the crew from offering hot drinks “because it’s too dangerous”. It’s lights-out shortly after and, both being rather exhausted by this time, we’re only too happy to oblige. Not being full, the flight is one of the quietest I think I have ever been on, even with two infants on board, and we’re soon drifting in and out of that now-familiar fitful state of plane-sleep.

Until tomorrow, auf wiedersehen.

DNA of a Champion Santa and Other Creatures

I wake up with all the eagerness of a kid on Christmas Day. On my bed when I arrived at Granny Oxford’s yesterday was the DNA testing kit I had ordered from AncestryDNA. Today, before I eat or drink anything, I’m going to spit in a tube and send my saliva to Ireland for testing – how exciting is that?!

My long-awaited AncestryDNA kit!

My DNA Testing Backstory
I had been itching to have my DNA tested for ages. AncestryDNA was the logical choice since I have a family tree on Ancestry.com. However, they don’t ship kits to South Africa – surprise, surprise – so I’d parked the idea for a bit.

However, through the fabulous Facebook group, South African Genealogy, I virtually (or digitally – whatever the correct term is) bumped into a “brand new” third cousin. She’s related to me through my Dad’s paternal grandmother, Augustina Welhelmina Becker, born to Julius August Wilhelm Becker, who arrived in South Africa from Germany as a child. Brand-new-third-cousin also happens to have her family tree on Ancestry.com and her great grandmother was Augustina’s sister. You’re still tracking with me, right?!

Anyway, during some e-mail correspondence with brand-new-third-cousin, it transpired that she had her DNA tested and, quite astonishingly, it revealed her ethnicity to be almost 40% Jewish. She believed it to be from one of the German branches in her family tree and so the desire to have my DNA tested was renewed: I figured it could either confirm or eliminate the Becker line as the potential source for third cousin’s ethnicity surprise! Consequently, when my trip to the UK was confirmed and my itinerary was starting to come together, one of the first things I did was order an AncestryDNA kit online.

Now, here I was, carefully depositing just the right amount of saliva into a test tube, sealing it, shaking it to release the stabilising fluid, and popping it into the collection bag and then into the prepaid mailing box provided, all ready for the postman to pick up on his way past.

A Warm WI Welcome
After a lovely, late-ish, leisurely breakfast and a quiet morning with a few cups of coffee thrown in, we slowly begin preparing ourselves for the Sibford WI meeting, which means gathering platefuls of scrumptious eats from the larder and the freshly-finished Christmas stocking, before making our way to the Sibford Village Hall.
Granny Oxford has obviously prepared ahead: during the announcements, apologies and welcomes, I’m warmly introduced as “her adopted granddaughter from South Africa.”

The new Sibford WI banner, beautifully embroidered for the WI centenary by Mollie, one of the local members, is on display, and Mollie explains the symbolism and elements of The Sibfords she so skilfully incorporated into the work.

The new Sibford WI banner.

What Makes a Santa?
Having initiated the process to gain insight into my own DNA just this morning, I’m about to discover the DNA of a Santa. The Sibford WI speaker today is Santa Ron from Luton, who has been Santa-ing for decades – just over five of them, in fact. That’s a fairly substantial career to compress into a short talk but a champion Santa has got to have some serious time management skills, right?

Santa Ron, although not a very good photo, I’m afraid. However, it hopefully gives a feel for the jolliness of the man and a sample of his jolly wardrobe!

He takes us on a flypast of some of his red-suit-donning-work, which started when he dressed up as Santa to deliver gifts to his own son. Since then, he has brought festive cheer to countless youngsters, raised funds for charities, travelled the world and attended a myriad of conventions and functions around the globe. If you’ve ever wondered what Santas do in the summer (Northern Hemisphere summer, that is), they apparently descend on Denmark for the Annual World Santa Claus Congress held in Bakken (the oldest amusement park in the world, established in 1583)!

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of Santa Ron’s career was winning “World’s Best Santa” at the Santa Claus Winter Games in 2004 on his first attempt, and that against veteran Santas! Held in Lapland, qualifying Santas from several countries arrive to battle it out for the coveted title. Aspiring Santas, if you want to know what it takes to become a champion, listen up! You’ll be expected to eat porridge while ensuring your ample white whiskers remain spotless, forge friendships with and harness grumpy reindeer, climb chimneys, gift wrap like a pro, exhibit nerves of steel in hair-raising sledge and reindeer sleigh races, and more, all in the icy temperatures of the Arctic Circle while maintaining a jolly, personable demeanour!

In keeping with the Christmas theme, the meeting wraps up with the judging of the Christmas stocking competition. Predictably (in my humble opinion!), Granny Oxford’s entry takes top honours 🙂 After helping with the cleaning, washing and packing up, we head home to prepare for our next engagement!

I Heard the Bells…
Granny Oxford is quite musical and, although she takes piano lessons, we’re making our way to something a little more unusual this evening: hand bell ringing! Yes, it’s a thing, and quite beautiful (if one knows what one’s doing, I guess!). I don’t, sadly, and don’t even read music, so can’t fill in for the absent bell ringers. Instead, after helping them set up, I simply watch, intrigued, as this group of ladies work together to coax magical, fairy-like melodies from a vast array of brass bells.

The bell ringers in action. Granny Oxford is on the front right (in the jersey with olive green patterns).

As we drive the dark lanes back to Sibford, I mull over what has been a day of eclectic and extraordinary experiences and, once again, marvel at the privilege of being a part of them, even as I look forward to my bucket list plans for tomorrow 😉

Carelessness and Consequence En Route to Granny Oxford

This morning’s schedule is filled with a strict series of carefully coordinated train trips that will carry me from the south coast of England through London Town to the edge of the Cotswolds – Banbury, to be precise. There, my “adopted grandmother” will meet me when my final train for the day pulls into the station at 12:05, but much needs to fall into place first.

I Know Where You Live[d]!
Charlotte Walker, recorded as the informant of great grandmother Kate Isabella Bolton’s birth, lived at 3 Trinity Mews in Hastings so, naturally, I’m going to swing past the place before heading off to the station to catch my first train which leaves just after 08:00.

Trinity Mews is roughly a block and a bit away but I still jog-walk there for fear of being late for the first leg of my northbound journey. The property is marked as private so I don’t go in but snap a few pics from the street.

Oh, for more time (and a peek inside Number 3)! I long to uncover who Charlotte Walker was. All I know is that she was present at Great Grandma Kate’s birth but was she the midwife? A friend of the family? Perhaps there’s a baptism record or a newspaper clipping somewhere that would make the connection for me. Perhaps title deeds to the Trinity Mews residence would answer some questions. I wonder if I’ll ever know. For now, I have to content myself with standing outside the home of one who witnessed my great grandmother’s entrance into this world.

Monday Morning Madness
I motor back to Cambridge Gardens, snapping a spooky selfie on Brassey Steps as I go.

The Speedy, Spooky Selfie Snap on Brassey Steps.

I grab my bags, check out (i.e. leave the key in the door – foreign concept to a South African!) and make my way to Hastings Station. The platform is insanely busy and, I realise, it’s school rush hour. Consequently, the arrival of the train signals a rather tense jostle for position as I join the tide of satchels, briefcases and shopping bags vying for a spot on it. I only have 5 minutes between its arrival at Brighton and my next one’s departure for London Victoria, so can’t afford to miss it. There’s no sitting room left and those of us standing are so tightly packed that it takes a few attempts before the doors manage close successfully.

Thankfully, I make my connection to London Victoria and, with the train having emptied considerably, I peel off my backpack and find a seat. Barely an hour later, I wrestle my luggage onto my back again and hightail it through London Victoria to Victoria Underground Station. The direct route, amid all the construction, involves stairs and so it’s here that I’m particularly grateful to have my luggage on my back. I catch the underground to Oxford Circus and then once more from there to Marylebone.

I walk through to London Marylebone station and collect my ticket for my final train trip of the day from the self-service machine. Phew – what a morning! The platform for the Banbury departure is not yet listed on the boards so I grab a cappuccino while I wait – a fitting reward for a hectic schedule, skilfully executed. Until now.

I look up at the boards and notice that the platform for the 11-something to Banbury has now made an appearance. Shouldering my baggage once more, I make my way through the gates and bundle myself into a quiet carriage. It’s not long before we leave London behind and are cutting our way through the English countryside.

The Consequence of Carelessness
The train makes several stops along the way and, after about forty minutes or so, I almost instinctively become aware that it’s not going to make it to Banbury by 12:00. As I process this thought, I cast my mind back to the booking I’d made. I remember seeing another train scheduled to leave London Marylebone at around the same time as the one I’d chosen but it was scheduled to take almost an hour longer. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” was the thought that had gone through my head when I booked my ticket and now here I was, inadvertently aboard the wrong 11-something to Banbury 🙁

As the realisation dawned, my heart sank. The fact that I had caught the incorrect train and was going to arrive late at my destination didn’t bother me; it was that my adopted grandmother had offered to drive to Banbury to meet me at the station and now I wasn’t going to be there – that bothered me a great deal. Mortified at the thought, I scold myself severely before considering an appropriate course of action.

She doesn’t have a mobile phone (that I know of) but I wonder whether I can get hold of her before she leaves home. My mobile, which has thus far had no problems finding a network, now stubbornly refuses to connect. For the remainder of the trip, I continue trying to call, all to no avail. I fly out of the train as we eventually pull to a stop in Banbury. Swinging myself down the stairs, I frantically search the parking lot – nothing. I retrace my steps to the longer term parking – no sign of that familiar face there, either.

Catching public transport is the next option but I want to make certain she’s arrived home first and isn’t still searching for me. My phone has not yet found itself so it’s time to go old school and use the payphone. For that, I need the correct coins, which I don’t have, so I figure that’s a good enough reason to buy a Ribena in the station shop. Clutching my precious change, I make the call and discover she’s not yet there. After a ten minute wait, I try again and this time she picks up – yay! We chat briefly, I apologise profusely, and then dash out of the station building to hail a cab.

Granny Oxford
We negotiate the traffic out of Banbury and soon Oxfordshire is flying past in a blur of green. My thoughts turn to my adopted grandmother. She was a teacher at my mother’s school, George Watson’s Ladies College in Edinburgh, back when my mother was a student there. They stayed in touch through the years and I met her during a trip to the UK with my mum in the 80s, I think.

We corresponded erratically after that and, years later, in the late 90s, while I was doing Oracle Forms development on a Fleet Management System in Bracknell, she helped me maintain some semblance of sanity during what was a particularly difficult time of long working hours and relentless project deadlines. Often, if I had a weekend off and it was my turn to use the pool car, I would head north on the hour and a half-ish drive to spend a couple of days with her. It was then that she began referring to me as her adopted granddaughter. One of my colleagues at the time dubbed her “Granny Oxford” and, while she lives in Oxfordshire, not Oxford, and isn’t my biological granny, the name stuck.

“Which way?” my driver asks suddenly, pulling me out of my reverie. I look around. I don’t usually come into Sibford this way but soon get my bearings, even though it’s been eight years since my last visit. I direct him the rest of the way and, a few minutes later, I’m hugging Granny Oxford and her sister, who now lives with her.

Home Away from Home
“Dinner’s not quite ready,” I’m told as I walk through the door, so I go upstairs to put my luggage down. Nothing has changed. The familiar guest room feels like home, from the pink paint on the walls to the rose-patterned curtains, to the window overlooking the apple tree in the front garden, to the wooden floor and the white dresser. I breath it all in deeply and exhale slowly before making my way downstairs again.

My bedroom window looking onto the apple tree.

Dinner (or lunch, as I know it) is a delicious stew, and is followed by dessert and an afternoon filled with catch-up chats. One of Granny Oxford’s outstanding characteristics is her incredible industriousness and that hasn’t changed either. She’s constantly baking or making or learning something. Her larder inevitably contains an array of home-baked goods, her hands are always busy and her calendar is usually covered with a generous sprinkling of appointments. She introduced me to needlework when I first met her and, on this particular evening, she’s putting the finishing touches on a Christmas stocking she’s made for the WI (Women’s Institute) meeting we’re apparently attending tomorrow 😉

Exhausted, I eventually fall into bed and drift off into contented slumber, but not before whispering a prayer of thanks for awesome adopted family 🙂

A Sunday Stroll to Church Then into Battle!

Kate Isabella Bolton’s parents, Alfred and Clara, were married in Emmanuel Church, Hastings, in 1877, and so my plan is to head there for a Sunday service and get to sit in the building where my great, great grandparents would have committed themselves to one another, almost 140 years ago.

Portion of “England. Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage. General Register Office; Hastings, Sussex, December Quarter 1877, Volume 2b, Page 51, No 37 for Marriage of Alfred Bolton and Clara Pinny.”

It’s a fair walk but a beautiful morning for it, cool and bright. Seagulls squawk pleadingly overhead but, other than that, it’s still quiet out.

I stop briefly on the way to get some shots of Holy Trinity before heading up Castle Hill Road again. It’s a little more forgiving when one has a bit of time to spare!

Blessings
I reach the church with about half an hour to spare and wander the streets that surround it, appropriately named Vicarage, Priory and Emmanuel. As I do so, strains of 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) filter out of the building as musicians prepare for the service. It’s one of my favs and seems somehow appropriate. Gratitude gets my insides doing a little happy dance!

Just before 10:30, I make my way indoors just as two elderly ladies do the same. They notice I’m not a regular, introduce themselves and bustle me through the doors, introducing me to a number of other congregants along the way.

I file into a pew, trying to look inconspicuous, but a couple sitting behind me are eager to hear my story. We chat easily as I share where I’m from, why I’m here and where I’m heading, and they tell me something of themselves. It transpires that their daughter and her family had recently been holidaying in Orkney and so more threads of this amazing tapestry of connectedness reveal themselves, as the chords of 10,000 Reasons reach my ears for the second time today 🙂

Emmanuel Church, Hastings, Order of Service.

Afterwards, I’m graciously invited to stay to tea but have a train to catch and so say my goodbyes. The lady sitting behind me with her husband says, “We won’t forget this day,” and I swallow the lump in my throat – I walked into this building a total stranger and leave, barely an hour and a half later, blown away by the kindness and warmth of this beautiful community.

Pensive but filled with joy, I head back down the hill, admiring the splashes of colour, mostly pastels, that mark many Hastings houses.

Into Battle!
At the station, I buy a return ticket to Battle (I’m optimistic, you see!) and hop on the train. Battle, as you may have guessed, is a place rather than an event, although it is named after the Battle of Hastings which took place on this site in 1066. It’s also where William the Conqueror had an abbey built in gratitude for his victory over the Saxons and in penance for the blood that was shed. It’s a good 15-minute walk to the battlefield from Battle station and I find that I’ve arrived on a weekend commemorating the battle which took place here on 14 October, 949 years ago.

Consequently, Battle isn’t devoid of danger after all, for the place is teeming with people and almost every child is armed with a sword or axe of wood or plastic which they’re flailing around madly, at a height rather hazardous to adults! I take refuge in what remains of the chapter house and dormitory range.

I then head down to the battlefield, wandering among the Saxon tents, where battle preparations are underway. In keeping with the theme, I decide on a wild boar burger with applesauce for lunch – delish!

Then, sun glistening on their helmets and standards fluttering proudly, the Saxons, led by Harold, draw up battle lines to form their trusty shield wall. It has served them well in recent victories and, as long as it holds, they will stand. Soon, the Normans are deployed onto the battlefield, William the Conqueror leading them.

The battle rages and a skirmish sees William falling. In the confusion which follows, his men drop back, now unsure, faltering. William is alive but needs to prove it to his warriors. He remounts and removes his helmet, so they can see his face, as he rides along their lines.

A flank of the Norman army begins retreating. They’re pursued down the hill by a group of Saxons. William sees his next tactic demonstrated. He orders his army to repeat the retreat and, sure enough, some Saxon soldiers are drawn away, following the Normans apparently retreating down the hill, only to be surrounded and annihilated by them. The shield wall is thinning.

Then, another flurry of Norman arrows trace a graceful arc into Saxon lines. Shields are lifted to deflect them but a cry of horror rises to the skies, too – an arrow has pierced Harold’s eye and he drops to the ground – dead. A band of faithful men surround him, loyal to the last, but they lose their lives and Harold’s standard falls.

The Saxons rally bravely but they are leaderless and the shield wall is disintegrating. The Normans pick it to pieces and William emerges victorious to lay claim to the English throne. This historic field I’m standing in lies soaked in the blood of battle and marks a turning point in the British narrative.

I walk back through the grounds, below the Guesthouse Range and the Abbey, past the dairy and icehouse, to explore the Duchess of Cleveland’s walled garden.

As I head back toward the gatehouse, I pass a tapestry strung up between some trees. It’s not the famous Bayeux tapestry, as one might expect, although there is one panel dedicated to the technique used for that piece. Rather, this one tells the story of a lesser known battle, the Battle of Maldon. The artist informs me that it took him three years and that it’s for sale… for £6 000, if you’re interested and happen to have that lying around!

A badly stitched composite of four photos of the tapestry of the Battle of Maldon. It took forty photos to capture the entire tapestry!
Another badly stitched composite of four photos of the tapestry of the Battle of Maldon. These four frames show the end of the tapestry.

Full Circle
Back in Hastings, it’s already dark as I take another walk along the beachfront, to Queen’s Apartments.

Queen’s Hotel, now Queen’s Apartments, where my great, great grandfather, Alfred Bolton, lived at the time of his marriage to Clara Pinny.

This used to be the Queen’s Hotel and it’s where my great, great grandfather, Alfred Bolton, lived at the time of his marriage to Clara Pinny in Emmanuel Church, where my day started.

I’ve come full circle. I’ve returned to places that were part of the lives of my ancestors, part of me. I’ve had a history lesson. I’ve touched the past. And I have an early start in the morning!

On the Streets Where You Lived (Part 2)

I pre-planned this now-late lunch for Café des Arts, having stumbled across them on the Internet. Perhaps it was their tagline that got me: “Satisfy Your Coffee, Art and Food Passions”. Perhaps it was their social concern. According to the intro in their menu, the “café was opened by Autism Sussex in 2009 as a social enterprise to provide training and work experience for people with Autistic Spectrum Condition. The aim is for trainees to learn transferable skills which will enhance their chances of future employment in the wider community.”

Hastings Orientation
I order a cappuccino and look around. Large, comfy-looking armchairs encircle low tables in the front windows. Stained glass windows and wooden panelling line the back of the café area. Shelves display works by autistic artists. They’re all for sale, another way Café des Arts seeks to support and empower those on the autistic spectrum.

The café is also directly across the road from Holy Trinity, which appears to be the church of the parish in which my great grandmother’s birth was registered. “Where was she baptised?” I wonder idly. Was it in the beautiful though unusually-shaped church I was now looking at? I make a mental note to find out…

Portion from “Benjamin Tree (Registrar), Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth Given at the General Register Office, Registration District Hastings, 1878 Birth in the Sub-district of Saint Mary in the Castle in the County of Sussex, No 343, Kate Isabella Bolton, Application Number 5995428-1, BXCG 312312 (England, General Register Office, 09 Oct 2014).”

Holy Trinity Church, Hastings, was built on a triangular piece of land formed by the intersection of Robertson and Trinity Streets in the 1850s (about the same time Hastings Station came into being). To my uneducated eye, it seems the site may have been ideally suited to the eccentricity of the church’s Victorian architect, one Samuel Sanders Teulon, a great character, by all accounts. Hastings itself had, of course, been around a lot longer, with its first documented mention in 790. Historically a Saxon settlement, market and fishing town, and port, it later became a popular seaside resort, and remains a tourist destination today.

A Brisk March up Castle Hill
By the time I’ve devoured a delicious goat’s cheese, pesto and salad sandwich, it’s just after half past three. If I’m to make it to Hastings Castle at all, it needs to be today and I’ll need to hurry – last admission is at 16:00. I pay my dues and turn right out onto Robertson Street, marching hurriedly in the general direction of the castle. I appear to be on track by the time I reach Castle Hill Road but it shows me no mercy. It’s a steep climb and, within minutes, I’m gasping for breath and it feels as though molten iron is searing through my calf muscles. Just when I think I’ll never make it on time, I round a bend and see a sign for the castle.

I reach the entrance, barely able to speak, at 15:57 – just in time to buy a ticket and stumble into the last audiovisual presentation of the day. Afterwards, I wander round what remains of the castle, though much of it has long since collapsed into the sea or fallen prey to ruin, decay and disrepair. With its majestic vantage point high above the town and overlooking the sea, it’s easy to see why William (the Conqueror) ordered the building of a fortress here, a few days after the Battle of Hastings.

As with any castle worthy of the title, Hastings Castle has a few ghost stories to tell. One belongs to the structure itself: it is said that 18th century sailors out at sea were occasionally able to look back and see the castle whole, in all its former glory. Ghosts said to wander the ruins include that of a nun, a lady in white, and a woman carrying a baby (who is thought to have ended her own life and that of her child following desertion by her lover). The phantom of murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, is also thought to hang out here. Fortunately for my constitution, I saw none of these, although this creature could be seen wandering around:

Yours Truly in the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Middle Street Today
I have no number for the Middle Street location where Great Grandmother Kate was born and, even if I did have, I doubt the building would still be there. Nevertheless, I make my way back down Castle Hill Road and into the “New Town” again. Middle Street is easy to find. It feeds into the shopping district and, today, The Body Shop occupies one corner and a pub the other, at that end. Behind these, the backs of shops are housed in newish-looking buildings. Further up, there’s a university parking lot and then a couple of ramshackle, rundown houses on either side. At the top of the street, graffiti covers a garage door.

If I had more time here, I’d be hitting the museum and archives, finding out more about this street in the late 1870s. For now, I simply get to walk where my ancestors walked, about 137 years ago. I savour the experience and then, as the sun begins to set, I head for the beach and the Old Town.

Walking the Town Flat and Reaping a Reward
It’s a gorgeous evening but the beach is quiet. I meet a seagull who’s very friendly until I try to photograph him. I wander along the pebbles.

Hastings pier and beach (yes, it’s a pebble beach, because that’s mostly how England rolls!)

I pass the miniature golf course and railway, the amusement park, and then the net shops. The information boards tell me, “These Tall Black Wooden Sheds are unique to Hastings.” They were used by fishermen to store their fishing tackle and keep it dry and prevent rot.

I’m now striding down Rock-a-Nore Road in search of Rock A Nore Kitchen, a tiny restaurant earning quite a name for itself, judging from the commentary on the Interwebs. With only about five tables and a reputation which is both glowing and growing, I suspect they may be fully booked this evening. They are.

Not to be easily outdone, I have another evening meal option up my sleeve. I am in England, after all, and on the coast. Fish and chips is pretty much mandatory, and I’ve done a bit of homework: Life Boat Restaurant is the place to go. It’s back a little, in the hustle and bustle of the Old Town, which I’m already wishing I had more time to explore.

While waiting for my order, I notice confirmation of popular Internet opinion taped to the counter in the form of an article from the Hastings Independent Press. It shows Life Boat Restaurant voted the top fish and chip restaurant in Hastings, by the locals, in February this year.

Who’s the Best?

It’s almost 20:00 now and I’ve put in a pretty decent power-walking effort today. I feel I’ve earned my meal but nothing could have prepared me for the size of it.

I’m not sure that there’s any truth to the tagline on the packaging, but I’d like to think so!

They offer a medium and a large cod. I chose the medium and shudder to think what the large would have looked like. The pics do not do it any justice at all but I feel it would have fed at least two and a half people!

Medium cod and chips (allegedly!)

Exhausted, but sated and grateful, I eventually fall asleep in the town where my great grandmother would have done the same, as a baby, over a hundred years ago.

On the Streets Where You Lived (Part 1)

Of course, sleep never seems to last long on a plane before one gets hyper-uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot of squirming and a little bit of shut-eye playing on repeat until breakfast is served some two hours before landing.

It’s a continental breakfast, quite fitting since we’re now flying over France. I’m tracking our progress on the moving map, you know – just to make sure the pilot’s on course and holding altitude and all that! I start lifting the shutter and sneaking peaks out of my window, matching the lights below with our current location. It’s not long before I identify the lights of Paris, beautiful even in the darkness from 40 000 feet. We begin our descent.

Clearing Immigration and Making Connections
I’m a little concerned I may not have left enough time to catch my bus from Heathrow into London so, on disembarkation, I power-walk through Terminal 2 (the Queen’s Terminal, I’ll have you know!). It’s a long walk but welcome after 11 hours airborne, strapped to a seat.

I’m astonished to find that, for UK and EU passport holders, there’s barely an immigration official in sight but, instead, a row of self-service booths. Trying to look inconspicuous, I shuffle slowly towards a free booth, buying time to carefully take in all the instructions: step onto the yellow footprints on the floor, remove your glasses, put down your bags, place the photo page of your passport on the scanner, look at the camera, remove your passport…

The gates swing open! I make a mental note to thank my amazing mother for her wisdom and presence of mind in obtaining British citizenship for me all those years ago. Not only does it make entry into the UK a breeze, without any queues, but it also made leaving South Africa smoother – no questions about visas and how long I’d be staying and where I’d be staying and what other places I’d be visiting – what a pleasure!

Having collected my luggage (which, thankfully, arrived – something I never take for granted), I make my way to the Central Bus Station. I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror of a lift. With almost 22kgs on my back and a day pack of 7½kgs clipped onto my front, a thought occurs, “I hope my Eiger-climbing uncle doesn’t disown me when he sees this lot!” I’m quite sure he’s perfected the art of travelling light. I console myself with the fact that I carry gifts as well as electronic equipment, including a mobile scanner and a netbook, none of which a climber would require!

I make it to the bus station with enough time to grab a much-needed cappuccino and a strawberries and cream muffin before boarding the National Express bus bound for London.

Connections of Another Kind
It’s a fine, crisp day here and bright enough for sunglasses. Out on the M4, trees cloaked in gold, studded with jewel-like flecks of red, are a reminder that it is indeed autumn here, though.

We stop at a traffic light and, out of the window on my right, I see a gorgeous old entrance covered in window boxes and baskets brimming with flowers. It’s a beautiful, postcard-British pub. I reach for my camera and then notice the building’s name: The Bolton. I scramble to get my camera out of its pouch as my neighbour, sitting next to the window, sees the scene and tries to snap it with his cell phone. We both miss it.

“Are you a Bolton, then?” he asks. “No, but some of my Dad’s family were,” I respond, “What about you?” “No, but the friend I’m meeting up with in a bit is.” We start chatting after that and I discover he’s from Swindon, coming into London for a surprise birthday get-together at The Shard and then ICEBAR LONDON with some of his college mates, whom he hasn’t seen in years. I also discover he spent his honeymoon in South Africa. He, in turn, discovers a bit of my journey and the reason for it and, when I mention Orkney, shows me his wedding band made there. It certainly looks Orcadian: silver, with Norse-like runes engraved around it. “It’s supposed to read, ‘Hope, Love and Happiness’,” he says, and then, after a brief pause, “Aren’t these random connections just great? They make the world seem smaller, don’t they?” We talk about family and family history and he resolves to dig into his father’s family tree. “I’ve often thought I should look into it,” he muses and, with that, the bus pulls into London Victoria Coach Station and we go our separate ways.

Hastings-Bound
While it is perhaps better known as the site of that (in)famous battle way back in 1066, Hastings is also the birthplace of one of my paternal great grandmothers, Kate Isabella Bolton.

Great Grandmother Kate Isabella Bolton

Her parents were married there, too, and it’s where I’m headed first. A brisk march has me collecting my ticket in London Victoria Station and on the platform within a few minutes. I tuck into my magical strawberries and cream muffin while waiting for the train to depart and soon we’re out of the suburbs and cutting our way through quintessentially English countryside: pastures dotted with sheep and lined with post and rail fences or neat hedges or stone walls, steeplechase courses, and crops spread out like intricately stitched quilts.

Around lunchtime, I find myself at Hastings Station. Another short walk delivers me to Apollo Guest House. After a shower and a little reorganisation of my day pack for strolling the streets, I’m out the door again, meandering down the road in search of Robertson Street…

And So It Begins…

…the journey my heart has longed for. Yes, yes, my heart does indeed long for many, but this one involves precious family I haven’t seen in years and family I’ve never met. It was, I think, born from a single photograph I ordered from The War Graves Photographic Project website a couple of years ago, a headstone in a tiny cemetery on Skye, erected to the memory of my great grandfather who died of wounds sustained in Palestine in the First World War, his brother who was lost in France during that same conflict, another of their siblings and their parents, John and Marion Macdonald.

Looking at that photograph, my heart was hooked (not that it needed much encouragement). “I want to go back again. I want to be there. I want to walk where they walked. I want to live and cherish their memory.” The journey then grew through connection with my uncle (my mother’s brother) and their cousin (in law), both of whom hold family documents and photographs they want organised somehow. This dovetailed perfectly with my genealogy, um, addiction, which then yielded more and more crumbs along the family history trail. These I added to a bucket list which formed the basis of my itinerary for this trip. It’s amazing, though, how quickly four weeks can fill up, especially when one’s trying to get from the coast in the south of England to the west coast of Scotland to islands in the north and then Edinburgh on the east coast! Some items have had to stay on the bucket list for now but that simply means there’s scope and reason for another trip 😉

Pride Goes Before a Fall
I managed to get home from work almost on schedule. I successfully disconnected my car’s battery and then managed, after a couple of attempts, to manually lock the driver’s door. I checked it again before squeezing the last few items into my now rather bulky travel pack. I e-mailed off details required for my car hire in Skye. I showered and got ready. I washed the dishes lying in the sink. I unplugged all appliances and switched off the geyser. I locked and checked the doors and windows. I was sorted. Yay me! The buzzer rang – my lift had arrived.

I wrangled my travel pack onto my back, grabbed my hand luggage, took a last look around, locked up and made my way downstairs. Paranoia made me check my car doors. Front door… locked. Back door… swung open! I was horrified. I tried a few options. None worked. Now dripping with sweat, I concluded I would have to reconnect the battery and try figure out how to get the back doors locked. I worried about how long it would take to figure out, particularly with my fear of fiddling with car batteries (which comes from reading the manual – it’s a bit like reading the package insert for medication). I knew I would get dirty again and didn’t have time to clean up. I was holding my lift up. I worried about being late for check in. I decided to leave it. It was inside my complex. And if someone wants to get in, they’re going to get in whether the doors are locked or not, right?

A Little African Adventure for the Road
I’ve always had slight concerns around the safety of tuk tuks in the aggression and speed of Jozi traffic and the questionable roadworthiness of many of the vehicles on our roads but, I figured, what better time to try it than at the start of my holiday? My very courteous driver hopped out of his seat to help load my luggage and very graciously took a photo of me in the tuk tuk:

In the tuk tuk and ready to roll

At the Gautrain station, he once again leapt out to carry my luggage across the road (closed to traffic for EcoMobility month) and help get it on my back. So there you have it: no mess, no fuss, super-fun and I lived to tell the tale 🙂

Sandton from the tuk tuk passenger seat

A fellow passenger on the Gautrain, perhaps prompted by the Springbok shirt I was wearing, asked whether I knew what the Rugby World Cup result was of the South Africa-USA game. “Oh my,” he said when I told him of the whitewash. Turns out he’s a Columbian, studying at Wits, and also on his way to the airport, flying out to a friend’s wedding in Georgia (the country). I love these serendipitous little encounters, learning about others and their life journeys.

The Departure Lounge
Safely checked-in, and through security and passport control, I ordered a serious cappuccino to calm my nerves while I poured out my car door woes to my mother over the phone. Without missing a beat, she said she and my father would drive down and sort it out, “so you don’t have to worry about it.” It’s no trivial matter, either, since it’s at least a two-hour drive for them, one way. Well, that was me finished! How come I have such awesome parents? I said a teary goodbye with a prayer of gratitude for the great grace and blessing that are mine in my father and mother.

Just sitting in the departure lounge reminded me how much I love this, the immense privilege of travel. People rushed to and fro while others seemed bored, waiting for their flight to depart. Out of Africa had their Christmas displays up, a riot of colour and beadwork, while the strains of a live marimba band filled the walkways with lively African beats.

Out of Africa’s Christmas Display

Destinations echoed out over the PA system, fuelling the wanderlust that rages within. “This is a first boarding call for Turkish Airlines flight XYZ to Istanbul.” Istanbul! A myriad of magical memories flooded back. “We have unfinished business,” I thought. “One day, I want to walk your streets again…” Two girls, possibly in their twenties, sat down next to me, glued to their phones. A second boarding call for that Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul wafted over to us a few minutes later. One of the girls, without removing her eyes or fingers from her phone, said to the other, “Wanna go to Istanbul?” “Nah,” said the second, and both carried on their interactions in their virtual worlds, as if nothing had happened, as if they hadn’t just closed the door on an incredible city. I tried to recover from the shock by meandering over to the boarding gate for my flight!

So long, South Africa; Hello, Holiday and History!
It wasn’t long before we boarded and were airborne. The exhilaration of take-off is one of those sensations I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. It’s obviously physically powerful but it also holds a sense of expectation, of something new or different, of change. The glitter of city lights spilled out below us on the velvety-black canvas of night, as I contemplated what the next four weeks may hold for me…

Dinner was a peppery, though quite yummy, dish of grilled chicken strips, accompanied by bowtie pasta, roasted butternut sticks and creamy mushroom sauce. It was served with a salad, a pretzel-like roll, crackers and salmon cream cheese, passionfruit orange cake and a chocolate.

Full, satisfied and finally able to relax after a number of late nights of preparation, I was asleep within minutes, as Africa floated by below us.

Istanbul – My First Time Visitor’s To Do List

The office. Wednesday afternoon. 16:34. The winter sun is sinking low. My phone muttered something about a new message. I reached lazily for it, most of my attention still on my monitor. “Hi Rowena – we’re going to be in Istanbul for 2 days… Wanted to know what you might recommend as MUST see.” Instantly, I was leaving Johannesburg on a night flight bound for Turkey. The memories of that evening, almost four years ago, and the anticipation of a bucket list item (mostly C.S. Lewis’ fault, but that’s another story!) about to be fulfilled, came flooding back.

That holiday was pre-ongracerow.com days, but despite the lack of written evidence at the time, I will still wax lyrical about its awesomeness, given the opportunity! On the back of that Wednesday afternoon message, I thought it a fitting time to float what, from my very limited experience back in 2010, would be my top 10 to dos for first time visitors to Istanbul who perhaps only have a day or two to spend there.

I should warn you that I’m an incurable romantic with wanderlust, so it may be prudent to take any gushing recommendations I may make with a pinch of salt! I have, however, attempted to provide my reasons for suggesting each of the things on my list: if they resonate with you, do the thing; if they don’t, drop it.

So, here they are, in descending order:

1. Cruise the Bosphorus
Do. It. No excuses. No regrets. Really. If you have time for nothing else, carve out the three-ish hours for this. Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus which connects the Sea of Marmara (Afrikaans readers may well correctly guess the meaning of the name: “Sea of Marble”) with the Black Sea and forms the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

Mosques & Minarets from the Bosphorus

Why? Personally, I don’t think there’s a better way to soak up as much of this incredible city in the same amount of time. From the water, you’ll get to see towers, bridges, a multitude of different mosques with their minarets punctuating the skyline, museums, universities, neighbourhoods of the rich and poor, palaces, homes, fortresses, apartments and people. You’ll catch glimpses of present, everyday life in this place steeped in ancient history. You’ll have the extraordinary ability to observe both the European and Asian sides of the city at the same time. You’ll enjoy the experience of being on a waterway of huge historic and strategic significance, [hopefully] with the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair! And you’ll be provided with LOADS of awesome photo opps, too 🙂

2. Eat and drink like a local
Ditch the cereal and dive into bread, cheeses, olives and cucumber for breakfast. Enjoy a little cup (or few!) of A-MAZING Turkish coffee. Buy simit (a sesame-covered ring of bread) from a street vendor. Drink a steaming glass of sweet çay (Turkish tea). Savour real lokum (Turkish Delight). You don’t like Turkish Delight? I think you should see someone about that. Seriously, make the appointment – I’ll give you a moment… Treat yourself to a cone of enthralling dondurma (Turkish ice cream) from one of the equally enthralling ice cream sellers. Try ayran (a yogurt drink with salt added). Dine on a doner kebab. Raise a toast to Turkey with ice cold rakı a.k.a. “lion’s milk” (a cloudy-coloured, alcoholic drink flavoured with aniseed).
Why? To me, part of the allure of travel is the opportunity to immerse oneself in a different culture, a different lifestyle. Granted, this is challenging when you have only a couple of hours or days to spare, but sampling the local food and drink is perhaps one of the easiest ways to do so because it can be combined with other activities and can often be experienced on the go. An added benefit is the interaction with the local vendors themselves.

3. [Window] shop the Grand Bazaar
This covered market is anything but subtle: expect huge, crowded, colourful and loud. If it’s not really your thing, at least go to see it and then move on, or just use it as an opportunity to grab some lunch. If you are totally into retail therapy, be prepared to kiss a couple of hours or more goodbye! There is definitely loads of touristy stuff to navigate, and it won’t be as reasonable as other places in Turkey, but it probably has the widest selection and is particularly useful if you need to grab a couple of mementos or stock up on lokum and halva before heading home. Leather goods, carpets and jewellery abound but be sure to check their authenticity. Expect to barter for the best deals. Entering into a negotiation for a carpet or leather item may even earn you a complimentary glass of apple çay!
Why? I realise that shopping isn’t everyone’s cup of (Turkish) coffee, but recommend a visit to the Grand Bazaar simply for its ability to assault the senses and its history, which dates back to the mid-1400s. So why does it make the number three position on my list? Because of its experiential value and the exposure it provides to the people, a culture and a way of doing business. As already alluded to, it may also simply be a way of sampling some local fare while absorbing a little more of the sights and sounds of the city.

4. Take a guided tour of Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe was home to a number of sultans and (after the fall of the Ottoman Empire) the occasional residence of Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey.
Why? With its rich, lavish, intricate décor, Dolmabahçe is, to me, quintessentially Turkish in many respects. It provides fascinating insights into Ottoman life (of the sultans, at least) and is, I believe, well worth the visit. The tour through the palace was professional and informative, with loads of interesting morsels thrown in. An added bonus: you get to wear shower caps on your feet – pink ones 😉

5. See the city at night
Consider going out on the town in the evening – the city is super-stunning and has an awesome atmosphere at night. Think about dining at a restaurant on Ortakoy, Istanbul’s vibey, trendy, artisty district on the banks of the Bosphorus, or wandering Sultanahmet…
Why? Nighttime transforms a city and reveals facets one doesn’t always notice during the day. Gain a different perspective. Get to know Istanbul in her evening dress. Walk her streets. People watch. Eat. Besides, who can resist the twinkle of lights under a canopy of velvety darkness?

6. Get your awe on at the Hagia Sophia
Commissioned by Justinian way back in the middle of the first millennia A.D. this architectural marvel was initially a church and later a mosque. Today she’s a museum pregnant with history. She still carries within her frescoes of remarkable beauty. Her walls whisper stories collected over the centuries. It’s worth either doing research beforehand or enlisting someone who can explain her history and buildings. Then stay a while. Pray a while. Let the Divine Wisdom to whom the building was originally dedicated speak to your spirit.
Why? The Hagia Sophia is a superb example of Byzantine architecture. She oozes history (I know I go on about this; to be truthful, I loathed history at school, but am mesmerised by it now!). Some extraordinary artwork adorns her walls and deserves to be seen. She lends herself to reflection and story.

7. Spot the differences at Topkapı Palace
Topkapı Palace provides a fascinating contrast to Dolmabahçe. It preceded Dolmabahçe as residence of the sultans and the differences in architecture and décor are immediately apparent. With a treasury, libraries, an arsenal, a mint, a bakery, a hospital, stables and places of worship, Topkapı is more a complex than simply a palace. Also, unlike Dolmabahçe, you’re free to meander through several of the rooms, some of them now filled with various relics.
Why? Topkapı adds another dimension to the portrait of the sultans and their way of life. The relics, too, add colour to old tales of mystery and somehow manage to transport you back in time. The complex incorporates beautifully kept gardens and I found a little tranquil space within the walls of the Enderûn Library. Sort of “surrounded” on three sides by the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea respectively, Topkapı also offers some gorgeous views over the water.

8. Experience the blues at Sultan Ahmet Mosque
The majestic Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque derives its tourist name from the myriad of predominantly blue tiles that cover much of its interior.
Why? From an architectural perspective, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is a building of great beauty. Inside, it is breathtaking and the detail on the Iznik tiles is astounding. As with so many buildings in Istanbul, history abounds, both of the mosque itself and the young Sultan Ahmet I who initiated its construction.

9. Go underground in the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern was developed in the Byzantine era to provide the city with water, particularly when it was under siege. It includes 336 columns, which, along with their capitals were apparently salvaged from temples. Perhaps most significantly, the bases for 2 of the columns feature Medusa heads unceremoniously planted in the water, one upside down and the other sideways!

Basilica Cistern

Why? The cistern is thought to have been built round 540 A.D. For its time, it’s an astounding feat of engineering and architecture and, with its impressive columns and vaulted, arched roof, all atmospherically lit, one could be forgiven for thinking it more fitting as a medieval banqueting hall (minus the water, of course!). There is, in fact, a café down there now which must surely be one of the more peculiar settings for a cuppa! Water level marks on the walls still bear witness to the massive amount of water once held here. A two-for-one bargain: you get to see fishies!

10. Rebuild the hippodrome
If memory serves me correctly, if you’re standing with your back to the Hagia Sophia, facing the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, just to the right of the mosque is the old hippodrome. Consider grabbing yourself some dondurma from a nearby vendor and then wandering around it. There’s not much left there now, except for the obelisks, Serpentine Column and Constantine Column, and the considerably younger German Fountain, but picture it in its heyday, able to hold 100,000 people trying to make themselves heard above the pounding hooves of chariot races and the cries of rival factions…

Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome

Why? It’s in Sultanahmet with the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque and the Basilica Cistern, and doesn’t cost a thing, so why not pay it some attention? I know it’s perhaps not visually impressive any longer but the history of the hippodrome, as well as that of the various columns which remain, is almost the stuff of legend. For some reason, if it were reconstructed in a movie, we’d likely be fascinated by it. But this is real. It was here. And you’re standing in it. Not many have that privilege. So rebuild it yourself. Revisit it. And treasure the moment.

I have purposefully omitted detailed descriptions from this list. Discovering them for yourself is part of the joy of the journey, and not the intention of this particular piece.

I am well aware that we all experience things differently and so would love to hear your views. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What would your list include?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Hunting Postboxes, Graves and Glencoe

Coffee and rusks again heralded the start to the morning. After showering and packing, we enjoyed a quick breakfast of fruit and yoghurt before dropping our keys in the Henri House postbox and heading for another – the oldest in South Africa…

On the corner of Worcester and Somerset
We found it on the corner of Worcester and Somerset Streets, where it has valiantly stood since about 1860. Here we mailed the postcards we wrote yesterday evening, some of which were to ourselves (this idea came from some clever person on the Interwebs who sends postcards to themselves from the places that they visit – a wonderful way to document one’s travels)! Some websites claim that mail posted here gets a special frank but we can confirm that this is sadly no longer the case – our postcards were, in fact, franked in Port Elizabeth. We took a last look around: the beautiful building alongside us and St Andrew’s College Memorial Chapel diagonally across from us rose proudly against a now grey and increasingly gloomy sky as we piled back into the Pajero bound for King William’s Town and the next leg of our Eastern Cape adventure…

Next stop KWT
It was a pleasant journey, winding through the Great Fish River Pass, roadworks and rolling hills, and away from the bad weather that appeared to be pulling into Grahamstown! We made good time to KWT and stopped at the Buffalo River 1 Stop just outside the town for a comfort break and a brief discussion about what to do next, since it was still too early to check in to our new “home”. Fortunately, my fabulous father (who doesn’t do procrastination!) decided we should try to find Macleantown, some 50 kilometres east-ish of King. Why? Well, that’s a bit of a story!

Basically, a particularly fruitful Google search late last year resulted in a true treasure of a find: “Stamboom van Pieter Becker: Bekker Families van SA” by Johan Pottas and Annatjie Tiran – a family register available for download from the website of The Genealogical Society of South Africa. It contains what is to date the only documented mention I’ve come across of what I think may be my great-grandmother Nelson. The reference is to an Auguste Wilhelmine BECKER who married a George NELSON and it seems highly unlikely that there would be many Augustina Wilhelmina Beckers (or variants thereof) marrying George Nelsons around the “right” time. However, it is certainly not sufficient evidence to conclude that the reference is indeed to my great-grandparents so further research is definitely required.

My one-day visit to the Western Cape Archives at the beginning of the year yielded the death notice cited in “Stamboom van Pieter Becker: Bekker Families van SA” for Julius August Wilhelm Becker and, as one of his ten children, it indeed listed an Auguste Wilhelmine as being married to a George Nelson. If my great-great-grandfather Becker was indeed Julius, that would also explain where my grandfather, Arthur Archibald Julius Nelson, got one of his names from! Still, this is not enough. What I really need is a death notice for Auguste Wilhelmine/Augustina Wilhelmina which ought to list her parents, her spouse and her children. That would (hopefully!) link my grandfather with my great-grandparents and confirm my Becker great-great-grandparents…

But what does all this have to do with Macleantown? This: that I had stumbled across some civil death records for Becker family members that happened to be listed as siblings to Auguste Wilhelmine on the death notice for Julius August Wilhelm Becker, i.e. possible great-grandaunts and -uncles. These documents listed the intended place of burial as Macleantown. Photos of gravestones in the Macleantown cemetery on the eGGSA website confirmed that there were suspected Becker relatives buried there and so (with no small amount of trepidation after our Aliwal North cemetery experience) we decided to visit the graves for ourselves.

Grave-hunting
And so we drove through King and then through Bisho, eventually heading south-east-ish on the N6. It was a pleasant drive through a pleasant, largely unpopulated landscape on what had turned into a rather warm day, despite the clouds still trying to maintain some sort of a presence. We passed a turning signposted “Smiling Valley”, which did make me smile, sounding as though it could have come out of a children’s book! Shortly thereafter and rather abruptly, we came upon Macleantown and I issued the instruction, “Turn left! Turn left!” thinking that access to the cemetery must surely be from within the “town” itself. Almost immediately, we were faced with an intersection of dirt roads and Madame GPS bleating that I’d made the incorrect decision and we needed to turn around. We obeyed and then turned left back onto the N6. Barely had we done so when she informed us we needed to turn left again. We slowed down. Seriously? A tall, thick hedge lined the N6 on that side. Ah, there: a gap in said hedge! We turned into it and found ourselves looking at a rusty farm gate, beyond which a couple of Nguni cows looked up from their serious business of grazing to eye us lazily. Then we saw it: just beyond them, surrounded by another fence and another gate, was the cemetery!

I opened the gate and the Pajero splashed through a large puddle of muddy water on the other side, pulling to a stop in front of the second gate separating the grazing from the graves. It was a small cemetery, but the wild grass was neatly cut and wild flowers nodded in the gentle breeze. We spilled through the second gate and almost immediately found a Becker grave. However, lichen growth had rendered it virtually illegible. It was then that I discovered another of my enterprising mother’s skills: grave-cleaning! With a bottle of water we had in the car and a roll of paper towel, it wasn’t long before we were able to read it: E.M.A Becker. I didn’t recognise the initials and so we continued our search.

There were several Becker graves, but it was on the side of the cemetery closest to the road, against that hedge, that those we were looking for had been laid to rest: Julius Becker (second great-grandfather?), Mary Becker (neé Meyer, second great-grandmother?), Christian Meyer (third great-grandfather?), Emelia Wolseley (neé Becker, great-grandaunt?), Herman Becker (great-granduncle?), Franz Becker(second great-granduncle?) and Elizabeth Taylor (neé Becker, greatgrandaunt?). Given its similar style, it is also possible that the grave alongside Christian Meyer’s is that of Friederika Meyer/Meier (third great-grandmother?), but the headstone had been weathered smooth, making identification pretty much impossible. The “question marking” is, of course, because they are all still “suspected” relatives until I can unearth the evidence required to either confirm or deny their relationship to our family.

We spent almost two hours there, photographing Becker- and Meyer/Meier-related graves, transcribing some of those which had become difficult to read and getting quite sunburnt, before heading back towards King William’s Town.

A Discovery Lunch Sandwich
Our beeline for what was by now a very late lunch was briefly swung off course as we “discovered” a quaint and quirky corrugated iron church just off the R63 begging to be photographed!

Richard Birt Congregational Church

It was around half an hour later when we pulled back into the Buffalo River 1 Stop and were seated in the Wimpy. After lunch and a much-needed, mandatory mega coffee, we set off into King again. One of the more sentimental items on my wish list for this holiday had been to attend a service in the churches that my Nelson grandparents had been baptised in, and Grandad Arthur was baptised in the Church of the Holy Trinity, King William’s Town. It was also the church he was confirmed in several years later. We decided to hunt it down, check out service times and assess the parking situation. It didn’t take long to find: a left turn into Alexandra Road and there, a few blocks further, its neo-Gothic, bluestone form rose up ahead of us, surrounded by trees.

We circled it, noting down the details, before asking Madame GPS to take us to the intersection of Queens Road and Raglan Street and Glencoe Guest House which would be our base for the next few days. She refused though, categorically stating that she knew nothing of this Raglan Street, and an argument ensued. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to budge, I switched her off and reverted to the trusty paper copy of the map I’d printed before leaving home – take that, Maggie!

Glencoe and a gentle evening
We found Glencoe shortly thereafter and met our super-gracious hostess, Giselle, who showed us to our garden rooms and very generously agreed to serve us breakfast earlier than her standard Sunday breakfast time so that we could make it to the 08:00 service at Holy Trinity. Incidentally, the story of Giselle and her husband Bertus, as well as that of the guest house, is a beautiful one – check it out by clicking the “About Us” link on their website.

Having unpacked, showered and freshened up a bit, we migrated onto the little wooden deck outside our rooms as the sun started to drop lazily toward the Amatola Mountains in the distance. We reviewed the copies of the death notices and other documents I’d ordered from the Western Cape Archives while there in January and then looked up the location of the King William’s Town main cemetery and the library. We then perused our photos of the day and enjoyed some pleasant reminiscing and reflection of our finds, while nibbling on crackers and rosa tomatoes – a light snack for dinner after our exceedingly late lunch!

And, finally, another hunt yields fruit!
Later, once the parents had retired to bed, I continued paging through image after image of civil death records, looking for Grandaunt Linda. Quite suddenly, I stopped and just stared at my laptop screen, for a few moments forgetting to breath. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It took a couple of
minutes of reviewing the document to register, but there it was: the civil death record for Linda Wilhelmina Nelson, aged nine, signed by my great- grandfather, George Albert Nelson. It also recorded their place of residence at the time: 76 Cambridge Road, King William’s Town! I did a quick calculation – it had taken the examination of 4,346 images to find this record of my young grandaunt’s death and, interestingly, it likely disproves the oral tradition about the cause of her death, but that’s a story for another time…

Deep in thought, I shut down my laptop and curled up in bed after another blessed day filled with discoveries of family past and precious times spent with family present.

Sanctity, Sights and Searches

The day started much the same as yesterday: coffee and rusks at 07:00, followed by a shower and a light breakfast before heading back to the Cory Library. However, this we only did at about 09:10, having deduced that it may provide us with the best chance of nabbing a parking. After two circuits of the tiny parking lot, we succeeded in claiming a spot directly opposite the entrance.

The Cory Library (don’t miss the succulents growing on the roof!)

“The Odour of Sanctity”
Today’s searches were centred on burial and confirmation records. We came up empty-handed from the burial records, although some entries provided fascinating insights into individuals who had passed on. Generally, the information recorded seems to be very basic, limited to the person’s name and age along with the date and place of burial. However, a rector of St Paul’s in Aliwal North during the early 1950s seemed to make a habit of recording something of the character of the deceased. He penned some beautiful, moving and vivid tributes, such as this one for a Jessie Allardice Morton: “A good and very devout soul, who died in the odour of sanctity…”

Perhaps there is a sense in which confirmation (in those denominations which practise it) represents the personal decision of an individual to cultivate that fragrance through faith in Christ. It was, therefore, a great joy to discover confirmation entries for each of the Nelson grand siblings in the records for the parish of King William’s Town!

Part-time Tourists
We wrapped up our research at the Cory shortly afterwards – a good deal earlier than yesterday. However, instead of heading straight back to Henri House, we ventured on up Lucas Avenue to the 1820 Settlers National Monument and meandered around the monuments outside, some of which are beautiful pieces of art. We were intrigued, too, by the circle of astronomical stones. The entrance to them was marked by two large standing stones, each with a plaque fixed to them. Fittingly, the opening verses from Psalm 19 were engraved on the right-hand plaque, while the left-hand one described what the stones mark: in addition to the points of the compass, they also indicate sunrise and sunset at the spring and autumn equinoxes, sunset at the summer and winter solstices, the appearance of the Pleiades at dawn in June as well as the appearance of Canopus in mid-May before dawn.

For a while, we just stood looking over Grahamstown spread out below us before returning to the car and heading back down the hill to hunt for Peppergrove Mall, an optometrist, postcards and stamps.

Grahamstown Panorama

Madame GPS guided us effortlessly to Peppergrove Mall although, with our “mall” conditioning of the vast, dazzling, multi-storey kind, we weren’t complete convinced at first. But, sure enough, there was a Pick n Pay tucked away in one of the single-storey face brick shops around the square parking lot. We managed to stock up on supplies for lunches and dinners and then found an optometrist just across the road who ended up being able to fix my Dad’s glasses.

Postcards proved to be surprisingly difficult to find, but we eventually tracked down a few of questionable quality in Postnet on the High Street. The next stop was the post office to buy stamps. Now you must understand that it has been ages since I last bought stamps, so this was a rather novel experience – an indication of the changes wrought in my own life by the digital age! I was fascinated by the work on the stamps themselves: brightly-coloured taxi hand signs by Susan Woolf. Somehow, just looking at them made me tear up just a little and caused my heart swell with pride. This captivating country of ours, with all her flaws, yet loaded with unique symbolism, culture, creativity and story does that to me – often.

The Close of the Day
We returned to Henri House for lunch, and dined royally on my Dad’s legendary Bacon & Mushroom Quiche, salads, cheese and biscuits, before enjoying an afternoon nap. My mother and I then wrote postcards while my father continued reading his book. A storm put paid to our plans for an evening braai, but our lunch menu stepped ably up to the plate again. Afterwards, we reviewed the photographs of our research over the last couple of days on the television, trying to piece together a little more of this immense puzzle.

I then reached out to the Eastern Cape genealogical community on RootsWeb for any information on the Toise River burial ground, before turning my attention to civil death records again, where I spent the rest of the evening still desperately searching for a trace of Grand Aunt Linda…