On Pat Clarke’s Retirement (2008)…

Friday 19 November 2010: 4 years 2 months on …

In my last blog, I wrote that I had written to Pat Clarke from England on the occassion of his retirement from Grey Junior School.

I wrote that exactly two years ago, today! This is what I had to say:

Cumbria

England

19 November 2008

 

Dear Mister Clarke

 

I am sitting here in The Miner’s Arms, a pub in the northwest of England, writing this letter to you.

In the corner, a fire is burning and outside it is 7°. Through one window, I can see the green hills of Cumbria dotted with white sheep. Through the other window, I can see the cold brown waters of the Irish Sea.

 In front of me, there is a pint of Guinness on the table. Across the table, an Old Grey Boy, now a man of 40, and one of your many ex-pupils with memories of you and a story or two to tell!

As the father of two sons who have also passed through your hands, this scene encapsulates my memory of you:

Mister Clarke, the teacher of Grey Boys.

 I shall remember the smile on my son’s faces when they came home and, with absolute glee, informed us that they were going to be in Mister Clarke’s class! Then, there was the even bigger smile when they came home and told us (and showed us!) the blue stripes of the school crest emblazoned across their NOUGHT.  Despite the pain, they were now paid up members of Clarkie’s Clan!

Then there was the sadness, when you told them that the government had informed you that no longer where you going to be allowed to paint blue stripes on Grey boys’ noughts!

There were days when home discipline went out of the window because, what mom and dad said did not count – Mister Clarke said it was like this or like that and, after all, he knows everything!

The stories they brought home, all authenticated and verified by Mister Clarke himself, put the scriptwriters of Hollywood to shame…

Then, there is you, Mister Clarke, the celebrated national sportsman, as the sports coach of Grey boys.

 I see you bringing that tall frame of yours down to the one metre level of your under 11 rugby team or cricket team, showing them how best to scrum or bat or bowl. I guess that’s how best to sum you up – your unique ability to bring yourself down from illustrious heights to the level of your young charges.

These magnificent green hills and cold water that I see remind me of one of your other attributes – your love for the outdoors.

Mister Clarke, the hunter!

Whilst this here is a far cry from your beloved hunting trips in the dry Karoo, I recall that your streak for the outdoors even had us as fathers having to go on your much anticipated “father and son” camps.

The Pajero’s, BMW’s and 4×4 Mercs leaving the tar roads of Mill Park for the very first time and being scratched by the Karoo thorn bushes on those forsaken tracks, just to get us into the 40° remotest part of the Camdeboo in order for us fathers to bond with our sons.

I think you deliberately ensured that we never camped near a water supply. That was just to force us to sit and tell stories around the campfire with you under the magnificent Milky Way and Southern Cross, and to drink the brown and green bottled water that was always in supply!

Which brings me to this Guinness on this table… well now, that reminds me of so many other stories! We have experienced that the beer often makes the dividing line between fact and fiction become less clear.

But, when it comes to Clarkie, is it fact or fable or folklore or fiction?

Did the train to Bloemfontein really lurch that hard to cause you that nasty hand injury? When I took you home late after the Old Grey dinner- was it really a minor stroke that temporarily paralysed your left leg? When you wander off at night to the bottom of the garden to talk to the pixies, is it really their little red lamps that one sees glowing in the dark … ?

Whatever, Mister Clark – Pat – as we sit here in England, we will continue telling the Clarke stories, and I’m sure, that all of you in Port Elizabeth tonight, will have many a story to tell, too.

 Despite you physically being gone from the school in the future, the stories will continue for years to come.

I am indeed very sorry that I am not there tonight, but I look forward to having that Pint with Pat upon my return.

As a parent, and on behalf of the many grandparents, parents and all the Grey Boys who constitute Clarkie’s Clan, I thank you and I salute you.

As one pensioner to another, I welcome you to the Retirement Club! Together, we will now be able to spend our mornings scouting out pensioners’ specials, from the obligatory pub lunches to your subscription to The Herald – remember, no longer provided gratis at the hostel!

We know that the salary and retirement package of a teacher is not the biggest, but your reward is a monument that you have built over the years – the Old Grey  sitting across the table from me, and all your so many ex-pupils now dotted over the four corners of the earth that you love so much.

So, here from the Irish Sea,

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Regards, best wishes and good health to you and to Mary Anne in your retirement.

From (and like all your pupils, I, too, carry a nickname given by you)

LUNNIE

PS  I know that you’re pretty shy of the women and really don’t like doing this, but please give my wife, Pera, a hug from me!

We Will Remember Them!

Tuesday 15 November 2010: 4 years 2 months on …

 

As a twenty odd-year old, my grandfather, Walter Charles Lunnon, experienced the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). He served in the telegraph signallers in Kimberley when it was besieged and must have been very involved in the communication goings-on of the time. In his diary, he noted that he saw many of the leading people of the day: Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Milner and Rudyard Kipling

The Siege of Kimberley (from 14 October 1899 to 15 February 1900) took place when Boer forces from the Orange Free State and the Transvaal besieged the diamond mining town. The Boers moved quickly to try to capture the British enclave when war broke out between the British and the two Boer republics in October 1899. The town was ill-prepared, but the defenders organised an energetic and effective improvised defence that was able to prevent it from being taken for 124 days.

Walter Charles also lived through the First World War – the Great War – of 1914 to 1918. Indeed, my father, Herbert Louis Lunnon, was born during that War. He was born in 1916, the year Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener died near the Orkney Islands when the warship taking him to negotiations in Russia was sunk by a German mine, and was named after him.

Kitchener was a British Field Marshall and proconsul who won fame for his imperial campaigns (also as Chief of Staff during the Anglo-Boer War) and later played a central role in the early part of the First World War as Secretary of State for War, a British Cabinet minister.

His commanding image, appearing on recruiting posters demanding “Your country needs you!” remains recognized and parodied in popular culture to this day.

My grandfather and father lived through the Second World War (1939 – 1945). My Father had an eye problem. He could not enlist and I’m not sure what his further involvement was during that War. Grandpa was called out of retirement into service of The Strand post office whilst the incumbent youngsters went off to fight in Europe.

My Uncle Willie Walls was captured in Tobruk and held as a prisoner of war in Italy for three years.

It was only in my generation that this country, once again, experienced war. This time, it was on our borders and in South West Africa (now Namibia), Angola and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the sixties, seventies and eighties.

Most of us were called up to do our national service, initially nine months of duty, but increased at regular intervals until some of us, like me, did two years of service. I never got to do active service “somewhere on the border” as that popular radio hostess of the day, Pat Kerr, used to say when reading out messages on Springbok Radio’s “Forces Favourites” on Saturday afternoons.

Many of my contemporaries (including my brother-in-law Anton Scholtz) did, however, serve and fight and experience action, especially in Angola.

Since the early nineties, we have been at peace! Our children have not experienced War in this country. Many of their compatriots around the world have indeed been and are at war, and it was with concern that I heard that my American “brother” Kevin Whitley’s son was going off to Afghanistan soon. We wish him a safe return!

In the meantime, last Thursday 11 November, was what the Americans call Veterans’Day, some call it Armistice Day and we call it Remembrance Day. We gathered at the Grey High School’s War Memorial at 11am to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

I wondered how many of our “peace time” youngsters standing in the cloisters understood and appreciated the supreme sacrifice that so many have given (including 59 Old Grey’s in WW1 and 120 in WW2) to ensure that, today, we live in peace.

 I wondered how long this peace would last.

As the orchestra played, the poppies danced magically in the breeze, the bells tolled, the solitary plane roared overhead and the wreaths were laid, I wondered whether I would be able to keep my annual date with Harriet Berkowitz at the service next year. Harriet is the mother of Darryl (Headboy of Grey – 1986), and for the last few years, my Jewish friend has come to collect her Gentile counterpart in order that we should not forget the battles of our past.  

I thought of our future battles.

My battle with an enemy that takes more and more of me every day as this CBD continues to slow me down and take a hold on me. It is taking my body, my mind, my ability to work, my family, my self.

I thought of the giant battles that lie ahead – it has been mere skirmishes up until now!

The battles to keep moving, to keep positive, to keep the family together, to be more tolerant, to be more understanding, to be more patient … I think I’m beginning to lose.

The battle that Deirdre Kohler, who spoke on our radio programme last Wednesday, has been fighting against her brain tumour for the last four years. She has documented that battle in her blog and in her book BRUTAL HONESTY, the launch of which I attended at Moffett-on-Main on Saturday morning and which I have just finished reading. What strength! What an example to follow! One CAN win battles against all the odds.

The battle that we have against a health system that fails so many of us.

The battle that we appear to be losing against those other cancers in our society – rampant crime and corruption and unemployment and lawlessness. (It’s no small wonder that so many of our countrymen and women have deserted the battle field and moved on to other pastures. But maybe it’s time to bring out that Kitchener poster again – Your country needs YOU!)

The battle to turn a decaying education system around and to get it functional so that we do not lose the fight against illiteracy and ignorance in this country.

I thought of who will replace the teachers that have been retiring over the last few years. Two years ago, Pat Clarke retired after 35 years of service. I wrote a letter from Cumbria, England to say goodbye to him at his farewell party at Dexter’s Den.

I thought of Jill Bromiley who retired last year after 40 years of service. I spoke at her farewell luncheon in the Way Hall and compared life’s journey to a train ride.

I thought of Charles Pautz, who was now retiring after 43 years of service. On Wednesday evening, we said goodbye to him at Old Grey Club in a function that seemed to last 43 hours! On Friday evening, we attended a formal dinner in the Way Hall to say more farewells to a man who has become a legend at the school.

I first got to know Charles in my second year at Grey when we toured England and Holland together as part of the supporters group for the 1985 Grey Cricket Tour. That was 25 years ago and by then he had already spent almost twenty years at the school!

He has a treasure chest full of memories that need to be documented. And he remembers oh so well!

Ah, yes! As we sang Oh Valiant Hearts and listened to the lone trumpeter play the Last Post and the Reveille (from “réveille”, the French word for “wake up”), the memories flooded through my degenerating brain. If only it could wake up again!

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

(PS And remember that on Saturday evening we attended Mike Rishworth’s 50th birthday party. Congratulations, Mike!  … that brought to an end another “quiet and restful” week!)

ED is in wED features Deirdre Kohler

Thanks to Deirdre for appearing on the show today: 10 November 2010.

You can obtain copies of her book, BRUTAL HONESTY, from me. (R130 each)

 

Phone 076 650 1002; email live.life@worldonline.co.za or leave your name and phone number as a comment on this blog.

Listen to our song for the day:

REM              Everybody Hurts

Read Deirdre’s blog at www.deirdrekohler.com.

A Tale of Two Worlds

Tuesday 9 November 2010:  4 years 2 months on . . .

On my father’s side, my grandfather, Walter Charles Lunnon, was British. He spoke English. My grandmother, Susan van Blerck, was of Dutch descent. She spoke Afrikaans. We speak English at home (our ‘home language’) in a country that now boasts eleven official languages!

The numerous language and racial groupings in South Africa call each other by different names – some nice and some not so nice! Under new legislation designed to prevent racial incitement, some of these names may not be used and run one the risk of being criminally charged in a court of law.

For years, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans have called English-speaking South Africans soutpiele (salt penises). The name originates from the analogy that those of us from English descent are still firmly rooted in England. So much so, that we stand with one leg in Africa and one leg in Europe and our two legs are so far apart that our manhood dangles in the Atlantic seawater! Hence, the term ‘salt penis’.

So many terms!

Next week, this soutpiel is scheduled to travel to the land of his one leg:  England and Ireland – a visit to the ‘motherland’, so to speak. I am not sure which of my legs is planted in Europe, bearing in mind that my left leg is now far weaker than my right leg.

I enjoy the efficiencies of the First World. But I live in the inefficiencies of the Third World.

I will always consider myself an African. I am an African. I was born here in Africa.

Does one find ‘African Europeans’?

I have often joked that I was born to be a ‘Westerner’ and not an ‘African’. I suppose that’s because, despite born and bred and living in Africa, we were brought up in the European culture. So much of what we do and say and think is so European – even to the extent that we celebrate Christmas in the heat of summer with artificial pine trees, artificial snow, turkey and plum pudding, and still forever dream of a white Christmas!

Does one find ‘African Americans’?

Perhaps, having studied in the United States of America and being an honorary citizen of Oklahoma, I could also call myself an ‘African American’! (Now that’s one that could cause problems in the USA – aren’t all their African Americans black?)

And so much of our lives is influenced by Hollywood, the movies, the TV, and thus the USA.

Does one find ‘White Africans’?

Some Black Africans don’t consider White Africans worthy of the African title! They have no place for us. But, in a certain way, I suppose that you can’t blame them. There was a time when white people in this country called themselves European and claimed everything for themselves – Europeans Only – from park benches to living areas to beaches.

However, it is so sad to see so many of our family and friends leaving the country of their birth and now living overseas as expatriates: African Australians, African New Zealanders and African what-evers.

Talking about travelling and weak legs, I am hoping that my health will not let me down. For the record, the last few weeks have not been easy, and it would appear that there has been more degeneration in the last month than there has been in the previous four years. So, it’s not going to be that easy to travel this time – in fact, I will need to make the call this week if I will be able to go at all! It’s all quite stressful for me.

My passport had also expired, so I had to apply for a renewal. Because Home Affairs is in such a chaotic situation, I used a private company that has used the chaos to be original. There is always opportunity for entrepreneurs here.

That’s the upside of being African.

 So, they do the hard work for you, including all the forms and the queuing and that’s why they call themselves Q-4-U! But, it all comes at a cost.

That’s the downside of being African.

Despite SA being a member of the British Commonwealth, travelling to the UK now means having to obtain a visa. Even in the old South Africa, that was unnecessary. But, because so many foreigners are using our chaotic and corrupt and bribe-controlled Home Affairs Department to obtain illegal SA passports and then automatic access into the UK, the UK authorities have had to introduce visas for all South African citizens.

That’s the downside of being African.

But UK visa application is a dream. It’s all done online, even as far as making the appointment to personally go to their offices to hand in your documents.

Despite not feeling well, this happened last Friday morning, and is all so punctual and so efficient – and so European!

That’s the upside of being European.

While I was there, Pera phoned to ask whether I wanted to go on a Township Tavern Tour on Friday evening. I really didn’t feel like going out, but I am still determined to do as much as possible. So, we went.

Xolani Matheke, else known as X, is one of only 2 black teachers at Grey Junior. He organised for his colleagues to go on this tour of two typical Black taverns in Kwazakhele and New Brighton (ironically, even this Black African township has a European name!)

So we bussed in a European double-decker London bus – but not red – to the African ‘Northern Areas’ – those parts of Port Elizabeth north of the N2 highway that were designed in apartheid days to accommodate all people other than white! At a guess, I would estimate that 75% – 80% of our total city population of 1,5 million people live in those areas.

And, I would further guess that some 90% (if not more) of the white population that live south of the N2 highway, have never been into the northern areas, let alone eaten and drunk in a township tavern!  So, it’s quite an experience for a European African to enter and participate in and see how the African Africans socialize in their own world.

 We seldom, as white Africans, enter the world of our compatriot black Africans, despite the fact that they leave their black African world daily to cross the divide, figuratively and literally –in our case, the N2 highway – to enter, work, experience and participate in the Westernised world that is ours and, so fast, becoming theirs.

Pera and I had been on a tour before, so we were able to do some comparisons. The first place we went to was not really authentic or typical. It’s more of a tourist place and was obviously built with the 2010 World Cup in mind. We ate supper there – typical African cuisine of meat and pap in a bastardised African / European / American environment.

Then we went on to the second place. The roads are so narrow and the little houses are right on the edge of the street. So much so, that the bus even took out a cable that was suspended across the street.  The African way of illegally cabling the European TV from one dish to multiple homes was brought down for the night. But it won’t take long for them to do the DIY repairs and, maybe, link up a few other homes along the way!

The second place was more like it, but also not quite! An African watering hole with the most exclusive European car brands parked outside, playing the latest of American hip-hop and selling the best of imported European and American alcohol! Even a special on Heineken beer there!

I wonder sometimes how authentic Africa would have remained had it not been for colonial expansion and German BMW’s, European Carducci, American Rap, Scottish Whiskey, Dutch Heineken, French Cuisine and English golf (and nowadays Chinese anything and everything)!

Despite the outside influence, the spirit of the African African Ubuntu is so evident, and as European Africans, we have so much to learn from our countrymen.

The upside of being African is that we have such rich cultures to experience and to draw on.

The downside of being African is that we seldom make use of the opportunity.

As European Africans, we would rather use the opportunity to travel back to the lands of our fathers.

We really are soutpiele!

 

(And, after our tour, we went back to our world – to the comfort of a typical white suburban celebration of Anthony Beswick’s 50th birthday. I’m sorry we missed his speech, but he spoke about friendship, and I liked the following quotes:

The best mirror is an old friend – George Herbert

A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies – Aristotle

The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend – Abe Lincoln

One who looks for a friend without faults will have none

Your friend is the man who knows all about you and still likes you – Elbert Hubbard

Count your age with friends but not with years

 

On Saturday, under a warm spring African sky, I watched Sean play his last school fixture for Grey on the Pollock Field against Woodridge College in that game of cricket that is so English and so typical of our other world.  I was pleased to see the large number of Black Africans that have joined the White Africans in playing this so-European game.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

MATIELAND

This article will appear in the December edition of Matieland, the Stellenbosch University publication for its alumni:

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS!

 

Schalk Burger is a name not unknown in Stellenbosch.

 

But this Schalk Burger is from Windhoek. He is the newly elected primarius of Helshoogte for 2011 and gives me hope for the future.

 

Schalk is also my “adopted son” for the “Pa-en-Seun Naweek” which I attended earlier this year.

 

I am always thrilled to journey back to Stellenbosch. It is the hub of so many of my journeys and the source of so many of my traveling companions.

 

In fact, my life journey started there when I was born in the Hospital at the top of Merriman Street.

 

I returned to Merriman Street in 1976 to begin my academic journey and lived across the road from the hospital in the then 3-year-old Helshoogte. Six memorable years culminated in my also becoming the primarius. In 2004, I continued with that academic journey.

 

Stellenbosch created my wanderlust for travel. It was the hub from which four of us (including my sister Ingrid who later became primaria of Serruria) left in 1977 for a tour of Schalk’s homeland, Namibia, and from which eight of us left in 1981 on a Euro-Rail journey through Europe.

 

My current and most difficult journey commenced in 2007 – also in Stellenbosch! That was when Professor Jonathan Carr of the Stellenbosch University Medical School’s Neurology Department diagnosed a rare neuro-degenerative disease corticalbasal degeneration. It is a disorder that follows a journey all of its own. Daily, it gives more of itself, and takes away more of my body by gradually paralyzing it.

 

It will bring my life’s journey to a premature end. I want that journey to end in the place that I refer to as ‘Heaven is a place on Earth’.

 

So, on the weekend of my return, I arranged with Schalk that my ashes will be returned to that place where it all started – the top of Merriman Street and to Helshoogte in Stellenbosch.

 

 

A Tribute to Janet Moore – CBD patient (died 2010)

Janet Moore was diagnosed with CBD in 1999 and passed away in February 2010.

I would like to share this heart-warming tribute with you – it was written by her husband Allen. It gives us an inside indication of the journey that family, friends and caregivers travel with people who have terminal illnesses.

 My wife Janet  started showing symptoms in 1999 at age 56 when she was a TV news producer
 for CNN. She developed a tremor in her left hand; had trouble taking notes
 and typing; and was having increasing difficulty thinking of the “right”
 word. She stopped work in 1999 so that we could find the cause, fix it, and
 get her back to work. About a year later we heard for the first time “CBGD.”

 

 It took months more with several specialists, including some hotshots at NIH
 and in New York, to “confirm” this likely diagnosis. We tried to keep up our
 spirits and live life as well as we could. We had the support of our five
 children and stepchildren, and seven grandchildren.

 I tried to hide my fear  and depression about what was happening. I think she did too.

 Her decline  continued and she became more and more confused. We brought in a live-in
 caregiver in 2004. After breaking a hip in 2005, Janet became permanently
 bed-ridden and gradually lost her awareness and ability to communicate. She
 started receiving home hospice services later that year. 
 
Janet died last February at a residential hospice in Northern Virginia. She
 was clearly ready to go and the family was prepared to say good-bye. 
 
Janet’s wonderful caregiver, Comfort (yes, that really is her name) had a
 much-postponed and long-planned trip home to Africa in late January. That
 was a logical time to take advantage of Janet’s (and my) right to take five
 days of “respite care” in a residential hospice. The program is designed to
 give caregivers a break for persons who have been in Medicare’s home hospice
 program for at least six months. 
 
 
Since Janet had been 100% disabled and bed-ridden for nearly five years,
 non-communicative in any “normal” sense for several years, and a recipient
 of home hospice services for four and a half years (!), it was apparent that
 this might well be “her time.” Life is never simple, of course, so
 everything was delayed as our dear Comfort was forced to deal with the loss
 of a daughter-in-law, a U.N. employee, in the Haitian earthquake. 
 

It’s necessary to schedule respite care in advance because most hospices
 only have one or two beds available for it, so I was fortunate to be able to
 delay Janet’s stay without losing our spot. I wanted to take care of Janet
 by myself for what I realized might be her final days at home. I had plenty
 of experience caring for her, but it was Comfort who had the magic touch
 when it came to getting Janet to eat. 
 
Things started changing pretty quickly. Janet did not stop eating, but she
 slowed down markedly. Never a fast eater, she was even more sluggish and her
 intake declined. When they took her to the hospice by ambulance after a
 week, she was barely eating or drinking. I wondered how she would respond to
 a new environment with strange hands and voices offering her sustenance. The
 hospice staff agreed that they would offer Janet food and drink, but they
 would not force anything on her. And there would be no feeding tube. One
 doctor shared the lovely sentiment, “We don’t want you to worry about her
 care. We want you to be free just to be her husband.” And so I was.
 
 
 
I visited a couple of times a day. Janet was beginning to shut down,
 refusing to open her mouth for food or water. She slept most of the time. I
 had been warned by our hospice nurse that Janet would get even thinner than
 she already was–and she had been “skin and bones” for a long time. The
 change was dramatic and difficult for those who loved her, but she showed
 absolutely no sign of discomfort or awareness. 

I stayed by her bedside and stroked her arm and forehead, telling her over
 and over our “love story” and mutual devotion. As had been true for a very
 long time, she showed no sign of recognition. On the Friday before Super
 Bowl Sunday, there was a massive snow storm in Washington, DC. Other family
 members and I left her at the hospice that day as the snow began to
 accumulate, guessing that she might not see the dawn. But she defied the
 odds once last time. The roads were impassable on Saturday, but I visited
 her on Sunday. She was barely hanging on, and there was an aura of peace
 around her frail body. She was reduced to her beauty and elegance. She died
 that night. 

The two feet of snow didn’t melt for more than a week, but that didn’t stop
 us from having a glorious memorial service for her. The house seemed so
 empty without her and Comfort. For weeks, as I got ready to head to my
 bedroom, my instinct was to change her one last time before climbing into
 bed. I loved her beyond measure when she was healthy, but I may have loved
 her even more in her decline because she was so innocent and dependent. 
 
 
 
I hated what was happening to her and for a period of time I was very
 depressed about it. In the early going, even on a golf course, which
 normally helped me put everything out of my head, I couldn’t stop thinking
 about losing her. Eventually I got past that and began to rejoice in my
 extraordinary good fortune in having this amazing woman in my life, not to
 mention special friends who stepped up to walk with us down this difficult
 road. My wonderful Comfort allowed me to have a life outside my house,
 confident that Janet was getting far better care than I could possibly have
 given her. I never stopped loving her or learning from her during those long
 years of care. As a good friend of mine once wrote, “Love is not happiness
 only.” Janet’s been gone almost nine months now; my life is rich and full;
 and I miss her still. May you all know such a love. 

> Allen Moore