Tag Archives: History

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

27 Apr

This is what the Hub, Tory Boy and I were doing today in 1994, one of the best days of our lives: 

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

The first day of polling in the first Free & Fair South African election.

We were living in Alberton in the Transvaal at the time.  We got up early to be at the polling station for seven, when it opened.  We didn’t want to be stuck in queues all day long.  The government had declared a national holiday so that everyone could vote, and it seemed like everyone intended to.

We were first in the queue, but only just.  Not that it did us any good: we were still first in the queue come four o’clock in the afternoon.  There were no ballot papers at the polling station.  The election officials popped out periodically to tell us that they were on the way – in a helicopter now – would be here any minute.  None ever showed up, except on auction sites in the last few years.

In spite of this, and in spite of the news of bombs going off at the airport, the mood of the crowd was, well, joyous.  There was a lot of singing and a lot of braaing (barbecuing): those who came later and knew about the long wait brought their skottels (a portable gas barbecue) and fold-up deck chairs.  The Hub went home to make us some sandwiches and drinks, but I wish we had braaied instead.

Whole families turned out to vote.  We had four-year old Tory Boy with us.  I have another photo of him, sitting glumly on the kerb, unaware that he was participating in a truly momentous event in South African history.  He’s grateful now, of course.

We chatted to everyone around us.  There was a tearful old man who had never believed that he would ever get the chance to cast his vote.  There were Afrikaaners, resigned to the inevitable and taking it gracefully; and many who welcomed it.  I suppose those with strong opposition to the change were at home, planning protests.  People of every race, tribe, ethnicity, colour and political persuasion stood in that queue and waited with great patience for the ballot papers that never arrived.

There were no murmurings or angry voices, but there were a lot of rumours about what was happening in the rest of the country.  We were in a capsule, a moment in time when we were all in this together, all looking toward a happy and prosperous future; each believing that things would be better, fairer, and right.  We were in the mood to party, not fight.

No ballots came.

Because of our tired little boy, we wondered if we should go home and come back next day – the election was intended to be held over two days, but lasted three because of the issue of having nothing on which to cast your vote – but then we heard there was a magical polling station a few miles on which did have ballot papers, and even enough to go round.  We thought it was worth trying because we really did want to cast our vote on a day that would go down in history.  We wanted Tory Boy to be able to say that he was there. 

I don’t remember where either polling station was, except that the first was in a suburb and the other in a huge, unkempt field.  At the second, we joined a slightly smaller queue that we could see was moving, though it didn’t have the atmosphere of the first.    It took three hours but we got inside at last. 

The most bizarre moment of the day for me was when I went into the booth and there was a scruffy little stub of a pencil.  It didn’t seem fitting to cast a vote that would help change the political landscape of a nation, with a tatty bit of lead.  To this day, I’m not certain that I wasn’t expecting quills or expensive fountain pens. 

In the PWV area (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) we had a choice of thirteen parties.  As brave as the National Party had been, I couldn’t vote for the architects of Apartheid.  I couldn’t vote for the ANC bunch of terrorists either, no matter how just their cause.  I didn’t think the KISS lot (Keep It Straight and Simple) was taking the whole thing seriously enough; and the Women’s Rights Peace Party was missing the point.  I voted for the Democratic Party.  Helen Suzman was a lone white protest voice in the wilderness of the Apartheid government for many years, so I voted for her party, which I felt had moral conviction.  As the vote was by proportional representation, I helped them to their seven seats.

I discovered a wonderful quote from Helen Suzman, via Wikipedia:

She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Our tiny piece of history made, we took our exhausted child home, probably collecting a takeaway on the way.  Once he had eaten I put him straight to bed.  We followed soon after.  History is important but it’s the mundane that keeps us going.

Relatives living further out told us they hadn’t bothered to vote on the first day when they saw the queues; they left it to the next day and walked straight in and out.  It seemed most people wanted to vote on the first polling day.  I guess we were not the only people conscious of history on that glorious day.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

22 Apr

Late again with my response.  This is a terrible habit I have acquired.  In my defence, I never miss a plane.  Not that I ever go anywhere (except to France and Spain in the last six months, and possibly to Germany in the future, if I can find a cheap enough ticket).

I thought I would take you on a different journey today: a trip down memory lane; a journey from the past to the future; from wrong to right.

I lifted and edited this from my now defunct South Africa blog.  It’s not amusing, but I hope you enjoy it.

Here is Tory Boy, just turned four:

27 April, 1994, the day on which this was taken, was one of the best days of my life.  It was the first day of the first free and fair elections in South Africa.

We were living in Alberton in the Transvaal at the time.  We got up early to be at the polling station for seven, when it opened.  We didn’t want to be stuck in queues all day long.  The government had declared a national holiday so that everyone could vote, and it seemed like everyone intended to do just that.  Whole families turned out to vote.  We had four-year old Tory Boy with us.

We were first in the queue, but only just.  Not that it did us any good: we were still first in the queue come four o’clock in the afternoon.  There were no ballot papers at the polling station.  The election officials popped out periodically to tell us that they were on the way – in a helicopter now – would be here any minute.  None ever showed up, except on auction sites in the last few years.

In spite of this, and in spite of the news of bombs going off at Jan Smuts Airport, the mood of the crowd was joyous.  There was a lot of singing and a lot of braaing [barbecuing]: those who came later and knew about the long wait brought their skottels [portable gas barbecue] and fold-up deck chairs.  The Hub went home to make us some sandwiches and drinks.  We needed them.

We chatted to everyone around us.  There was a tearful old man who had never believed that he would ever get the chance to cast his vote.  There were Afrikaaners, resigned to the inevitable and taking it gracefully; and many more who welcomed it.  I suppose those with strong opposition to the change were elsewhere, protesting.  People of every race, tribe, ethnicity, colour and political persuasion stood in that queue and waited with great patience for the ballot papers that never arrived.

There were no murmurings or angry voices, but there were a lot of rumours about what was happening in the rest of the country.  We were in a capsule, a moment in time when we were all in this together, all looking toward a happy and prosperous future; each believing that things would be better, fairer, and right.  We were in the mood to party, not fight.

No ballots came.

Because of our tired little boy, we wondered if we should go home and come back next day – the election was intended to be held over two days, but lasted three because of the problem of having nothing on which to cast your vote – but then we heard there was a magical polling station a few miles on which did have ballot papers, and even – whisper it – enough to go round.  We thought it was worth trying because we really did want to cast our vote on a day that would go down in history.  We wanted Tory Boy to be able to say that he was there.

I don’t remember where either polling station was, except that the first was in a suburb and the other in a huge, unkempt field.  At the second, we joined a slightly smaller queue that we could see was moving, though it didn’t have the atmosphere of the first.    It took three hours but we got inside at last.

The most bizarre moment of the day for me was when I went into the booth and there was a scruffy little stub of a pencil.  It didn’t seem fitting to cast a vote that would help change the political landscape of a nation, with a tatty bit of lead.  To this day, I’m not certain that I wasn’t expecting quills or expensive fountain pens.

In the PWV area (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) we had a choice of thirteen parties.  As brave as the National Party had been, I couldn’t vote for the architects of Apartheid.  I couldn’t vote for the ANC bunch of terrorists either, no matter how just their cause.  I didn’t think the KISS lot (Keep It Straight and Simple) was taking the whole thing seriously enough; and the Women’s Rights Peace Party was missing the point. 

I voted for the Democratic Party.  Helen Suzman was a lone white protest voice in the wilderness of the Apartheid government for many years, so I voted for her party, which I felt had moral conviction.  As the vote was by proportional representation, I helped them to their seven seats.

I discovered a wonderful quote from Helen Suzman, via Wikipedia:

She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Our tiny piece of history made, we took our exhausted child home, probably collecting a takeaway on the way.  Once he had eaten I put him straight to bed.  We followed soon after.  History is important but it’s the mundane that keeps us going.

Relatives living further out told us they hadn’t bothered to vote on the first day when they saw the queues; they left it to the next day and walked straight in and out.  It seemed most of the country wanted to vote on the twenty-seventh.  I guess we were not the only people conscious of our tiny place in history on that glorious day.

Photo found here.

The Battle Of Flodden: Fleck Or Fiction?

30 Nov
English: Site of the Battle of Flodden Field. ...
Image via Wikipedia

If you fancy a good read…you should buy a copy of Tom Fleck.  Set at the time of the Battle of Flodden, it is a real page-turner.  I’ve read it three times and loved it each time.

Here are Tudor kings and their nobles – their documented lives are rich material for writers – but now they play a minor part. This is the story of Tom Fleck, a penniless farm labourer, who shares his dwelling with cattle. He is fictional only because he leaves no record – his people live before the keeping of parish registers, so they make no marks on parchment and are lost to history.

We find his rare surname in the register of St. Hilda’s church at Hartlepool:

Baptisms 1596, September 19th : Christofer ye child of Willm. Fleck.

Perhaps William heard tales of how his great-grandfather, Thomas, loved a strange woman and stood with the army on the terrible battlefield of Flodden. This story brings him to life.

The first chapter can be read on the author Harry Nicholson’s blog: http://1513fusion.wordpress.com/

I have a treat for you: Harry kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog. 

TB:  Hi Harry, thanks for doing this.  First, something banal to ease you in: how did the idea of Tom Fleck come to you?

HN: It is partly a response to what greets me when I walk into bookshops: glossy covers of historical novels that push jewelled Tudor cleavages at the reader – and within, yet more tangled intrigues of royal courts. I wonder what emotional connection I might find with these great lords and their ladies.  Where are the stories of the ancestors of people like me? I don’t see any – so I decided to write the life and adventures of forgotten men and women, people without heraldry, people who left no record except for the blood that, at least poetically, might still flow through our modern veins.

TB:  How difficult was research, given that there are no records of the lower classes?

HN:  It was a matter of combing card indexes of reference libraries and of collections in local history archives; local archives remain vital for detail, the internet is not yet the source of all knowledge (though it is wonderful for making great leaps in general research).   Parish registers, even though they did not begin until 1566, are worth consulting.  They are brief in detail of the common folk but there are entries which hint at human drama and tragedy. Here is one from St Hilda’s at Hartlepool:

Burials  9 Dec. 1596.  Christofer Harte, John Harte ye elder, John Harte ye younger, and Thomas Todd were all of them drowned out of one boat.  There is a tragedy here: four coble fishermen, three of one family – all lost. What will happen now the bread-winners have gone. Three months earlier, five men were lost from another coble.  

I feel an emotional connection with these stark lines, my mother is descended from these same fisher-folk.   Another snippet from a 16th century Yorkshire travelling  Quarter Sessions is rich in facts but also feeds the imagination. I’m sad for Matilda Wilkinson, spinster of Thornton, found guilty of stealing a pair of stockings (threepence), a petticoat (fourpence) and a neckerchief (threepence); she was to be whipped at Malton ‘and from thence conveyed from Constable to Constable, through the parishes, to Thornton, there to be whipped upon a holyday after evening prayer time, from the church stile to the place of her late dwelling there.’  These forgotten people are our fellows, they are silent ones who might sometimes whisper from the pages of historical fiction. That is how I felt when writing Tom Fleck.

TB:  How much time did you spend in research?

HN:  I never logged the days I spent walking the Flodden battlefield or studying the exhibits at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, or sifting through the journals of the Surtees Society, but it must add up to many, many hours. Whilst writing, I would sometimes break off to check something on the internet – like footwear, or what would Tom have on his feet when he kicked a robber in the shins? Would there have been red kites scavenging the streets of Durham City?   What sort of material was Cambric and would that Belgian cloth be for sale on a stall in Alnwick in 1513?  At the close of many days it seemed that I’d spent as much time on research as I did in writing the story – which is probably why it took four years.

TB: Did you have to leave much out?  If so, why?

HN:  In my enthusiasm for historical background, at first the story was overloaded with information.  It was all too much, so I cut and cut and rewrote, until only essentials were left. I gave most of what remained to the ‘actors’. In finding ways of allowing the characters to deliver vital research through their thoughts and speech, people came to life and I improved as a writer.

TB:  Will there be a sequel?

HN:  There will be a sequel, I’ve done a good deal of research for it.  I’m still reflecting on what circumstances might arise for Tom’s people – but I will not truly know until the ink touches the paper.

Writing Tom Fleck brought a rich four years; I had another world, just by my side, that I could step into – wherever I was. Now the book is published I do miss those characters; they had become real and I loved them all – even the bad guys.

‘Sharp as quivering hares are the Flecks. We’ve eyes and ears for things other folk miss.’

Much later, in the aftermath of Flodden, a young man finally understands his father’s words.

The year: 1513. The place: North-East England.

Tom Fleck, a downtrodden farm worker but gifted archer yearns to escape his masters. He unearths two objects that could be keys to freedom: a torque of ancient gold and a Tudor seal ring. He cannot know how these finds will determine his future.

Rachel Coronel craves an end to her Jewish wanderings. When the torque comes to rest around the neck of this mysterious woman, an odyssey begins which draws Tom Fleck into borderlands of belief and race.

The seal ring propels Tom on a journey of self-knowledge that can only climax in another borderland, among the ‘flowers of the forest’ on Flodden Field.   

The book is available on Amazon and other online outlets.

ISBN-13:  978-1908147769

Paperback price:  £7.99  ($12.99)

Kindle version:  £2.14   ($2.99)

Harry is happy to send out signed copies.  (£1.50 postage within the UK; overseas please contact Harry direct for postage price.)

Explanations Are In Order, Comrades

6 Sep

It seems that you all don’t think like I think, so here’s an explanation of this morning’s post:

Wheel: a round thing beloved of cavemen.

Horse: around.  Thing beloved of cavemen and women.

Communists: angry people who live together; either all employed (Soviet) or all unemployed (hippies).

Romanovs: murdered Russians related to Prince Philip.

1917: Russian Revolution and Julie Christie rocking a fur hat.

1989: demise of Communism and die-hard (John McCleansky) Communists (hated oligarchs hoarding all the money), making way for rise of Russian Mafia (hated oligarchs hoarding all the money).

Mandy Rice-Davies: slept with Communist and cabinet minister (not at the same time: she is British, after all), bringing down the British government in 1963 (the year I was born.  Coincidence…?).  Famous for:

While giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, charged with living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and Rice-Davies, the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?” (often misquoted as “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”).[By 1979 this phrase had entered the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.    From Wikipedia

November: eleventh month; less popular than October, which is why the Communists chose it (or not; can’t remember which way round it goes) over November for their revolution.  Ask their calendar, if the Mafia haven’t stolen them all.

Voice off: Robin, of Batman and.

The hood: as in Robin, famous communist of Nottingham fame.  Loves Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and blows in his ear/as in neighbourhood.

*

Hope that clears everything up for you!

*

Of Lettuces And Kings

4 Aug
Four Kings: King Edward VII (right) with his s...

Image via Wikipedia

Last night I watched The King’s Speech and loved it.

All the way through, a quote that I once read played at the back of my mind; and I was pleased when I heard it used in the film.  Attributed to George V, it is something like this:

My father was afraid of his father; I was afraid of my father; and I’ll make damn sure my children are afraid of me.

These days, of course, it is the parents who are afraid of the children.

I always remember that quote in conjunction with an amusing story I once read about George VI as a child.  The Royal Family were eating lunch.  GV was talking and little Bertie interrupted, ‘Father, Father.’  Daddy G was furious and told Bertie to pipe down, not interrupt, and speak when he was spoken to. Little Bertie subsided, abashed.

Once lunch was over, King George said sternly to the little prince, ‘Now you may speak.  What is it?’

Bertie replied, ‘I wanted to warn you that you were about to eat a caterpillar with your lettuce.’

*

That reminds me of something I once read in Reader’s Digest:

A religious and stern father insisted that his children arrived promptly at the breakfast table each day.  One morning, his daughter was late.  As she sat down he said to her, ‘Child of the devil!’

‘Good morning, Father,’ she replied.

*

I sat down to write this post and then noticed the date: today, the fourth of August, is the Queen Mother’s birthday.  The same Queen Mother who married the Bertie who became George VI.

It is well-known that she liked a tipple (and a flutter – she had the race commentary piped into her house on racing days) and she liked her first tipple at the same time everyday.  It is also well-known that many of her staff were gay.

One day, tipple time arrived, but no beverage.  The QM waited a bit and finally phoned down to the staff: ‘When you old queens have finished chatting, this old Queen would like her G&T!’

*

*

101/1001 (6)

29 Apr

18/64

I’ve added six new tasks to the list.  They all involve learning by rote:

  • Learn the names of the New Testament books as they appear.
  • Learn the names of the twelve disciples.  I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years; I think it’s time. 
  • Learn my baptism verses again.  I knew them in the Revised Standard Version but now I have a New International Version and I get the two mixed up.
  • Learn the names of all the Kings & Queens of England in order.
  • Learn the names of all the British Prime Ministers in order.
  • Learn the names of all the American Presidents in order.

The Prime Minister list is from a sense of duty: I added the President one first and then thought, as a patriotic Englishwoman, it was my duty to know my own political leaders as well. 

Completed Task:

No mention of Maltesers on my blog for ten days.  I managed it from 13-24 April; did you notice?  Lots of mentions at home, however, until the Hub took the hint and bought me some.

Almost completed task:

I now know the words to the South African national anthem.  All that remains is to film me singing it and post it to the blog.  And some tuning issues, but we’ll gloss over that.

A huge welcome to our new recruit, Perfecting Motherhood.  She’s a pretty impressive recruit because she already has her list of 101 things to do.  You’d think I’d be embarrassed, wouldn’t you?  I’m not; but I do intend to steal some of her tasks for my own list.

Writer’s Island Prompt Number 17

22 Aug

Hitler: An Argument In Favour Of Abortion

The worst mistake ever made:
Your Ma’s readiness to get laid.
Curse the dawn that gave you breath:
It led to sixty million deaths.
Cry for those who passed your way:
Disabled, Gypsy, Jew and Gay.
The saddest tale ever told:
You lived too long; you died too old.

*

We were asked to consider time travel: when & where we would go back to, what we would re-live or change.  I immediately thought of an old poem that I wasn’t quite satisfied with and I re-worked it for the prompt.

 

Doesn’t Bode Well For The Future…

27 Feb

I have signed up to Twitter. There has been a lot of publicity this week about British MPs signing up and I thought well, if they can use it, so can I, as technept as I am. It doesn’t bode well, however, that a lot of the publicity has been about Twitter identities being hijacked. Nor does it bode well for me that I told my family I had signed up to ‘Tweeter’. They thought I had become a birdwatcher. Or is that ‘twitcher’? Tweeters are usually paired up with woofers in a Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch, aren’t they? This online stuff is complicated.

My Twitter name is laughwife because I couldn’t fit the whole of ‘thelaughinghousewife’ in. I am a little concerned that my new name makes me sound like a crazy fishwife. My first tweet probably didn’t help: Is there anyone in America who owns an electric kettle? I haven’t had any replies yet so if you are reading this; live in the States; have important information pertaining to kitchen appliances; and nothing better to do, please tell me.

This question is still bugging me. I think the answer is ‘no’ because a look at blogs discussing similar topics turned up a raft of Americans now living abroad who rave about the wonders of their newly-discovered electric kettles. There are even posts dedicated to instructions on how to use them properly. I wouldn’t have thought you could say much beyond, ‘Fill with water. Switch on. Wait,’ but you’d be surprised at the detail these kettle converts go into. I’m not going to mock because I remember my Mother’s wonder at her first automatic washing machine after years of slaving over a twin tub; and my own astonishment, when we first went out to South Africa, at the miracle that is the sandwich toaster.

Do you think John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh felt the same way about the potato? Bet they never foresaw the invention of the chip pan or the deep fat fryer. I wonder if they have those in America? Probably not: tea and chips are very English habits; though, of course, we didn’t invent either of them – Belgium invented chips, according to my Asterix the Gaul books.

Here’s an interesting fact about kettles that I came across when I was researching the potato:

1891
Electric Kettle Crompton and Company developed the electric kettle in England. The earliest examples of electric kettles all had the element in a separate chamber underneath similar to traditional vessels which boiled water and had the fire underneath the pot.

From: http://www.open2.net/historyandthearts/history/food_timeline_html.html

It has just occurred to me that my non-Brit readers might not know the term ‘fishwife’. It is a derogatory term for a woman, meaning one who swears loud and long in public. It originally referred only to women who sold fish but was made notorious by the women of Billingsgate fish market in the Nineteenth Century. Now, of course, it seems like every female in Britain, from two to ninety-two, swears like a fishwife and gives the first fishwives a bad name.

I’m starting to feel hungry for some reason; I am suddenly in the mood for fish and chips and a mug of tea. Must be the hard work of writing trivia that only I could possibly be interested in.  It makes me feel a bit of a twit, which doesn’t bode well for the future of this blog….

PS Did you know (from the same source; or ibid, for my Latin friends) that ‘by the early 1900s there [were] more than 30,000 chippies in Britain’?  Me neither.

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