Proofreading – an analogy

During a discussion with friends on this subject we touched on why proofreading is so necessary. I love using analogy and I have created a forest analogy for this subject…

When you write a story, a report, copy for an advertisement or website or any other prose YOU are the one who KNOWS what you want to say.

Knowing what you want to say and having it planned out in your mind can be the very thing that will lead to the need for an objective review of your document by someone else – someone who specialises in being objective when viewing written work.

Doing your own copy is a bit like making a trail through the forest alone. As you press on through the undergrowth so the branches and twigs spring back behind you. By the next day, to the untrained eye, the trampled grass shows little or no trace of your passage.

The sign of course is still there and the expert tracker will be able to follow your trail with little effort. He will note broken twigs and grasses bent or twisted the wrong way. The faint boot heel imprint between two tussocks of grass. From these and other signs the track can be found.

Suppose you have walked through your patch of forest and come out at your destination but next day you find yourself at the same place as you were previously. “I have been here before”, your mind whispers, “and I can find my way through this wood again – the way I went yesterday was easy”.

Recognising a big oak you walk in under that tree and proceed through the forest. Every so often you may see a tree and think that yesterday it looked a bit different but…it is the same tree. After a while you are not so sure about your route being exactly the same as before but you know the direction is correct and eventually you emerge. You look around and see that today you have actually come out twenty metres or so to one side of where you broke out yesterday.

“That’s OK,” you think, feeling quite satisfied.

That evening you may even tell your friends that you found yourself having to traverse the wood again but you came out almost exactly where you did before, no problem.

How does this relate to proofreading? Well, on your second or third read through, those familiar trees and other landmarks you saw on subsequent traverses of the woodland, are the errors that you pick up when you re-read your text. The landmarks that you missed or that seemed different are the errors you did NOT see or recognise.

If you want to follow the EXACT route through the woods – in other words find all the errors (the elusive landmarks) – you would need the services of an expert tracker who will follow the original course. On the way he will find slightly easier routes around thorn bushes, over the odd ditch and so on.

The tracker will blaze the trail, marking it so that it can be used repeatedly and everyone will be able to follow precisely the same course in future. A trail will have been created. A finished product.

 

A good proofreader will not only find small errors of spelling and grammar but will suggest edits to the copy that will make it easier to read. He will follow your trail, picking up rubbish, routing around obstacles and generally making your copy look and read effortlessly.

I love writing and I enjoy proofing and editing but when I do my own writing I cannot afford the luxury of a proofreader – I rely on my wife, and a close friend who is on the other side of the world, to read my website copy when I publish it. They pull me up on errors and I have to go back and edit and, for the moment, that works for me.

This does not excuse my errors. In fact it is a bit embarrassing to have them pointed out to me. It does highlight the fact that, even though I am a proofreader, my mind tricks me into NOT seeing the detail – the real trail – but just seeing the intended outcome which is what my mind wants to see because that is what it, my mind, planned.

Your work, however, is being presented for thousands of people to read. It must persuade those many readers that YOUR product, book or other project is reflective of quality and professionalism. That your work is worth the asking price.

Goggles

I have written about this before here:
http://eriktheready.com/somerset-west-i-can-see-clearly-now/
but this is a version that I wrote in 2012 for a course assignment and that I was also considering entering in a story contest. I hope you find it interesting? 


The little boy had cried before he fell asleep.

There had been no beating but there had been words. Words that made him feel worthless and stupid, as if he did not merit the roof over his head.

It had been about his reading. After being told to go to bed and switch the light off he had used a torch – and been caught.

“You’re always reading! Why can’t you be like other boys your age? Why don’t you play sport”, these regular harangues caused the boy to become more withdrawn. Trying to speak up for himself he only attracted more scornful accusations.

Life was a series of precarious, unpredictable encounters with his stepfather who could be affable and good-natured at times. Patient and imaginative he would teach the boy things – little things that the grown man would later remember and struggle to reconcile with the more usual behaviour of scorn and impatience.

His mother once asked him, pleading and demanding that he avoid annoying the man. He should do his chores before the man came home and avoid the nastiness.

He never seemed to be able to water the garden enough, or clean the hen-houses or rabbit hutches properly. His mother understood and when she could she helped. But the man would know by the way the hutches had been cleaned by stronger arms and that led to more nastiness – both mother and son would suffer.

The boy loved playing with the few friends who lived up on the mountain but reading was his escape.

Huckleberry Finn’s adventures on the river after escaping his father (he could relate to that), the dangers on Treasure Island and the Famous Five.

Oh to have parents who allowed him camping adventures? Breaking crime rings and smuggling operations!

Lost in his books the boy would be startled out of this other world by the arrival of the car, by his name being shouted, ordering him to another confrontation. The man would raise his hand and the boy would cower against the expected blow. Sometimes it did not come and the man would declare scornfully, “Christ I haven’t even touched you. What are you afraid of? Be a man!” But he wasn’t a man; he was a little boy.

“He’s only a child,” his mother would say, “let him play”, and the scornful reply would be that the child couldn’t play sport but he always “just wants to ‘play’.”

“But you never let him stay in the village after school. How can he play sport if he has to come home and water the garden and work around here?”

Another argument would start about her taking her son’s side over supporting him and how the child was a waste of time. At times, and if drink had been involved, the abuse of his mother might become physical and he might get a severe beating himself.

One evening, at the dining room table, the boy was copying notes from another child’s notebook because he was unable to read the teacher’s notes on the blackboard.

The man accused the child in harsh terms of cheating and cribbing and being so useless that he had to copy other people’s work.

The boy protested. The man became even angrier when the child told him it was because he could not read the blackboard. The child’s mother tried to intervene, to suggest that the child be given a chance.

The evening did not end well.

Next day the boy was chastised by his teacher because his notes were not up to date. He had to explain that his stepfather had accused him of cheating, taken the notes away and only given them back that morning so that he could return the book.

The teacher, a stern spinster was a dedicated educationist, fiercely protective of the children in her care. She had experience of the type of conflict that was involving this child. Without overt fuss she wrote to the parents about the difficulties the child was experiencing and the effect on his work.

The little boy gave the note to his mother and then went to his room to hide in a book.

Soon raised voices announced that the note was under discussion and fragments of the altercation drifted up to him:

“He’s just lazy and making excuses….”

“Why do you think he would do that? The teacher says he battles to see the board!”

“He’s sly and he’s got her fooled, stupid old cow”, and so it went on.

Suddenly the door of the room flew open, “What’s this rubbish that you’ve asked your teacher to write to us? Just because she believes you, doesn’t mean I have to! You’d better start doing your work and don’t let me catch you copying again. Now turn off the light and go to sleep!”

“But I haven’t had supper yet…..”

“And you won’t get any tonight”, slam.

Time passed.

At school his teacher had him sit next to a girl who wrote clearly. When he could not see the boy was to copy from her as she wrote her own notes.

This solved the teacher’s dilemma but anyone who has suffered this type of childhood ignominy will understand how the child felt – and how he was teased.

Already rather introverted and shy this “humiliation” was hard to take at first. He was an intelligent child and although not able to engage in some of the rough and tumble ball sports and games – he couldn’t see the ball you understand – he was more well-liked than not. All the quieter children suffered at the hands of the bullies but in a fifties village teachers were more aware of the culture in the school. Bullies’ dominance was not what it was to become later under less dedicated educators. But that is not the subject of this story.

Once a method had been found to enable the boy to keep up with the class he was always at, or near, the top of the class. This earned him some respect because it was known that this was achieved on his own easy ability and that he received no favouritism.

There was still trouble at home. If the boy had stayed in the village to play or take part in activities and arrived home too late to carry out his chores the man would always find fault, even when the chores had been done.

“You didn’t water the garden properly!”

“I did, I watered all of it.”

“Not properly, look here,” digging his index finger deep into the soil, “it’s only damp on top! You only sprinkled some water over it so it would look like you had done it. Do you think I am stupid?”

“No, dad, but I did water ….”

“Rubbish! You think I’m an idiot? Did you think I wouldn’t check?”

“You can stay out here and water the whole garden properly and before you come indoors I’ll come and check. Now get started”

“But I can’t see.”

“Just water the bloody garden and don’t make excuses.” and off he went. The boy could see him through the window, sitting at the dining room table pouring a drink.

He watched his mother enter the room with the food and her questioning posture. The abrupt, angry gestures and the sound of the raised voices drifted across the plot to him. He couldn’t hear the words but he knew they were arguing about him.

A while later his mother came out with a sandwich and some tea. She did not say anything. Then he   called her inside – angrily. She went.

It was very late when she came out again.

“He’s fallen asleep” she said “let’s just turn off the hose and you can come inside and have some food and then you’d better go to bed.”

“What if he wakes up, mom?”

“He won’t, don’t worry.”

One day the government doctors made a visit to the school in the village. Reports would be sent to the parents of children deemed to be in need of medical attention.

This medical included an eye test.

Only a few children got letters for their parents. The boy was the only one called for a second test and it was explained to him that he must tell his parents that he is very short-sighted.

The boy was jubilant and fearful.  Jubilant at having a reason for his difficulties; fearful of the reaction the letter would receive at home.

He gave the letter to his mother and after she had read it and asked a couple of questions the boy disappeared.

It was not long before the raised voices indicated that this latest communiqué was not being well-received.

“He’s lying again, just lazy and looking for sympathy. You spoil the child.”

“But he’s my child and he is not lying. The teachers and doctors say he needs to see an eye specialist.”

“Waste of money. I won’t waste money on him.”

For once though, his mother prevailed. An appointment was made with one of the leading opticians in the region who had his offices in the city where his parents worked.

The day came. Not going to school, he would accompany his parents to the city, thirty six miles away at the foot of the mountain.

The grumblings that had gone on for several days continued on the trip into town. Dire predictions of what would happen when the specialist proved what a liar the child was. That it had been a waste of time and money.

The optician was a kindly man with rooms upstairs in a tall building. The boy was fascinated and intimidated by the procedures that he underwent. He was enthralled by the way the letters on the chart went from indistinguishable blur to pin-sharp clarity.

The optician said his spectacles should be collected a week hence. For a few days he should only wear them at home until he was used to them.

The man was furious at being proven wrong but curiously, at the same time seemed pleased that a very real problem was being solved.

The great day arrived when his new glasses would be brought home.

It must have been summertime because the day was still bright with sunshine as he put the spectacles on and looked around. They were brown horn-rims (the ‘Buddy Holly’ look of the day), but they were magic devices! 

Their house, the very first one on that estate, had a wonderful view. It was a spectacular vista across one of the most beautiful bays in the world.  The child had had no true appreciation of the locale. The bay stretched some thirty miles across and its arms stretched away some thirty miles to each side.

White beaches fifteen miles away, surf breaking on them. Swells on the blue ocean could be seen. Fields and vineyards in the valley were no longer smudgy greens and browns. Roads with cars on them. Far away the white letters GB, on either side of an anchor, on the mountainside above the old naval school were now clearly readable…eight miles away!

He looked and looked and looked. He looked everywhere and anywhere and over and over again he looked at things.

Next morning he gave assurance that he had put his new glasses in the drawer, hoping to be believed.

At school there was teasing, oddly good-natured though and that was OK. With his glasses on he did not have to sit next to a girl any more. He was still not particularly good at ball sports!

A few years later the boy went on to an all-boys high school as a boarder. The school was way out in the bush, an old training aerodrome from the war years.

Within days he was nicknamed “Goggles”, Gogs for short. He did not resent it – besides his mom had said only well-liked people got nicknames.

Sixty years later, the man still occasionally bumps into people who remember “Gogs”, and that is also OK.

Gnash Gnash mutter…

I made a decision a while ago – stop going after the mutilators of the language.

Stop being an apostrophe policeman, a spelling policeman and a pronunciation policeman but the latest thing to intrude has caused me to snap, to break my word to myself!

It started with the apostrophe – and I know there is, of late, a lot of controversial debate around it slowly being accepted to indicate a plural… WHAT!? I scream silently inside my head, WHAT?

Then another of my favourites popped up this morning BREAK being used instead of BRAKE to stop something. Come ON people!

Of course THESE always jar the senses and are so common, as if thrown at the page to land where they will. Rather like too much confetti at a traditional wedding, these words get in everywhere, every day. THESE are… their/there (and even they’re), your/you’re, cant/can’t, his/he’s, whose/who’s and perhaps a few others that don’t come to mind immediately.

A few years ago I had to consciously give up on entrepreneur. The imaginative pronunciations were myriad – and they all grated!

Then there were JANYEWRY and FEBYEWRY and JILL-EYE – a long time ago it seems, the first two months of the year lost an R and the U in July was somehow subsumed by an I….still the case.

Anyway, just as I had settled down and thought myself at last immunised against all these irritations along comes the latest – and it is all over the radio and in television voice-overs.

It is TUMOURIC! For something that is supposed to be beneficial to one’s health and well-being, making it sound like something life-threatening, cancerous even, is awful!

TURMERIC is pronounced as it is written see this link   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric – and the Oxford dictionary gives this definition https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/turmeric and includes  an audio file so that it can be listened to.

If you don’t want to look it up then:
TUR as in FUR, TURD, STIR or BURR. The letter R appears TWICE and should be sounded TWICE!

Rant over….for now, as I try to come to terms with this latest affront to my (English language) sensibilities.

Of course this is a generalisation. It is really about those who insist on using such poor language in promoting their businesses, or other agendas, with official announcements and texts. Language that is then inflicted upon the listening and reading public – the target audience for their wares.

My rant therefore is for those who could REALLY use the services of someone specialising in proofreading, editing and copywriting. For everyone else perhaps my thoughts are merely an amusement…there goes another language nutter?

Fixes – another vacuum cleaner

This Kogan vacuum cleaner was brought to me with the complaint that, when it was new, it worked fine. However, now that it is a few months old it will not pick up anything.

Even though the dust container had been emptied and the machine appeared clear with no obstructions in any of the flexible tubes, still it did not work. The machine had been bought online and the owner was disappointed and considering getting a replacement.

Would I have a look at it first though?

I took the machine and examined the more obvious things such as the flexi tubes before I switched it on. As soon as the motor came on I heard a sort of POP sound and the motor sounded a bit laboured. After listening to this once or twice I determined that there is a blockage and the POP is either something being sucked into, and closing, an airway or a safety by-pass feature to stop the machine from overheating too quickly.

After removing the dust container I looked into the blue uptake tube and found it was blocked. I removed the filter assembly from the container and took the fine dust filter off the top of that.

Looking down into the filter unit I could see that the filter head was also very blocked.

After picking out a lot of the material blocking the pipe and the head of the assembly I could see the latches that hold the top of the assembly to the uptake pipe. It works like a bayonet light bulb fitting and with a gentle twist I separated the two parts of the filter assembly.

It was fairly easy to then clear the tube but the head was a bit more work using long-nose pliers and a wire hook I gently worked the blockage loose until I could shake all the rubbish out.

I tipped all the material that was trapped in the two parts of the filter assembly out onto a sheet of newspaper. An explanation of what was found is in the captions on the photographs but, to reiterate:

Small sections of what appear to be some kind of rigid plastic straw were found in the vortex assembly (the filter assembly head). Some of these had become trapped ACROSS the airflow path. Once that happened any slightly large dirt – such as cotton cleaning pads and bits of paper lodged against them then larger bits of dust and debris (and hair) also packed onto this until eventually, rather like a beaver dam, the air stream through the filter was completely blocked and no more suction would take place.

What is more commonly found, rather than these STRAWS is hair pins and paper clips – they perform the same blocking function in a vacuum cleaner. It is better to pick up any such items BEFORE vacuuming. This includes balled up pieces of paper and larger lumps of cottonwool.

I then opened the sweeper brush compartment and removed bits of thread and hair from the brushes themselves and from the ends where they could impede the rotation of the brushes.

Once cleaned and reassembled the vacuum worked AS NEW.

If YOUR vacuum cleaner is giving problems – and you are on the Sunshine Coast – let me have a look before you dispose of it and buy a new one. It could save you $$$$!

Fix – knife repairs

A few weeks ago a lady brought me two knives that her father had made for her many years ago. She really liked them because they are really nice knives to use. They are similar to cleavers although not as heavy as a traditional cleaver. The problem was that the handles kept coming loose.

It turns out that the handles were fitted by heating the pointed tang of the knives (the bit that goes into the handle) and then forcing the hot steel into the wooden handle. 

I found the problem with both knives was that the tang was not anchored in any way in the handles. In both cases the tangs were very short and unsubstantial – only extending about two centimetres or less into the handles. The leverage effect of using them eventually caused the handles to come loose and they had to continually be forced back into the handles. This went on until they were only good for a minute or two of use before the handles parted company with the blades.

With the first one, the larger of the two, I took the approach of extending the tang with a length of eight millimetre threaded rod that I welded onto it. I then carefully drilled through the length of the handle and slid the handle down over the now extended tang until the threaded rod protruded out of the back of the handle.

The threaded rod was then cut to allow about ten millimetres to protrude through the end of the handle after which a washer was fitted and a domed nut was screwed onto the thread.

The original, handmade, handle was now firmly attached to the blade with no chance of it coming loose.

After sharpening the blade I sprayed the handle with a couple of coats of varnish.

…and then:

The smaller of the two knives was next and I took a slightly different approach with this knife. Instead of extending the tang I cut the blade back about a centimetre effectively giving it a longer tang and a slightly shorter blade. I then made a cut across the width of the handle where the blade was to fit and, after heating the tang I forced it into the handle so that the width of the blade would also extend inside the handle for about a centimetre.

The next step was to drill two five millimetre holes through the handle and the part of the blade seated inside the handle and fit two brass machine screws and nuts. This did not turn out to be as neat an operation as I had hoped but it was a workmanlike solution.

Once again I sharpened the blade (another service that I offer) and varnished the handle.

The owner was very pleased with the results and that she could now use both her knives.

Knowing where…

There is an anecdote about a HUGE SHIP worth perhaps 50 million dollars or more that developed a problem with starting its engines.

After every technician had looked at the engine and much money had been spent on consultants someone suggested a man they had heard of who had an uncanny ability with matters of this kind.

The man was summoned and when he turned up he was seen to be a rather elderly, small man with an old-fashioned tool bag. He reminded the suits of one of those cartoons we see of an old railway engineer in the late 1800s.

He walked around the enormous engines and listened with an old stethoscope.

Eventually he took out a small ballpein hammer and tapped gently in several places, all the while listening intently with his stethoscope.

Finally, as the big bosses were becoming fidgety, he took out a slightly larger hammer and gave a sharp rap with the ball of the hammer.

“Try now,” he suggested.

The engines turned over and ran smoothly even after several tests.

The man packed his tool bag, took out an invoice book and wrote an invoice which he placed in an envelope and handed to the senior manager present and left.

When they opened the invoice they were surprised to find it was for $10,000.00 – ten thousand dollars!

They wrote to the man and asked for an itemised invoice for they had only observed him tap on the engine with a hammer.

In due course the invoice arrived. It had two lines:

Tapping with hammers – $2.00
KNOWING where to tap – $9,998.00

Even at my level – that is nowhere near such desirable numbers – it is my knowledge, my time and my readiness to get my hands dirty that I am charging a very reasonable rate for…

Fixes – vacuum cleaner

I was asked if it was worth keeping an LG vacuum cleaner. It was a good machine so I said I would check it out.

The owner said she had cleaned it and when I opened the machine to check the filters were clean and the machine was empty of dust and rubbish.

I then dismantled the hose ends where they clip into the machine and also the end where the attachments are connected.

I found an interesting mix of hair pins, paper clips, hair, dust, sweet wrappers and post-it notes all mixed up with floor sweepings and food crumbs near the ends of the flexible tube and trapped in the end attachments. The floor/carpet cleaning accessory (sweeper head) was similarly clogged.

Some of the plastic clips and rubber seals that hold the sweeper head together had been broken and lost. When I reassembled this item I sealed the places where the rubbers were missing with duct tape so that air leakage would not affect the vacuum suction.

 I removed all the debris and cleaned the hose and its connections and the sweeping accessory. After reassembly the machine worked like new.

On the subject of vacuum cleaners…
I was asked to attend to a very good Hoover. The owner said it just did not switch on and wanted to know if it was repairable or if a new one might be in order.

I disassembled it and found the fault to be the on / off switch inside the machine (it is activated by the large knob on the top of the machine).

I found HOOVER to be rather unhelpful but was able to source the correct switch in Maroochydore (for those not familiar with the area that is a larger town near where I live in Palmwoods and about 20 kms away) where I had to take the sample for comparison. The switch itself was not expensive but, because of the travelling I was not keen to go home, write a quote and, if it was accepted, have to go BACK to town for the part.

I bought the part and installed it and reassembled the Hoover. I tested it and it worked perfectly.

When I contacted the owner and quoted $45.00 she was a bit miffed suggesting she could have bought a new one for not much more. The equivalent new machine would, of course, have cost over $100.00, perhaps closer to $150.00 so I was a bit aback taken. After a bit of dickering the vacuum was collected and I was paid. If it had not been for the travel and time spent finding the part the cost would have been less but I felt it was not unreasonable under the circumstances.

Reminiscent of the story about KNOWING where to tap? See http://eriktheready.com/knowing-where/

Perhaps I should have suggested that I keep the machine instead of being paid?

Fixes – shelf install

I did a number of repair jobs in the last year and did not post many of them to this site so here goes.

First was a shelving project for a client in Coes Creek.

The garage area under the house was becoming very cluttered and every time something was needed all the plastic boxes had to be lifted down to get to the one that was needed.

Also, the boxes at the bottom of the pile were becoming damaged. They contained business documents that had to be kept for a time in good order so broken boxes would be a problem.

I worked out the materials and the client arranged for all the wood to be brought to site (I do not have a large enough vehicle).

The shelves are attached to the stub wall at the bottom and to the floor beams at the top. Each shelf is 450mm deep by 3.1m long and, including the floor at the bottom, roughly 6.7 square metres of storage space has been created. The floor to ceiling height is just over 2 metres.

It is now possible to get at one box at a time. Boxes are not being crushed by being on top of each other and it is possible to also store a number of other items on the new shelves.

Workmate table top

I wrote about this little workbench before at   http://eriktheready.com/refurbish-workmate-copy/.

However, I needed a flat work surface to do small work on because my big workbench is so crowded with all manner of stuff.

I scrounged a piece of board and cut it to a reasonable size – in this case just under 600 x 800mm.

I attached two pieces of wood  with screws to form a lip front and back of the board.

 

The back of these LIPS is just under 350mm apart.

By using the cranks on the bench I close the sides of the bench, place the board with the lips down then crank the bench open again so that the edges of the surfaces latch into the lips.

This now gives me a surface I can work on without worrying about it tipping if I put something near the edges.

When the top is on and the bench is being used as a table I needed to keep the dogs and pegs that I made before, somewhere they will not be misplaced when I DO want to use them.

I then drilled holes in the pegs and threaded a cord through them and did the same with the dogs that fit over them – threaded a piece of string through them.

I screwed cup hooks in under the bench and the dogs and pegs can hang there out of the way and where they will not be separated from the bench itself.

 

 

This turned out rather well – very satisfying and a great boon when I first used it.

 

 

 

 

Pop-up toaster that doesn’t

This toaster was working. BUT…when you inserted bread if you did not jam the lever down REALLY hard it did not engage and stay down. What this meant was that the toaster elements did not come on and no toasting was happening although the lever appeared to be down.

The pilot light did not light if the mechanism did not actually engage but this was not always noticed – very frustrating.

Once bread was in the toaster and being toasted the end of the toasting would happen but the lever would not come up. One had to hold the toaster cover and pull the lever up to get the toast to emerge from the slots.

If one wanted to STOP the toasting for any reason you similarly had to press the cancel button and push the lever up to disengage it.

I removed the cover from the toaster and examined the electro-mechanical part that controlled the POP-UP part of the device. I found that the shaft on which the mechanical and spring-loaded part of it rode up and down was gummy with quite a lot of old crumbs attached.

I cleaned the shaft and the lock mechanism and put a dab of lubrication in the cam that controls the hold and release of the mechanism.

After re-assembly the toaster latches into the ON state without effort and pressing the eject button works at once whereas it had to be pressed and the lever physically lifted before.

Although toasters are comparatively inexpensive they are often repairable at little cost.

Abandoned – sort of

We arrived in Rhodesia from Cape Town in May 1958 when my stepfather, Cyril Williams, was transferred to Gwelo (Gweru) as General Manager, Prices Candles Central Africa.

By the end of the year he had lost that position and we moved to Sinoia (Chinhoyi) where my parents were to manage the Sinoia Caves Motel. The trip was quite an adventure with our trailer losing a wheel on the dirt road between Hartley (Chegutu) and Sinoia via Gadzema. (These are stories for another time).

There was no high school in Sinoia (that opened in 1960) so in the January of 1959 I was enrolled at Guinea Fowl School (GFS), halfway between Gwelo and Selukwe (Shurugwe). I was in Wellington House (WH) at the school. My brother was born in Sinoia in April 1959.

GFS was a great school, way out in the bush and almost every weekend would be spent walking and exploring.

Some time in about mid-to-late-1959 my stepfather caused the owners of the Caves Motel to, reluctantly in my mother’s case, let them go. My mother wrote and told me about this and said Cyril had got a job at Copper Queen near the Sanyati – way out on the Alaska road. He had been friendly with the people who offered him the job. The accommodation, I was to learn, was primitive – not to put too  fine a point on it.

Towards the end of 1959 I had no idea where my parents were.

I subsequently learned that the job at Copper Queen had ended and my parents were, by that time, living on a very basic farm (rondawels with no electricity or running water) with a chap named van Tonder about halfway between Karoi and Sinoia (I know it was 28 miles from Sinoia).

I had not been in contact with my parents for some time and I must have said something to one of the teachers. The upshot of his was that under no circumstances was the school prepared to let me get on the train to Sinoia until contact had been made with my parents. There was some discussion about what to do because the school would be closed. One of the cook matrons was approached and she offered to look after me until my parents could be contacted.

Accordingly, on the last day of term, I accompanied the lady (I will call her Mrs Brown for ease of reference and until I learn her actual name) to her home in Hunter’s Road, where her husband was a warder at Connemara prison.

They were lovely, kind people and I remember running around the area, exploring here and there. I don’t remember if they had children of their own but I remember that there were children around my age – perhaps neighbours?

After a few days Mr Brown announced he had taken a week off and was going to go down to his gold mining claims near Fort Victoria (Masvingo). He wanted to do as much as possible in his mine as he could because Lake Kyle (Lake Muturikwe) was close to completion and had already started to fill. When the lake was full all the little mine smallholdings would be under water.

He asked if I would like to go with him – I jumped at the chance and we set off. I cannot remember the accommodation there but I think Mr Brown had a small cabin that we stayed in.

I do remember exploring the mine. It was quite extensive with drives into hillsides and long dark tunnels and some deep, dark shafts. On one occasion I was walking along a tunnel and Mr Brown suddenly stopped me rather sharply. He then pointed out the shaft in the tunnel floor that I had not noticed. He showed me how to walk around this black hole and warned me about the care needed in the tunnels. He forbade going into the mine drives alone.

I did do a lot of exploring in the area on my own while Mr Brown and his black workers were occupied in the mine.

One day I was up on the hillside and had been peering down some of the open and unprotected shafts that were dotted around. At one of these shafts I was standing about half a metre from the edge and leaning slightly forward to peer into the dark hole, tossing a couple of pebbles in to hear if they hit bottom or splashed into water.

Somewhat engrossed in this boyish activity I suddenly heard an angry HISS by my feet.

Now HISS is misleading. It leads one to think of the insignificant sound of a tyre deflating…this was more like an EXTREMELY amplified consumptive wheeze, a noise you make in the back of your throat but loud and sinister! Think of the second syllable of BACH (yes, the musical genius – unless you can’t pronounce Bach …?) and imagine that CHCHCHCCH….at your feet but at CONSIDERABLE volume? That is the closest I can get to describe the sound of a startled serpent.

The next sequence of events took place so quickly that for many years I have believed that, in times of stress, one of the SIXTH SENSES is telekinesis.

I glanced down. The cobra was reared up. Its head was level with my knee, hood spread. Another angry CCCCCCHHHHHHH…. then I fell over a log some three or four metres BEHIND where I had been standing.

Trembling, I stood up, all the time staring at the place I had been standing. There was nothing there! Nothing. I picked up a large stick and looked around wildly…was the snake slithering towards me? Would it be angry and come after me? After another moment of dithering I fled. I am glad there were no hidden shafts in my path as I scampered pell-mell down the hill and back to our camp.

When Mr Brown got a message from home that my parents would be coming to fetch me we packed up and drove back to Hunter’s Road.

A day or two later my parents arrived to collect me. Cyril was grumpy that he had had to travel all that way and that I had wasted the train fare. He wanted to know why I had not got on the train – I think he had arranged for someone to meet me…but he had not told the school anything!

Anyway my mother was pleased to find me safe and well and thanked Mrs Brown and her family for their kindness. Although My recollection is scant on detail, and I have forgotten their name, they were the nicest of people – the best of Rhodesia. I have never forgotten this episode.

My stepfather enrolled me at the new Sinoia High School in January 1960. It only had form one in the first year and I had to hitch-hike 28 miles from the farm in the bush every morning. I was always late and I resented being put back a year. My behaviour was not exemplary and this resulted in Mr Talbot-Evans, the new head and my ex-housemaster from Wellington, giving me a talking to before he caned me. First boy to be caned at Sinoia High School – what an achievement.

Because of my rebelliousness it was recommended I go back to GFS and, two weeks late for the start of term I was back in junior dorm at WH.

By the end of 1960 my parents had moved to Salisbury and in 1961 I had to go to Cranborne High, near where we were living. This was because my stepfather could no longer pay my boarding fees due to his depleted circumstances.

1961 was eventful…I started at a new school where I refused to do Latin because I had been due to stop it at GFS. I was downgraded to a B stream as a result…My sister was born in the March…I broke my arm in the April (?), just before end of term…and then, a week or so after start of term, on 11 June 1961, my stepfather was killed in a car accident. 

I missed the rest of second term, we went to stay with relatives in South Africa but came back to Salisbury within months. At the end of the year I came seventh in class. As promised for passing the year, my mother bought me a bicycle. It cost her eighteen guineas that she paid off and it was many years before I comprehended what it took for her to keep her promise. 

My mother made a life for us, made a home for us and brought us up. I was fourteen, my brother was two and my sister three months of age when she was widowed. She always said that had we stayed in South Africa she could not have done that but, in Rhodesia, she could.

I have written a little about these events in my anecdote titled AFTER GUINEA FOWL SCHOOL.http://eriktheready.com/after-guinea-fowl-school-gfs-2/

Somerset West – The cabin the plot & going to Rhodesia

While I have been writing these anecdotes I started to realise that my memories are reasonably accurate but my memory of the TIME LINE for all these things is a bit out of kilter. (Remember I was a child aged between about eight and eleven when all this took place). So allow me some licence and know that these things all happened – in spite of the odd contradiction the eagle-eyed reader may pick up.

However, the time line for:

the plot being bought;
starting to camp there;
building the cabin followed by its extension;
arrival of the animals;
moving into the partly complete house and, finally;
moving into the house proper…

has all become a little fuzzy. The careful reader of these anecdotes will notice these anomalies but I trust it does not detract from the stories. A quick resume…?

Here is a picture of me in my first year of school at Maitland. I was at boarding school in Maitland until the end of 1955 when I finished Standard two and nine years of age when I started at Somerset West Primary at the beginning of 1956, in Standard three.

I would have been coming home from boarding school to the little flat in Moullie Point and later Sea Point and the plot trips may well have started while we were living in one of those places. I think I remember getting the train from boarding school to Somerset West a few times on a Friday. Children could safely do that in the mid-fifties.

The memory of those train trips also suggest that my parents may well have moved to the plot before I finished at boarding school.

The plot on Irene Avenue was a little over an acre in extent, bought some time before building of the house commenced.

We started going there for weekends and holidays almost at once. At first we spent weekends in a huge tent that Cyril had had made. After a time we had a chap from the Transkei, Marikane, working for us and staying on the plot.

Cyril helped Marikane build a small (well-built) shack for himself and made sure he had the basics of life (probably more than he had ever been used to). I think these basics were a paraffin stove, some pots, crockery and cutlery and a bed and table and maybe a few other bits and pieces and several sets of overalls, courtesy of Prices Candles I think. There was water laid on to the plot so that was never a problem.

Marikane dug two long drop toilets – one over towards his shack and one nearer our tent site that was more or less in the middle of the plot. Cyril made sure to site these very carefully and ensured that there was plenty of lime on hand to treat them.

After some time of staying in the tent at weekends (we could leave the tent up because Marikane was there to look after it), Cyril decided to build a cabin. Ever thorough, he must have done some reading and research and a delivery of timber, nails, cement and rolls of malthoid arrived at the plot. Malthoid is/was a waterproofing material for roofs. A tarry, slightly flexible grey/black sheeting probably two or three millimetres thick.

Construction of the cabin started by digging a number of holes in a square arrangement. He then planted what I seem to remember as 4 x 2 timbers (roughly 100 x 50mm in cross-section) in the holes. Marikane mixed a batch of concrete to fill the holes around the poles. While the concrete was still wet, Cyril very carefully checked that all the timbers were correctly aligned and vertical using builders lines, levels and all those good things!

I won’t bore you with the details but in a fairly short time the one-room cabin was finished. It was about six or seven metres square so not much bigger than a decent bedroom but adequate for weekends.

My memory is a bit woolly about this period but I THINK my parents may have moved out to the plot BEFORE the house was completed and while I was still at boarding school.

I do know that the cabin became a bit small for us and that the animals had already started to take up residence at the plot and the two black bunnies were still spinsters. I remember the bunnies because one day Cyril had had one or two libations too many, as was his wont, and had fallen asleep on my bed in the ANNEX. He had been petting the two rabbits when he nodded off and they were climbing all over him. They had donated a generous helping of droppings on his sleeping form and he and the bed looked as if someone had spilled chocolate-coated raisins over them. In spite of her annoyance, my mother couldn’t help laughing at the site of this slumbering man with two black rabbits hopping all over him, pooping as they went. This sketch is the extended cabin with notes.

Cyril had built the original cabin really well using tongue and grooved timbers for the walls and floor. It was raised a couple of feet above ground at the front and quite near the ground at the back, or uphill end.

The later extension to the cabin was not nearly as elaborate. Instead of tongue and groove, the outer walls were made of less robust planks done in a shingle fashion. This meant that there were slightly more uprights but the walls were flimsier. The floor was hard-packed earth that I think either duckboards, or some kind of linoleum, had been laid on. The roof was similar to the original cabin and covered in malthoid.

To connect the two rooms Cyril removed a section of the original cabin wall.

We had a paraffin primus and when not used for cooking we had a big, brass reflector that could be fitted to it to turn it into a very efficient heater.

Showering was a matter of timing. We had an incredibly long hosepipe. We ran water through it then closed the sprayer. After it had been lying in big loops in the sun, we connected it to a spray rose in our outdoor shower cubicle. Water on, get wet, water off, soap up, water on and rinse. It meant waiting a while between showers while the water warmed up but – it worked.

Finally, we had a fridge, electric lights and a few other mod cons, as utilities were connected and made available on the plot.

When building on the house started, Cyril had the builders complete the garage and servants quarters first. We/my parents moved into that part of the house while building on the main house proceeded. It is entirely possible that we were living in the cabin or the completed servants’ quarters when I started at SW Primary School…but I THINK we may already have been in the house.

One thing that I do remember was that Cyril got to know people and made friends in the village and the general area. Even before the house was completed, we had some great braais. Most of these I never saw the end of, having nodded off and been carried – or led off half asleep – to my bed.

I think we had been living in the house proper for about two years when Cyril mentioned that his employer was talking about transferring him to Central Africa. This was discussed off and on for a while but really only became serious in early 1958.

One thing that has always stuck in my mind was my thoughts on the matter as I lay in bed one night. Cyril had, on a couple of occasions threatened to leave me behind in South Africa. This would occur on those occasions – fairly frequent occasions – when I had done something that annoyed him and, of course, he could be equally annoyed if I had not done something.

Anyhow, one night as I lay in bed I got to thinking about this potentially life changing move and how it would affect me. I got to thinking about life and mortality and the thought of the year 2000 crept into my eleven-year-old mind. How old would I be in that year? I would turn fifty-four in 2000 and that would be unbelievably ancient. What would I be like, what things would I think about, and what would I be doing and what would it be like to be so unbelievably OLD?

As I am sure everyone knows (and for the information of those who may not), the little boy is still there, inside my head and inside me. That little boy is the grown up me, (71 years of age in pic taken 30 May 2018) and the grown up me is the little boy and I defiantly wear a badge on my everywhere jacket that proclaims:

Growing OLD is inevitable, Growing UP is optional.

 I try to keep my sense of wonder that allows me to ask daft questions and be interested in all kinds of things that GROWN UPS should apparently not show they care about. I try really hard to hold onto that unconscious naiveté that children have that allows them to see things without our faux sophistication. Does that make sense?

I drifted away there!

Prices Candles transferred Cyril to Rhodesia as Manager, Prices Candles, Central Africa, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in mid-1958. I was to turn 12 in August of that year.

We had left Cape Town station on the 30th of April or the 1st of May and arrived in Gwelo on the 3rd of May 1958 at about midnight. It was a wonderful trip and we were well looked after by the cabin staff and the conductor. My mother was to tell me later that it was because Cyril had slipped the conductor five pounds and the chief steward had received something as well. Five pounds at that time may have been half a month’s wages for a railwayman I suppose?

Within three years our life, our way of life, was to be destroyed due to a number of factors but mainly due so something that, in those days, was deemed a nervous breakdown as a more genteel way of not acknowledging that someone was an alcoholic.

I will write of that in other posts. The signs had been there for a while with a couple of NURSING HOME stays before the transfer. With hindsight I think the transfer to Rhodesia was a LAST CHANCE for a very talented and capable man. It was a time when no one openly discussed or dealt with the demon, and the stigmatizing of people with alcohol problems was quite awful. Of course, one has to acknowledge that it – alcohol – CAN be beaten but it is not easy and certainly with the attitudes of that day and age perhaps more difficult than today, when we tend to be more open and less condemnatory.

My stepfather died in a car accident on the 11th of June 1961 aged just 38 – he was passenger in a touring car that overturned one evening when, we believed, the driver had fallen asleep. His children, my brother and sister, were just two years of age and three months old respectively.

My mother was not yet 38. She took us to Cape Town after the funeral but decided that life would be easier for a widow with three children back in Rhodesia. We left Cape Town to return to Rhodesia on the 5th of September 1961, my mother’s 38th birthday.

There will be a few more anecdotes of my time in Somerset West. Of course, the time I spent there was comparatively short. Three years in a child’s life is a long time, not so much for an adult!

Perhaps a few of you may enjoy exploring my site and seeing how my life panned out…and a bit about how it was BEFORE Somerset West!

Somerset West – The Skollie

Skollie – a young tearaway hooligan
Snik-snik – haltingly through tears
Imperial coinage – a shilling (twelve pence) converted to ten cents and a sixpence was five cents when decimal coinage was introduced.
Tuppence – two pennies (colloquial)

This is actually NOT a Somerset West story because it took place in Observatory, Cape Town. We were, however living in Somerset West when it happened (I think we were and if not we had already bought the plot and started spending weekends there so maybe it counts?) I am sure people who know the area will relate.

My stepfather, Cyril, worked for Prices Candles in Observatory. Sometimes in school holidays, he would take me to work with him. I would get filthy playing and walking around in the candle factory and climbing all over the high, dirty stacks of bagged paraffin wax. I used to enjoy those days – something different for an eight or nine-year-old. I learned how candles were made.

We usually took sandwiches to the factory and from time to time there would be food prepared in the offices where there was a relatively small staff working.

On the odd day we would get in the car and go to a café in Salt River to have tea and sandwiches or a light meal.

One day Cyril was busy at work and it was late morning so he asked me if I would like to go for a walk and buy us a packet of sandwiches.

I was a bit bored with the factory and was happy to do something different. The streets were quite safe during the day so off I went with three shillings in my pocket. Two and sixpence was for the sandwiches and I was to have a soft drink out of the sixpence (and probably have tuppence change). I would wait while the sandwiches were freshly prepared.

They made three generous sandwiches for me, two rounds of egg and one of polony. They cut them diagonally and wrapped them in greaseproof paper. The sandwiches were then placed in a large brown paper bag for me to carry them back to the factory. The distance I had to walk was probably a mile – say one and a half kilometres?

Like all children – and many others I imagine – I loved looking in all the shop windows. There were many different shops in the area from bicycles to hardware, jewellers, small grocers, pawnshops and many others. I dawdled along looking at this and that until I got close to the factory when I turned off the main road.

There were a couple of quiet side streets with houses and small yards with non-retail type businesses in them. Car and bicycle repairs, small scrap dealers that kind of thing. It was very quiet in these streets as I got closer to the factory and I was probably not even a block from my destination when it happened.

I stopped to look at something that had caught my attention, holding the bag of sandwiches in one hand. As I stood there a young coloured man, probably a teenager, came loping up the street towards me. I was only absent-mindedly aware of him.

As he got close to me, he seemed to put on a spurt, dodged half a step towards me and snatched my precious bag of sandwiches! Stunned I turned and shouted “Hey!” I think he glanced over his shoulder and laughed, he may have shouted something rude, I don’t know. He turned the corner and was gone.

Getting over my initial surprise, I felt hurt and angry but mostly just shocked, I suppose. “How could someone do that?” my innocent mind seemed to ask rhetorically.

Flowing directly from that thought was my apprehension over how Cyril was going to react! Knowing how unpredictable he could be, and already in tears, I walked (maybe I ran?) the remaining distance to the factory.

Cyril surprised me. He crouched down and put his arm around me, and told me to tell him what had happened. Snik-snik, I told him about the skollie, and the stolen bag of sandwiches.

He told me not to worry, wash my face and hands, and we would go and get another bag of sandwiches.

We drove out of the factory gate and he said we would drive around a bit and see if we could see the skollie. I don’t think we saw him at all – or if we did he quickly vanished down some alleyway.

After getting the sandwiches, we went back to the factory and at last had our tea and sandwiches.

Writing about that now, I remember that factory rather clearly. The streets in the area were clean with very little litter. One drove in the gate by the offices and the yard was spotless.

Inside the factory though, things were dirty because of the type of work and the railway line that ran past the back (the factory had its own siding too). Steam trains were still common with the attendant dust that they produced.

We moved to Rhodesia in mid-1958 when Prices transferred Cyril to manage the Gwelo factory. For reasons that I will talk of elsewhere he soon left the company.

Then, sadly, in 1960, we heard from my aunt that the Prices Candles factory in Observatory, Cape Town had burned down in a spectacular fire. Considering the raw materials that would have been in stock, it must have been quite a blaze.

Somerset West – school trips

Braai – a barbecue (Pronounced brigh – to rhyme with sigh or why, the word is a dead giveaway that someone hails from Southern Africa.)

Somerset West Primary School and Somerset West the village was, as you may have noticed from all my anecdotes, a big influence on my life.

Until I started writing these recollections of the time spent in Somerset West I don’t think I had realised what a profound influence this little cameo, these three or four years of my life, had on me. I cannot say that it was life changing or that I learned things that made for startling changes in my life but perhaps, in its way, it was the happiest period of my childhood. Our life was more settled than ever before, or after, and I was young enough not to be bothered by adult matters that took place on a higher plane and did not really affect me.

Something that stands out in my memory of school was trips to learn about businesses and manufacturing. We learned something about where the things we used and ate came from, how things are, and were, made.

Three trips (well four actually…you’ll see…) in particular were…

The Cape Times Newspaper.

This was the mid-fifties, a long time before computers. The offices, behind the reception façade, struck me as being slightly dingy and dirty – probably all the ink and dust from various printing techniques. Rows and rows of typewriters and rows of READERS – checking copy for spelling and other errors – little did I know that one day I would be working at this, proof reading and editing.

The TELEX room was so noisy with the old Creed teleprinters, (generally referred to as TELEX machines, I was to learn). There were people typing on them and creating punched tapes at the same time so that the same copy could be sent to several distant places and of course there were machines RECEIVING stories from all over the world. Even with silencer boxes over them these old electro-mechanical machines were incredibly noisy. (I was to become a soldier when I left school. I served in the Corps of Signals and, apart from rifle fire, I think that working in communications centres, with a dozen or more of these old machines hammering away, contributed to the hearing problems I have been aware of for many years).

They showed us the thundering presses as these gobbled up huge rolls of newsprint and the compositors’ room where the print was prepared and set in blocks to be printed. Some of this last process was mechanised (automated…? I am not sure that would be an accurate term to use). The Cape Times was, and is, a broadsheet, a BIG, full sized, newspaper. Blocks of print, each the size of a double page spread, had to be fitted to the printing presses in the correct sequence. 

What I found most interesting about this trip was my first experience of a fax machine. 

This, however, was NOT the little desktop unit we know (and that is already becoming obsolete). It was not even called a fax (or facsimile) machine but rather it was termed photographs by wire or some similar term – I remember seeing the tag in brackets picture by landline. The machine used, however, rather like early computers, required a huge room all to itself and it was as noisy as the noisiest factory.

We were shown the receiving of a press photo of something that had happened in London or somewhere equally distant a few hours earlier that was being received as we watched. The machine thundered and banged like  a war zone. At the end of the performance a grainy, black and white picture, that was probably about the size of an A4 sheet, appeared. It was a marvel of its time.

Sweets.

Another memorable trip was to a factory making sweets (Buchanan comes to mind…? but I am not sure).

What I remember about this visit was my first impression, that the place was dirty – well at least grubby.  They showed us sheets of toffee, wrapped sweets, nigger balls (I know you shouldn’t, for rather suspect PC reasons, use the word but that IS what they were called), and all manner of other sweet things being made and packaged. They had all these different things in progress and some damaged stock so we all went away with pockets full of sweets. In many cases – and I was one – we stuffed so many products into our pockets that we were eating pocket-furry sweets for days!

Andy Becket and I went up to one chap who was working with chewing gum – great flat sheets of what I think was Juicy Fruit – and scrounged SOME chewing gum. He laughed as he cut a great strip of gum for each of us. My child memory tries to say that it was about a metre of chewing gum but… anyway it was more than we could hope to get in a year. We quickly rolled it up, stuffed it in our pockets and hurried to catch up with the rest of the group. We had been expressly forbidden chewing gum so naturally Andy and myself…

Prices Candles

We also visited the Prices Candles factory in Observatory where my stepfather, Cyril, worked. I had asked him and, to my great joy, he agreed. I told the teacher, arrangements were made and one day, off we went. I don’t remember much of that one because I had been to the factory many times. The entrance yard and the offices were immaculately clean.

I knew the manufacturing process pretty well. We always had balls of scrap wax with bits of wick in them at home to start our winter fires and our braais. We also always had bobbins of partly used candle wick that we used as string – it was incredibly strong.

The wax storage warehouses were huge, and very dirty, full to the rafters with sacks of wax. On the factory floor at one end were the melting vats. From there the workers carried the liquid wax in big scoops to the ranks of candle moulds. Naturally, a lot of wax slopped onto the floors and you had to be very careful not to slip.

The candle making machines, for straight and non-fancy candles, were amazingly simple. The wick was threaded through each mould in the machine that had perhaps fifty moulds in it. The wick was tensioned above and below to ensure it stayed in the middle of the mould. At the top of the mould, where the base of the candle would be, was a tray arrangement about three centimetres deep into which liquid wax was poured and this ran down into each mould. After moulding a very sharp butcher knife was used to cut the wicks above and below the moulds – leaving a short piece for lighting the candle at the tip of it (the bottom of the mould).

A short time later the tray at the top of the moulding machine was cleaned out with a sharp scraper/cutter that removed all the excess wax and bits of leftover wick – the smooth bases of the candles could now be seen. These scrapings were discarded in big boxes from which the scrap balls, that everyone who worked there took home for lighting fires, were roughly fashioned.

The finished candles went into a packing room where a number of women worked at wrapping the candles in packs of six, in wax paper printed with the Lighthouse logo that Prices Candles used for this product.

Finished packets of candles were packed in wooden boxes. The wood panels were delivered in flat packs printed with the Prices’ logo and address in blue and red. These boxes were assembled on an automatic nailing machine. The operator positioned the box sections in a jig and pressed a lever with his foot. This brought down a piece of equipment that clamped the pieces for a moment simultaneously driving in the nails. It took the operator no more than a minute or two to put together each box. The lids, after the boxes had been packed, were nailed on by hand. The boys in the class were impressed by this nailing machine thinking it really clever.

A group of thirty-plus children, we inevitably came out of there rather dirty. We had, however, been told to wear old play clothes, which was a good thing.

I have a vague memory of a visit to a bakery…some place that made biscuits, Baumann’s or Pyott’s (?) and we all had biscuit crumbs in our pockets for days after. Or… was that also the sweet factory…?

…and now for the afterthought…

This was the visit to the Cape Town Castle! Also known as the Castle of Good Hope this formed part of our history lessons. It was a really great visit – seeing the cannons and all the old quarters and trying to imagine what it must have been like way back when it was built in the 17th century. When we were taken to the prison cells and shown the torture equipment there were some serious oohs and aaahs, especially from the girls. 

Down in the dungeon the guide told us how it would have been partly below water at high tide and remarked that prisoners had gone mad in there, scratching and tearing at the walls in the dark. 

Andy and I had crept up to the entrance while he was talking. Pulling the door almost shut we turned off the electric light. We took some stick for that but it was gratifying for two small boys to have heard the hysterical screams in the pitch dark dungeon just for those few seconds!

 

Repurposing 1

A lot is said about finding new uses for things we usually throw away and the buzzword for this is REPURPOSING.

Years ago I started saving plastic bottles such as shampoo and similar. I would cut the top and bottom off and clean them then use the “tubes” so formed to hold my cables together. Depending on the thickness of the cables, I would use larger or smaller tubes as my tidies.

Toilet roll centre tubes, wrapped in packing tape, also make good cable tidies – cheap and easy to replace when they wear out.

 

 

 

I have always hated the fact that people wrap electric cables around appliances (hair dryers for example) or tools (such as electric drills). One reason is that the constant twisting can damage the inner cores of the 

cables as well as the cables outer insulation. The other reason is that often the cables come unwrapped and various other cables tangle with them and people start tugging at this cable bundle – that does none of the cables any good.

Another thing I have noticed is that people coiling up cables that do not have built in storage, start doing so at the END of the cable furthest from the appliance. This also causes twisting and bulging in the cable because the appliance does not let it unwind. Rather, lay the cable out and with the appliance or tool close to you, start to gather the cable in as if coiling a lasso – as seen in western movies…? That way, all the twists are unwound as the cable is gathered; then squash the loops and slip one of your cable tidying tubes over it.

Store awkward items neatly in old plastic bottles that you have washed out.

For my camera cables and the cables for my multimeter, I  use various sizes of toothpaste tubes.

 

 

 

Refurbish workmate copy

Refurbish old WorkMate-type portable workbench

I was given this old piece of equipment and have found it very useful but difficult to use.

It only had two plastic dogs for clamping and one of the cranks for opening and closing the clamping action of the top was broken off.

I first fixed the broken crank handle with a piece of scrap aluminium tubing, an M6 bolt, some washers and spacers and a nylok nut. It looks odd but it does what is required, and the opening and closing of the table is smooth and effortless. (See pic V1)

I then found that the two plastic dogs were not satisfactory (see pic V2) and obviously would not hold a work piece firmly and squarely on the table.

I decided to make some new clamping dogs.

I first cut some pieces of 25mm hardwood dowel in 50mm lengths and got a friend to turn them on his lathe so that I had 20mm at the original 25mm diameter, the next 20mm at just under 20mm in diameter and he last 10mm tapered down to about 18.5mm. (also see pic V3).

After some sanding these PEG-type dogs fitted just fine (see pic V4) and held a work piece really well BUT…

I felt that if I clamped soft wood with the round hardwood pegs they could dent or bruise the wood unacceptably.

Only having some pine lying around, I made four dogs to slip over the pegs so that the clamping surfaces will be flat (see pics V5 & V6). The notches enable odd shaped pieces to be clamped and held too. I think I may have to scrounge around and find some harder, finer-grained wood and remake these because the pine might be a bit TOO soft – not at all hard wearing.

Overall, though, I am pleased with the result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clamping for drill press

Clamping a workpiece squarely for benchtop drill press

I was making some clamp dogs for a portable workbench and needed to drill 25mm holes in the prepared squares of wood.

After drilling a small pilot hole I then had to clamp each piece in my press vice and was concerned about getting them clamped so that they would be square (90°) to the drill. If my holes were not accurate then the dogs would not sit flat when slipped over the 25mm pegs.

I suddenly had the thought that I should look at the problem differently.

I lightly clamped the wood block then turned the vice upside down on the drill table. I loosened the vice and, by pressing on the body of the vice and, at the same time using a finger to press the wood down, re-tightened the vice.

Now when I presented the vice with the work clamped in it I could be confident that the work was SQUARE to the hole saw.

 

 

 

SOMERSET WEST – miniatures and Brooklax

I was probably ten when the miniatures collecting craze took hold in the school.

I think it started with one or two children having tiny bottles of Coke in miniature crates.

Soon we were getting into it quite seriously with dentist’s samples of toothpaste and any other “miniature” we could get our hands on.

In the town, maybe one street up from the Primary School and just off the main street was a company called EPEE Distributors. It was easy to remember and sort of a joke because my initials are EPE.

I had been into EPEE a couple of times to ask for miniatures, which, in the form of rep’s samples, they gave me. I remember they gave me a tiny tube of Kolynos toothpaste. It was quite distinctive with the yellow tube with black print on it. (If anyone remembers its colours differently then put it down to my colour confusion). There was also Ipana toothpaste and I had also got a tiny tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts and one or two other things from there.

The woman at reception told me that we could call in every couple of weeks and if there was anything new she would put one or two items aside for us.

One day after I had been playing at school, or at with some friends, I was going to hitch a ride to the Cylnor – if I got lucky, I might even get a lift part-way up Helderberg College Road. As I walked past EPEE Distributors I called in with my friend (I can’t remember who I was with) to check if they had any new miniatures. I think they were busy but they gave us a handful of samples (miniatures) and we scampered out to divide our loot.

Among the two or three items were about six sample packs of Brooklax, consisting of about six small squares that looked, innocently, like a tiny, thin slab of chocolate. The chocolate was even wrapped in silver foil and slid out of the wrapper just like Cadbury’s.

For those who do not know (and we didn’t) Brooklax is a fairly powerful laxative.

We got up to the garage where the fork in the road went right for Stellenbosch, and home for me, or left for Cape Town. My friend lived somewhere near there and went off home and I started walking up the hill. I got a lift as far as the Cylnor and started to trudge up Helderberg road.

I had read the instructions on the Brooklax wrapper without REALLY understanding the dire warnings. I decided a little taste would do no harm, would it? I mean it was just chocolate medicine that they would not just give to children if it was dangerous?

By the time I had walked to Irene Avenue I had eaten, if not all of one pack probably most of it. As I started into my road my tummy rumbled. Google Earth shows the distance from the corner to my then front gate as being 160 metres. I was probably 50 metres from the front gate when I rushed headlong into the bushes, barely able to adopt the position before my bowels emptied.

I made it home with about two more stops by which time there was nothing inside me and I was somewhat worried I was going to turn inside out.

When I told my mother why I looked so terrible she could barely contain her laughter but she made sure nothing bad would happen and I was OK to go to school next day. The lesson was well and truly learned.

To this day I avoid laxatives and even if a doctor wants to prescribe them, as has happened literally once or twice since, I try to talk the doctor out of it!

We children hiked everywhere if we did not cycle and thought nothing of it. Our parents forbade it of course but we did it anyway – a much gentler, law abiding and less dangerous world it was then.

SOMERSET WEST – Wa Wiel – Wagon Wheel

David, my friend, suggested I enlarge on this children’s farmyard game that I mentioned in my first Somerset West article.

We would draw the general shape, shown above, in the dirt in the yard. Usually by dragging out feet along to make the lines. It was perhaps thirty metres in diameter? A lot depended on the available space.

Much like what we called ON-ON (in Rhodesia I learned it was called Touchers) where the one who drew the short straw or lost at several rounds of one-potato, two-potato (we did not know about rock-paper-scissors yet) would be ON and have to take station in the BOSS (the middle) of the wheel.

As long as you were between the tramlines in the RIM of the wheel, you were safe – the boss and the spokes belonged to the person who was ON. Now I hope I have the rest of it right!

The object was incredibly complex – run down a spoke to the centre and run OUT on a different spoke, without being touched in the centre – or without being caught while on one of the spokes and dragged back to the centre. Do you see where the potential for it to get physical comes into play?

If you ran outside of the tramlines of the spokes you were deemed caught and would have to take your turn in the middle. No jumping across from one spoke of the wheel to another to avoid capture allowed. You could retreat, back up the spoke, if you changed your mind and were quick enough.

The person who was ON, tried to LOSE that position as soon as possible while the others’ ambition was just the opposite.

Several players would start to advance to the centre at the same time, tempting the ON player to try to catch one of them. If the guardian advanced towards one player on one of the spokes the hub would be temporarily unguarded and someone quick enough could score a point.

When play stopped the person who had made the most successful runs or points would be the winner. It was a pretty loose system though – mostly we just had fun. Generally, play stopped when we were tired, it got dark or the resident parents called time – often with some biscuits and cool drinks or tea.

I found a similar game played in the USA called Fox and Geese…here http://grandmaideas.com/fox-and-geese

SOMERSET WEST – I can see clearly now

Another version of this story can be found here:  http://eriktheready.com/goggles/

I think I was in Standard 3 aged nine, when they discovered the problem.

Our classroom at Somerset West Primary School that year, 1956, was long and narrow. You entered from the veranda through a door in one of the narrow ends of the room. The blackboard was on the long wall to the right with the teacher’s desk in front of it and about four rows of desks facing it. Each row was about four desks deep and each desk seated two children. I cann0t really remember dimensions but it was probably two or three times as long as it was deep.

Like all boys, I had grabbed a seat at the back of the class – probably only about five metres from the front.

Soon, however, the teacher had me moved to the front of the class and, horror of horrors, sitting next to a GIRL! (I am not sure that I really minded but peer pressure demanded that little boys and little girls should avoid each other.)

The reason for the teacher moving me was that she soon realised I was having trouble reading the notes written on the blackboard. More to the point was the fact that most of these notes had to be copied into our notebooks and I was sitting there, less than five metres from the board, unable to read what the other children were having no problem seeing.

I think part of this ritual was that we got to practice our handwriting and it set the salient facts in our minds. With many of these notes – in geography for example – we had to illustrate the notes to further show that we had understood the lessons. Unlike today with the singular focus per subject, good English was always expected. Whatever the subject, Geography, History, Arithmetic etcetera, you lost marks for poor spelling and grammar. I have noted that most people educated in that era have good language skills and often remember, 50 or 60 years later, what they learned.

However even from the front row, I was squinting and unable to read the board. The upshot of this was that the teacher took the book of my desk mate (girls’ handwriting was generally better that the boys’ anyway) and told me to take it home and copy the notes from it.

When Cyril saw me copying the notes he bristled and accused me of cheating and cribbing other children’s work. Well that was the gist of his tirade – and wanting to report me to the school for cheating. My mother, who I had told and who had the note from the teacher, tried to intervene but was met with scorn for trying to PROTECT me.

In those days, a team from the health department used to come to the schools and give the children a rudimentary health check. I think the check was primarily for TB but it also ensured that any underprivileged youngsters would not fall through the cracks because the parents could not afford to take them to the doctor. Most of us were disgustingly healthy and the checks never bothered us.

Eye testing teams also visited schools for the same reason – quite progressive thinking in the fifties.

A few days after one of the episodes of copying notes from another child’s book, the optical team visited the school.

I failed! I was chronically short sighted and, because of the alarming result of my test, I was given a note for my parents.

Cyril was openly scornful again. I was just playing up, he said, and being too lazy to do my work. This was just another excuse and so on and on…such fun!

My mother put her foot down. Reluctantly and with dire warnings of the consequences if I was malingering, Cyril let my mother make an appointment for me to see a well-known optician in Cape Town. I think his name was Townsend…could that be?

There were no Spec-Savers® type opticians in that day. We arrived at a very ordinary building in central Cape Town and climbed the stairs to the optician’s offices on the first or second floor. A very plain door with the name of the optician and his business on it, opened into a tiny reception area and a rather old-fashioned waiting room.

The optician’s office/consulting room was all wood panelling and books with none of the modern paraphernalia one expects today. I sat in a chair and he wheeled his apparatus over and proceeded with his tests.

I was vaguely apprehensive. What if the optician somehow found it was my fault that I could not see properly – effectively supporting Cyril’s stance?

The optician confirmed that I was very myopic to the point that he did not understand that no one had noticed this before. I suppose it is a sort of a boiling frog syndrome – my eyesight deteriorated but to me that was normal as I continually found ways to WORK AROUND the problem. He also discovered that I have a degree of colour confusion. This was to preclude me working in the electrical and electronics fields and it would probably have stopped me had I ever had the opportunity to learn to fly.

I was prescribed spectacles and my mother helped me to choose a pair of horn-rimmed frames that she thought looked good. Cyril muttered direly in the background.

About a week later my parents came home from work with my new specs. The optician had counselled that I should not wear the glasses to school at once and I should only wear them at home until I got used to them.

I seem to remember that I was outside when mom gave me my glasses – probably doing the hated watering of the garden.

 I put the specs on and I think my eyes filled with tears.

A step back.

Where we lived on the slopes of the mountain the view over False Bay was one of the most spectacular that you could expect to see ANYWHERE. It was simply breathtaking but I had not even been aware of its beauty. To me it was just, the sea is over there and on the right , I know, is Simonstown and Muizenberg and over to the left is the Strand and Gordon’s Bay and the mountains that we drive along to Hangklip. I KNEW this but my VIEW of it was a vague blur. The photo, mined from the internet (acknowledgement to GORDO), is not an ideal image but serves to give some idea of the vista from Helena Heights on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain. 

Analogy is my strong point but it tends to elude me when I get to describing this. Imagine your TV is slightly off station and the image is a sort of sepia blur. You fiddle and suddenly it is in sharp, brilliant colour. Can you imagine that? I thought of a blind person seeing but that would be presumptuous for I can, and could, see. I don’t think one can imagine being blind but it is perhaps as difficult if you have always had 20/20 vision to imagine the transition I experienced.

Technicolour – that was my first thought. The world has changed to Technicolour – and it is beautiful. I just stood, and stared and slowly looked around at all the things that I had never noticed. The detail of the rocks on the mountain, the dynamite factory and the lake in its grounds five kilometres  away near the sea and more than 200 metres below us…. everything was pin-sharp and in TECHNICOLOUR – even the chickens, thirty-odd metres away, were no longer a heaving blurred mass of white as they fed – I could see individual birds.

Overwhelmed, I cried.

I suppose that is the only time I have experienced what is termed sensory overload. My mother just put her arms around me and held me as, confusedly, I tried to tell her what I could see and how beautiful it was. I suppose it was a kind of revelation to her, too. After a bit she chuckled quietly, genuinely pleased for me, and told me it was alright but to wipe my eyes and act normally to avoid any nastiness when we went back into the house.

Next morning I was to leave the specs at home…NOT. After assuring the parents that I HAD left the glasses in my room I got into the car to go to the bus stop, with the precious specs in their hard case at the bottom of my satchel.

As soon as the car had disappeared over the hill in a cloud of dust, I put on my glasses and marvelled at all that I could SEE.

At school there was some teasing about four-eyes and so on. I silenced that by saying I would rather see than not see – the teasing NEVER bothered me and because of that it never lasted and I, and my glasses, became just part of the normal school scene.

My schoolwork improved and I told my mother later that I had never left the glasses at home – she had known but not said anything.

A few years later, in 1959, I started at a boarding school called Guinea Fowl in Rhodesia. It was a wonderful school out in the bush and there I was given the nickname Goggles. I wore the name with pride and it never bothered me. One or two people still remember that nickname – Goggles.

eriktheready is a work actively in progress