Il Silenzio part 2

Since my last blog post, a few things transpired that have prompted me to elaborate a bit more on my dad’s war experiences. I gave my mum a copy of my post to read and she was so thrilled that she phoned my brother Mike to ask him to read it too. Mike called me after he had spent a couple of days looking up more information on the internet. I thought what he had found out was so interesting that I wanted to include it in Ted’s story. He also discovered a few discrepancies in Edna’s recollections of events but by and large she had got it right! After speaking to Mike I found some letters that Ted had written to his sister Rose before he was shot down, as well as a few written by Edna to Rose after he had been taken prisoner. I really enjoyed transcribing these letters. It made everything so much more real to me and I must confess I felt a bit emotional at times knowing that as my dad wrote them he had no idea what he was about to go through- what a pity the art of letter writing has died out.

This is what Mike found out (and Mike, please feel free to comment if I have left anything out):

  • My dad flew 27 ops (not 33). When I mentioned this to my mum she said that she knew it was either 3 short of 30 or 3 over (no flies on her!). A tour of duty was 30 completed operations. An “op” was a successfully completed flight or sortie, where the primary or secondary target had been attacked. Crews turning back early through technical problems did not count as having successfully operated. About 25 per cent of crews survived a first tour. After a six month rest, they came back for another tour of 20 operations. (www.elsham.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/raf_bc/)
  • The average age of the bomber crews was 21 years old. As my dad would say “it makes yer fink, doesn’t it?”
  • The target of the raid that took place on the 18th December 1944 was the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein. When the invasion of Poland took place on 1 September 1939, Schleswig-Holstein was in the harbour of the Free City of Danzig, having arrived there in August under the guise of a ceremonial visit and was moored close to the Polish ammunition depot at Westerplatte. At 04:47 on 1 September the captain gave the order to open fire on the Polish positions on the Westerplatte and, in doing so, fired the first shots of World War II. In 1944 she was an anti-aircraft platform stationed in Gdynia to protect the port from enemy air attacks. SMS Schleswig-Holstein was burned out after being hit three times by RAF bombers on 18 December 1944.
  • After being picked up in the Baltic Sea, Ted was taken to Stalag Luft VII, a Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located in Bankau, Silesia, Germany (now Baków, Poland). The camp was opened on 6 June 1944, and by July held 230 prisoners, all RAF flying crews. They were joined by members of the Glider Pilot Regiment captured at the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944. By 1 January 1945, the camp held 1 578 British, American, Russian, Polish and Canadian troops. On 19 January 1945, 1 500 prisoners marched out of camp in bitter cold. They crossed a bridge over the river Oder on 21 January, reached Goldberg on 5 February, and were loaded onto a train. On 8 February they reached Stalag III-A located about 52 km south of Berlin near Luckenwalde, which already held 20,000 prisoners, consisting mainly of soldiers from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and Russia, adding to the already overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. I found this interesting account of the Evacuation of Stalag Luft VII in Silesia – January 1945 Diary kept by an RAF POW. Finally, as the Russians approached the guards fled the camp leaving the prisoners to be liberated by the Red Army on 22 April 1945.
  • Despite being liberated on the 22nd April 1945, it took almost a month for him to get back home. This account of the liberation of Stalag Luft III -A explains why it took so long for Ted to get back home and what the argy-bargy was about between the Americans and the Russians that Edna referred to in her account.

My dad was a laatlammetjie (Afrikaans: a child born to older parents many years after its siblings) and Rose, one of his three sisters, was more like a mother to him than his real mother. These are some of my dad’s letters to Rose when he was posted to the RAF bomber command, squadron 207 based at Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

  • 1802650 Sgt Peek E.C
  •                                                                                                 Sgts Mess
  •                                                                                                 R.A.F. Spilsby
  •                                                                                                 Nr Spilsby
  •                                                                                                             Lincs

Thursday

Dear Rose

Here it is at long last. I shall be operating in about three days and one of them that goes down has your name on it. And on another I shall write “Remember 47”.

We have been spending the time since arriving here last Saturday polishing up on everything. They take no chances with you. It’s funny but I could never see myself doing this but now its arrived I’m aching to get cracking and funnily enough I feel quite impartial and calm about it. That’s caused by the behaviour of experienced crews that one meets. When they come back you’d imagine that they had only been down the road.

Too bad about our street door. I hope you’re not being so badly disturbed now.

No we’re not intending to get our home yet. We may get a flat in Derby but only if the war lasts any time. Edna is going to get all the permits she can.

Give my regards to Bill when you write again and also to the Browns.

Cheerio now

Love, Ted

P.S. I’ve just remembered, Eric has my watch. He got it repaired for me last time I was home. I’ve written for it but had no answer so you’ll know where it is won’t you. 44 Carleton Rd, Holloway. N7

Just in case anything happens.

———————————————————————————————————-

Tuesday evening

Dear Rose

Having just piled some coke on the hut stove, I can now settle down to write you a letter. Tuesday night is letter night and I’ve written Marge to thank her for some walnuts.

As for this stove it’s one of those efforts that gets bloody hot after two or three attempts at lighting and after belching out smoke and soot all over the unfortunate “fire-lighter”. It’s a lovely little thing, bless its heart.

Still only 23 ops to my credit, very slow but can’t be helped. The skipper has become a rather important cog in the station’s machinery and consequently, we don’t fly so often. We should finish the tour sometime in December and I’m keeping my fingers crossed to be with you at Christmas.

I get my last leave in about three weeks and Edna and I are going to Scarborough. She hasn’t seen her Ma since we were married so I think we should share and share alike. I like Len anyway, we always have a good time up there, we know quite a few folks from being stationed there six months. Just like home from home.

Remember my commission, well I was to see the Group Captain if I was a category A navigator and I wasn’t. (Note past tense) Now I’m sweating like hell to be a Cat A and am succeeding. One more good trip and I see Grumpy. So that’s how it stands at the moment.

Ron, our w/op, has seen Grumpy and is through so he’ll be Pilot Officer within any time now. He’s a good worker and deserves it. I’m not sure if I deserve it or not, I have never been a conscientious navigator but we’ve always done better than average.

I guess that’s all the news for now so cheers.

Love, Ted

——————————————————————————————–

Tuesday

Dear Rose

Roll on Saturday. I start my nine days leave then and I’m meeting Edna at York to go on to Scarborough. I’m getting awfully cheesed hanging around doing nothing and I shall be very glad to get away.

I still have only 24 ops to my credit. When a crew reaches 20 it generally   gets slowed down and besides that the skipper is Deputy Flt/Commander and has a bit of office work to do. I’m afraid I shan’t be home for Christmas.

I have seen the Wing Commander again and he passed me through to the Group Captain who I saw yesterday. Grumpy has recommended me after an awfully long interview and I next have to see our Base Commander, an Air Commodore. It’s now up to him. I think I shall get it but don’t mention it to anyone yet and I’ll let you know when I’m certain. P.O. Peek eh. How does it sound? Tickle Bill won’t it?

My last trip was to a storage dump near Hamburg. It was a bit sticky but we had nothing out of the usual happen. As you know collisions are a great worry and we’ve had our share but it was all we could do to miss other Lancs on this particular effort. The rear-gunner swears we came so near that he heard its engines roaring and the bomb-aimer was just about to let them go when another Lanc passed right beneath us. He’ll never know how near he came to having a few tons of bomb dropped on him. Some one in his crew must have spotted us with our bomb-doors open. They certainly soon got out of the way. I bet they nearly all had a baby.

I’m glad to read that you’re getting out of London for a while. It definitely would be best while these Y2s are about.

Well that’s about all for now.

Cheerio

Love, Ted

———————————————————————————————————-Monday afternoon

Dear Rose

About time I wrote you a letter isn’t it? I got the parcel O.K. and received your letter with the clover. Thanks a lot.

Soon after I arrived back off leave I had an interview with the A.O.C., Air Commodore Thornton and it looks as if I shall be Pilot Officer Peek next time we meet. It’s not absolutely certain that I passed but it seems that way. If I did I should get my commission in about three weeks time. I’m looking forward to surprising them at Chid and a lot of other people.

Ron’s commission came through a couple of days ago and he’s in London right now getting his uniform and accessories fitted up. We intend having another night out when we get leave and this time he’s coming back for the night. You don’t mind do you?

Too bad I shan’t be with you at Christmas but I shall never finish in time. I expect I’ll be seeing you sometime in January, about the middle. That is if you haven’t moved. Any more gen about that happening?

I did my 25th op the other day when we went to a dam near Aachen and busted it wide open. Good fun. I love giving these buggers wet feet. There was no opposition at all, we just sailed in, gave it to them with love and beat it out of the place pronto.

Don’t you worry about our cash slipping through any fingers. I’m a changed man, go on, laugh. It would shake you how much we’d saved since getting married. We’ve made bags of provisional plans and if they come off we’ll be on top of the world. It’s impossible to bank on anything nowadays but we can hope.

I do hope Bill is on his way home. It would be marvellous. I’ve been reading of men coming home from overseas. They must get a helluva kick when they’re on an English train. I know how I feel about leave and they must be ten times as excited. It would be great if Bill was home on my next leave.

Now about Dr Caltknop and the bombing. He’s quite right, the Yanks do what is called the saturation raids while we and especially my group (no kid) do precision targets. All this stuff about Yanks bombing blind and dropping bombs in a barrel so many thousand feet is all baloney. I’ve heard some damn funny tales of American navigation and bombing. They’re lost without the leader. We had a Liberator land here and I was talking to a sergeant in our mess He told me that he wouldn’t fly in Lancs for anything. He said we fly too low for comfort. They don’t feel safe unless they’re at 30 000 feet with flak vests and helmets on.

Funny thing to tell you before I finish. We were stooging over the Thames estuary about five o’clock on Sunday morning and London was on the starboard bow when the rest of the crew saw a big explosion down there and they considered it to be a 1 or 2. It looked to be about North-West London. We were only at 2,000 feet and they saw it quite plainly.

Well I guess that’s about all for now.

Cheerio.

Love, Ted

P.S. When you write to Edna again would you mind sending her my P.O. Savings book. I think it is in my chest of drawers somewhere.

———————————————————————————

(posted on 22 Nov 44)

Thursday

Dear Rose

The apples turned up O.K. thanks very much. I’m afraid I haven’t had hardly any time to eat them yet though. I flew last Saturday, Monday & Tuesday nights to Gladbeck, Darmstadt & Stuttgart. It’s definitely telling on me and I was damned glad we had a stand-down last night. Almost the whole camp was in Skeggy.

Some fellows get used to ops after they’ve done a few but I can’t get that way myself. I’m shakier now than when I started, inside I mean. My navigation is bang-on but my feelings aren’t.

The last trip was to Stuttgart on Tuesday night and it was a chimer. I never want to go through an evening like that again. Give me a little cottage in Chiddingfold and I’ll be happy for life. Some people don’t know when they are well off.

It all started just coming up to the target with about 15 mins to go. The mid-upper reported a combat about 400 yds away. Then suddenly he shouted to get veering, a fighter was on us. I think I died for ten seconds, it was our first fighter attack and believe me it isn’t pleasant. I got my chute from underneath the table and put it beside me ready. Anyway, as the man in the pub says to cut a long story short we dodged him and carried on. We next ran into flak and search lights but they were very disjointed and not much of a menace. We had to support the markers by doing a dummy run over the target first and that’s no picnic. So we did this and bombed. Was I glad to feel that 4000 pounds go. Then off home but our troubles were just beginning. About 5 mins after leaving the target our rear-gunner reported a combat 800 yds away and shortly after we were dodging another fighter. As we’re doing this the bomb-aimer shouts “DIVE”. Can you imagine this over the inter-com. It’s really nerve-wracking. Next thing I know is the kite is either hit or hit something else. There’s a helluva jar and I thought this is it. I waited for the nose to dip but the skipper holds it steady. I thought the fighter had got us but we had lost him and hit another Lancs belly with our port wing tip. The skipper did a great job in getting us back with the wing tip + a bit more completely missing. So, two fighter attacks, flak, searchlights, dummy-run and another Lancaster hit was our night’s fun. If I’d been pregnant I’d have delivered quads.

I shouldn’t tell Mother any of this fun if I were you but you might tell one or two others. We’re not cheering ‘cos we got back. Two of our boys didn’t. Makes yer fink though doesn’t it.

Cheerio  now

Lots of love, Ted

———————————————————————————————————-

These are the letters that Edna wrote to Rose after Ted was taken prisoner of war

4 Salisbury St

Seamer Rd

Scarborough

27.2.45

Dear Rose

I have just wrote to mam. I hope the telegram gave you the shock it gave me. Oh! Rose isn’t it wonderful. Now don’t forget to wire Bill and as you say dash the expense.

The telegram ran as follows.

Information received through the International Red Cross Committee states that your husband P/O Edward Charles Peek is a prisoner of war in German hands. Letter confirming this telegram follows.

I will send the letter down to Mother when I receive it. I’m so happy Rose and feel happy for mother too. She will be a changed woman.

Well I must drop a line to Win & Marge and not forgetting Will he’s been very good.

I wrote to you today but I never posted the letter so I won’t bother sending it now.

I received the parcel alright thanks a lot Rose. You have no idea what you have been to me. We must keep praying for him and for the rest of the crew.

All my love, Edna

Excuse short letter

———————————————————————————————————-

  1. Salisbury St.

Scarborough.

27.4.1945

Dear Rose

I hope you haven’t crossed me off the list for not writing.

Well Rose I want you to do me a favour. With all these prisoners being released one never knows but what Ted might walk in on us. If by any chance he does and please God it might be soon well if he comes and lands in the south of England he is bound to come to you first Rose. Well if he does please keep him there and I will come down to you at once even if it means flying. I don’t suppose he will be in a very good condition and he will be very tired so I think that it will be better if I come to him don’t you. I have not yet had news of any of the crew. Ron is in ……., which I think is in the north of Germany.

Mrs Winton sent me these snaps the two girls are Ron’s sisters. Mrs Winton looks very young really doesn’t she. I thought you would like to see them.

I hope both you and Bill are keeping well. Maybe it won’t be long Rose before he is back with you. I hope not any way.

Isn’t it terrible the things the Germans have done to the political prisoners. Gosh it frightens me to death when I think of them.

I do hope Ted will be alright. Do you think he will Rose.

Lots of love, Edna

———————————————————————————————————-

  1. Salisbury St.

Scarborough.

15-5-45

Dear Rose

Well I am sorry to say I have not yet heard anything, you can’t imagine what I am going through. I worry so much, I can’t help it. When I hear of all these boys coming back and yet no news of Ted I get so down hearted.

Wyksey and Ron have got back. I heard from Ron’s mother today and from Wyksey’s wife on Sat. I can’t understand why Ted isn’t back. He was supposed to be with Wyksey in the same camp. I suppose I’ll hear of the full crew coming back and Ted will be still out there. I wish I didn’t worry so much. I shouldn’t mind waiting if only I could hear from him. I would be willing to wait years if made to but I couldn’t do it with out news from him.

Why don’t they hurry up and get them all back they take such a helluva time to do anything here.

I know I sound awfully grumpy Rose but its just how I feel. If something doesn’t happen soon I don’t know what I’ll do. I know I can’t stand much more of this.

Don’t forget to wire if you hear anything. I hope I can settle down and write a decent letter soon to you.

Lots of love, Edna

Writing this story about my dad has been a real eye-opener for me. I have enjoyed learning more about WWII, the R.A.F. and prisoner-of-war camps. I have also come to understand my father a bit better than I did before. It used to annoy me that he always played his cards very close to his chest. I now understand why, that’s how he coped. It also occurs to me now that I never ever heard him speak ill of the Germans. R.I.P. Dad.

Edward Charles Peek: born 5th January 1922 (86 Cannon Street, City of London) – died 28th October 2001 (11 Morningside Road, Durban)

young Teddy

young Teddy

young ted_0001

Ted, 9 years old, first row 2nd from right

Ted and his sister Rose

Ted, aged about 16, and his sister Rose

On honeymoon in Chiddingfold. Back row from left: sisters Win and Rose and mother, Emily. Front row from left: Barbara (Win's daughter), father, George, Ted and Edna.

On honeymoon in Chiddingfold. Back row from left: sisters Win and Rose and mother Emily. Front row from left: Barbara (Win’s daughter), father George, Ted and Edna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Il Silenzio

 

Watching the televised Remembrance Day commemorations in the UK this past month reminded me of my dad and his part in the downfall of Adolf Hitler. He was never one to talk much about his war experiences and regretfully I never showed much interest when I was younger. One of the few occasions I heard him talking about it was when we were on holiday at our regular beach cottage at Leisure Bay (on the KZN south coast) some 25 years ago. We were relaxing around the braai one evening with friends when an acquaintance of ours, a historian and journalist (I shall call her Gina), asked him whether he had been in the war. My dad, being partial to attractive and intelligent young women, opened up to her and talked quite explicitly about his war experiences. It helped that Gina knew what questions to ask and how to ask them. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of the detail of that conversation, just that we were all spellbound. My dad never spoke of it again and I never asked.

However, in chats with my mum, I have been able to glean something about his war years.

Edward Charles Peek, more commonly known as Ted, served as a navigator in the RAF in World War II. He was in bomber command, 207 Squadron, which flew Lancaster Bombers. On the 18th December 1944 Ted and his crew were sent on a bombing raid to Gdynia (Poland), the longest flight that they had ever undertaken. It was Ted’s 33rd operational flight over enemy territory. Usually the bomber crews were given a break after 30 ops due to the stress that these missions generated. However there weren’t that many left by the end of the war and so he was not afforded the luxury of leave. Their mission was to bomb a German warship that was docked in the port there. They reached their target that night and dropped a bomb before they were intercepted by German fighter planes (Junkers 88s) which shot them down over the Baltic Sea. They managed to ditch in the sea and release the life raft from the plane after a bit of a panic when at first they couldn’t find the knife in the life raft to cut the rope that attached it to the plane. Their mid-upper gunner had been badly injured in the gun fight and had to be helped out of the plane. It was only once they were all safely in the life raft that the pilot informed them that there had still been a bomb on board when they ditched and that they were bloody lucky it had not detonated on impact.

After several hours adrift they were picked up by the German Sea Rescue, taken ashore and imprisoned, all in separate cells, to be interrogated. Ted was lucky to be debriefed by a German pilot who had himself survived a crash over England. He had been repatriated due to the injuries he had sustained in the crash. Ted felt that, as a result of the humane treatment he had received, the German was more sympathetic towards them. They were held in these cells for 4 days and then marched from Poland to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. When they arrived at the camp, called a Dulag Luft, they found a welcoming party made up of some of their RAF friends. As they swapped tales of derring-do, Ted discovered that one of his friends had parachuted out of his aircraft on a previous raid and had lost one of his flying boots. In the middle of winter he had managed to stay on the run for about a week with only one boot before he was captured by the Germans.

One of the first things that the welcoming party organised for the new POWs was to sit them all down and give them a hot shave. (I can remember my dad telling Gina about this and how much it had meant to the incoming POWs. It still brings a lump to my throat when I think of those young men, so far from their loved ones, finding some comfort in this simple act of kindness.)

Conditions in the camps were not good because by this time Germany was experiencing severe food shortages. The prisoners, however, still kept a sense of humour. They called one of the meals “whispering grass” after a song by the Mills Brothers as it tasted just like boiled grass. Not long after being taken prisoner, the Russian army began to advance on Germany. In order to get away from the Russians, the Germans forced the POWs to march across Germany. En route they were joined by displaced persons from labour camps that were also on the move. This march was a terrible ordeal and many died along the way. Unbeknown to the Germans, Patton was leading an advance into Germany from the West (the Battle of the Bulge). The Russians were coming in from the East. The Russians caught up with the POWs on the march and the German guards who hadn’t made a run for it, were summarily shot. The Russians then marched onward with the POWs and met up with the Americans on a bridge on the River Elbe.

After a bit of argy-bargy (as Edna puts it) the Russians finally released the Allied POWs to the Americans, who weren’t particularly interested in the plight of all the displaced people and, again in Edna’s words, “the poor bloody buggers had to find their own way home”. The Americans took the POWs to their canteens and generously dished out coffee, Hershey bars and cigarettes. Then began the process of returning them home. Once home, they were placed in a holding place to be debriefed. Edna recalls that Ted was not at all impressed with the English reception compared to the welcome they had received from the Americans. “They weren’t even given a cup of tea”.

Edna can remember Ted receiving notice of his commission and how he went up to London to get his officer’s uniform made at Simpson’s in Piccadilly and how dashing he looked in it. And according to my mum, it’s quite true what they say about a man in uniform!

My dad was always very proud of the fact that he had “served his country” and now that I have a young son of my own I am acutely aware of what a life-changing experience it must have been. What a shame that he could not share that with us.

ted

My dashing dad

Edna and Ted on their honeymoon, before he was taken prisoner of war

Edna and Ted on their honeymoon, before he was taken prisoner of war

Ted, with his crew and their plane, a Lancaster Bomber

Ted, with his crew and their plane, a Lancaster Bomber

ted, 2nd from left in both photos. Many years after the war he attended a reunion of the 207 squadron.

Ted, 2nd from left in both photos. Many years after the war he attended a reunion of the 207 squadron – just like old times!

They didn't get much thanks for all their effort!

They didn’t get much thanks for all their effort!

Buona notte, amore

Ti vedrò nei miei sogni

Buona notte a te che sei lontana

[Good night, love

I’ll see you in my dreams

Good night to you who are far away]

(Il Silenzio)

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Could it be any Harder

I hoped that saying goodbye to my children would get easier as the years go by but really, it just gets harder. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, Kiera was sent on a work trip to Zimbabwe. She called us from Johannesburg airport en route to Harare and we agreed how unbelievable it was that, despite her being so close, we were not going to see each other. To cut a long story short, Kiera was able to take a few days leave at the end of her trip to Zim and we arranged to meet up with her in Johannesburg for a long weekend before she flew back to America. It was all wonderfully unexpected and spontaneous.

Kiera’s good friend, Louise, lives in Johannesburg, and she arranged a few treats for us while we were there – Chinese massage (which sorted out every knot in my body and left me aching but feeling rather pleasantly zonked) and a trip to the beauty salon, which in my instance was long overdue. We also had the most splendid meal with Louise and her husband, Cameron, at a restaurant that I can highly recommend with the strange name Mon Petit Throbb (in Fourways) and afterwards we sat chatting in the garden of our lovely B&B ‘till gone midnight.

mon-petite-throbb

When we interact with people on a daily basis, we don’t usually take much notice of their inherent energy and just how much space they occupy in our world. It is only when they are no longer around that you feel the empty gap they have left behind and the tangible lack of their presence. I relished just being in the company of my daughter, feeling her near me and sensing her positive energy. When my children are happy, I’m happy and it was heart-warming to see her in such high spirits after a good visit to Zim. This was my consolation for having to say goodbye one more time, not knowing when we will get together again.

One of the unexpected benefits of spending time with my daughter was that she taught me how to use the navigational app on my iPhone. What a pleasure – I now want to travel to unknown locations just so that I can hear the dulcet tones of “South African Siri” as Kiera called her. I’ve always been the navigator in our family and what a pleasure it was to have someone (something) else assume that responsibility. Alex put a bit of a damper on my newfound discovery by telling me that it chews up data (as if I actually know what that means). I just really like learning new stuff!

the animals at our B&B were quite entertaining

the animals at our B&B were quite entertaining

 

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Food Glorious Food

Alex needs some ideas for weekend food and Judy has asked for a dip recipe. Since summer is on its way, I thought something light and cool would not go amiss.

 Savoury Dip

Mix together the following:

  •  250g cream cheese
  • 2½ Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp tomato sauce
  • 3 Tbsp green pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • Pinch of celery salt
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and pepper

 Bacon and Egg Salad

I saw Nigella prepare this on one of her shows. The dressing made with bacon fat is sheer genius! And thanks to Tim Noakes we can now eat it without any guilt.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g mixed salad leaves (the Italian mix with radicchio is nice)
  • 1 teaspoon cooking olive oil
  • 1 packet smoked bacon
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons wine / cider vinegar
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Directions

  1. Put the eggs into a saucepan of water, over medium heat. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of cold water. Peel the eggs once they feel cool to the touch.
  2. Meanwhile, tear the salad leaves into bite-sized pieces and drop them into a serving bowl.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. Cut the bacon into chunks and fry until crisp, about 5 minutes or so. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spatula to some paper towels to drain, while you make the dressing.
  4. Add the Dijon mustard to the bacon juices in the pan and whisk to combine, then add the vinegar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Whisk again, then pour it over the salad leaves, tossing to mix.
  5. Sprinkle in the bacon chunks. Quarter the eggs and add them. Gently mix to combine, trying not to break up the eggs.

I love the combination of avo and bacon but not so much avo and egg, so sometimes I substitute avo for the eggs.

Serve it with some slices of crispy ciabatta to mop up the juices.

 Calamari Salad

  • 1 packet frozen calamari rings
  • 70 ml olive oil
  • 10 ml lemon juice
  • 45 ml wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • A few drops of Tabasco
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 20 ml tomato sauce
  • Paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook calamari according to the instructions on the packet.
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together.
  3. Marinate the calamari in the dressing.
  4. Serve with lettuce and sliced red/ yellow pepper.

Sliced Steak

This recipe for sliced steak is adapted from Nigella’s Tagliata for Two recipe. Adding a splash of acid to the steak really seems to brings out all the sweetness of the meat.

I am sometimes daunted by a slab of meat on my plate, but sliced like this makes it more palatable – and a little goes a long way! In South Africa eating shisa nyama is a very social activity. Nigella’s recipe reminds me of braais that we used to attend when we lived in the bush in Maputaland. The cooked meat would be sliced and served on large wooden platters with a piles of salt and crushed red Pelindaba chillies on the side. And everyone would tuck in.

Serves 2

  • 400 g rib eye
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried chilli
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  1. Pour the oil, vinegar, oregano and chilli in a small dish about the size of the steak.
  2. Coat the steak in a little olive oil and cook in a hot frying pan for 3 – 5 minutes. Then pop the steak into the oil vinegar mixture and rest for two minutes on each side to absorb the flavours.
  3. Take the steak out and add the tomatoes cut side down into the oil mixture.
  4. Slice the steak and pour the tomato and juices over.

When I went to Thailand with the kids all those years ago (it seems), we spent a wonderful day exploring the food market, cooking, eating and generally mucking about at the Classic Home Cooking School in Chiang Mai. This recipe for Thai Beef Salad is adapted from their cookbook.

 Yam Nua

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500 g beef fillet or rump
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • Handful of chopped spring onions
  • Handful of mint leaves
  • Handful of coriander leaves
  • 1 small cucumber, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced

Dressing

  • 1 tsp ‘crashed’ garlic
  • 2 small red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp thinly sliced and pounded lemon grass stems
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp soft brown or palm sugar
  1. Cook the beef in a hot frying pan for 3 – 5 minutes each side, or until cooked to your liking. Allow to cool and then slice into thin strips.
  2. Place the dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well to combine.
  3. To serve, mix together the salad ingredients, place on a large platter and top with the slices of beef. Pour over the dressing.

Yesterday I sliced two roasted chicken breasts into strips to make a Thai Chicken Salad, using the Yam Nua recipe above. I poured half the dressing over the chicken strips while they were still warm and let them marinate while I made the salad, to which I added finely sliced, home-grown cabbage for crunch. Once the chicken strips had cooled down I added them to the salad and poured over the remaining dressing. It was a delicious, fresh tasting meal and Peter and I scoffed the lot!

Roasting chicken breasts on the bone is easy peasy:

Place the chicken pieces in a roasting pan and rub them with olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and any dried herbs languishing in your kitchen. To keep the chicken from drying out, simply tent the pan with some aluminium foil. Cook in the oven at 180°C for about 45 minutes.

When I was in my early teens, growing up in Port Elizabeth, I worked in Michael’s record bar on Saturday mornings. After work I would meet up with my friend Michele and we would go across the road for hot dogs and root beer, before heading off to the matinee movie show. I have very fond memories of that time in my life. Years later, when I started making hot dogs for my children, I concocted this relish to go with them because it reminded me of the sauce that we used to get with our hot dogs in PE. It became a firm favourite in our household and Alex asked me to include it in my post. I forgot, so here it is, post script.

 Hot Dog Relish

Ingredients

  •  1 Tbsp cooking olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped (to skin a tomato, make a slit in the skin on the stem side and cover with boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and peel)
  • 1 Tbsp hot chilli sauce (I use Wellington’s)
  • 1 Tbsp Mrs Ball’s chutney
  • 1 Tbsp tomato sauce
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a frying pan and soften the onion.
  2. Add the mustard seeds and when they start jumping out of the pan, add the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes or until all the ingredients have combined

Our orchard is full of baby fruit. We have a long way to go before there’s enough to go around, so once the birds have had their share, I don’t think there will be any left for us. It’s exciting nonetheless.

clockwise, from top left: hazelnuts, pomegranates,  peaches and apples

clockwise, from top left: hazelnuts, pomegranates, peaches and apples

walnuts, nectarines, apples and peaches

walnuts, nectarines, apples and peaches

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What a Wonderful World

 

Spring has certainly livened up the dawn chorus. It’s a right proper racket but it never fails to brighten my day if I wake up early enough to catch it. As more shrikes and cuckoos start to frequent the garden, their wonderful whistles and calls have kept me busy dashing about the garden with my binocs trying to match the sound to the bird. One bird in particular kept me on the hop. I could not identify its call and it would shut up as soon as it saw me leave the house with my binoculars in search of it. Eventually I heard the call near the house and spotted a yellow blur at the top of a nearby tree. I ran indoors­­­­­­ to get my binocs, instructing Thandi not to let the bird out of her sight. When I got back the bird was still there but had changed its call to one that I recognised, that of a bokmakierie. I really felt like I had been played by the little bugger and imagined it laughing up its sleeve (or its feathers) at me.

Recently we were thrilled to see one of the spurfowl in the garden with 5 chicks in tow. Sadly the numbers have slowly dwindled until, for the past week or so, we’ve only seen 1 chick. The mother keeps a beady eye on her one and only as it scratches in the undergrowth for the extra sorghum seeds that we have been scattering for it.

francolin-chick

Not long after Milo died, a very small bat flew into our house. I know it is ridiculous but I had the fleeting notion that it was Milo’s spirit returning home and fleeting was all it was, really. The bat disappeared into our rafters and I forgot about it. A few days later Peter found it hanging on a curtain. Now Peter has a bit of a phobia of bats because when he was a child growing up in Zambia he slept in an enclosed veranda and was plagued by bats coming in through the letterbox at night. I’m not that partial to them myself but it was up to me to rescue the critter. As I removed it from the curtain it squealed rather disconcertingly but offered no resistance. I put it on a table outside where it proceeded to lie inert for about 24 hours. Eventually I relented and brought it back indoors. Using a syringe, I fed it some water and later some sugar water. It had such a tiny mouth and it was fascinating to see the minute tongue coming out to lick the liquid (it brought out all my maternal feelings). I decided to take it to Free Me, a wonderful animal rehabilitation centre in Howick, and by the time I got there it was already starting to revive. I learnt from Free Me that my tiny little bat was, in fact, a fully grown serotine bat and that it stood a very good chance of recovering. Needless to say, I am now very fond of bats.

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I spotted this ginormous frog in our pond yesterday. I’m not sure if it is a very large common river frog or an African bullfrog. Either way the platties had better watch out.

bullfrogNot satisfied with an abundance of chameleons in the garden, I’ve brought them into the kitchen as well. I bought this gorgeous fabric from Caversham Textiles when they exhibited at the Hilton Arts Festival in September. Their “handcrafted fabrics and textile products are inspired by the work of contemporary South African artists” and they really are stunning. “Bringing fine art to fabric” is how they describe it.

chameleon-curtains

I think the chameleons go well with the shweshwe material which I got from Deluxe Fabrics in Pietermaritzburg (they stock a very extensive range of good quality 3 Cats Shweshwe).

We now have a resident owl in the allotment, albeit a plastic one. So far, he seems to be doing a fairly good job of deterring rat bandits from plundering the veg seedlings.

there's Layla doing her "where's Wally" in the background

there’s Layla doing her “where’s Wally” in the background

Layla has taken to sleeping in Milo’s spot in the bedroom and keeping us company when we retire for the night. Once we go to sleep she moves onto her bed, which is in our built-in closet in the passage.

DSC_0043_edited-1And finally, some spurwing geese (I think) on the electricity poles this morning:

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Growin’ in the Wind (Early Spring)

When we passed through New Hampshire en route home after our holiday in Maine earlier this year, Kiera lead us to the wonderful Portsmouth Book & Bar. It was there that I picked up a copy (for $5) of My Summer in a Garden written by Charles Dudley Warner in 1870. It is a delightful book, full of surprising and amusing insights into the pursuit of gardening.

In the introduction, written by Allan Gurganus, a distinction is made between “gardeners (and) those who wish to prettify their yards.”  My garden is certainly not a pretty one. That is not to say that I didn’t set out to create a pretty garden, it just didn’t turn out that way. I like pretty gardens, they appeal to my latent sense of orderliness. One knows immediately who the sovereign is when you enter the realm of weed free, manicured lawns and colour coordinated, insect free flowers and shrubs. And it sure ain’t nature!

My Summer in a Garden is part of the Modern Library Gardening Series and Michael Pollan writes an introduction to the collection in which he likens the garden to an arena rather than a refuge. I can imagine gardeners as valiant gladiators going into combat against invasives and invaders, the only armour being uv protection hats and gloves. And, at the end of the day, Mother Nature is always there on her throne to give the wasted and wounded warriors a pollice verso.

In the 7th week of his summer in the garden, Charles Dudley Warner writes:

 I am more and more impressed, as summer goes on, with the inequality of man’s fight with Nature ….. The minute (man) begins to clear a spot larger than he needs to sleep in for a night, and try to have his own way in the least, Nature is at once up, and vigilant, and contests him at every step with all her ingenuity and unwearied vigor. This talk of subduing Nature is pretty much nonsense. I do not intend to surrender in the midst of the summer campaign, yet I cannot but think how much more peaceful my relations would now be with the primal forces, if I had let Nature make the garden according to her own notion.

When one gets almost weary of the struggle, she is as fresh as at the beginning, – just, in fact, ready for the fray. I, for my part, begin to appreciate the value of frost and snow; for they give the husbandman a little peace, and enable him, for a season, to contemplate his incessant foe subdued. I do not wonder that the tropical people, where Nature never goes to sleep, give it up, and sit in lazy acquiescence.

When I took the decision to let the natural bush grow up into the garden, I really didn’t take into account that wildlife would follow. Now, I love the birds that visit us and wouldn’t have it any other way, but they do make an awful mess! Weavers strip the leaves off branches to clear space for their nests, wagtails have taken to perching on the veranda furniture and poeping all over it, francolins (spurfowl) scratch up all the little perennial seedlings in the flower beds, and mousebirds have a penchant for eating lampranthus (vygie) flowers.

As much as they make a mess, birds don’t really destroy a garden. They leave that to buck and rodents. It has been so terribly dry here that the buck, for the first time, are coming into the garden to look for food. I have never seen the garden looking so depleted. We are constantly devising methods to thwart them. Our recent experiment has been to collect buck droppings and soak them, in a plastic bag with holes, in a bucket of water. We then use the liquid to water the plants being munched by the buck, mostly aggies, bulbines, day lilies and roses, all of which grow in great profusion in my garden. Apparently buck will not eat any plants smelling of buck poo. Obviously I’m not keen to apply this to our veggies so we have had to make our allotment buck proof by closing up the sides with extra shade cloth and wire.

The rats are more difficult to keep out. We have an owl box but no tenants. In fact I haven’t noticed many owls about. The rats are helping themselves to the veg seedlings. I am now looking for an electrical rat trap that we can put in the allotment to deter them from annihilating all our seedlings. Our neighbour has a ginger tom that comes prowling around here at night so perhaps he will help to keep the rodent population down. I don’t want to encourage him though because of all the birds we have in the garden. Layla surprised us all by catching and killing a couple of rats and earned herself some biltong treats.

And then, of course there is the weather. Spring has had a slow start this year. Our first rains came only a few days ago after several weeks of hot, dry and windy conditions. We desperately need more rain as the water that we use to irrigate the field and the allotment is running worryingly low.

C D W observes:

 The principal value of a (vegetable) garden is not understood. It is not to give the possessor vegetables and fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market-gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy, and the higher virtues, – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation.

Indeed! So what is growing in the garden?

In the veg garden (aka the allotment) we have the first of the spring veggies coming on. These are some of my favourite greens: asparagus, artichokes, broad beans and sugar snap peas. The sugar snap peas were badly frosted in June and died right back. We left them (out of laziness) and they recovered and are now producing sweet crunchy pods at a very rapid rate. It just goes to show! There are also plenty of the old standbys of veg gardens the world over – spinach and lettuce.

We transplanted about 100 strawberry plants out of the allotment into the field adjacent to the orchard as well as some raspberry and blackberry canes and a couple of blueberry bushes. They have all taken and are looking good. We also planted in the field potatoes, mealies, pumpkin, squash and onions. (Strangely enough, the rats and buck have not discovered them yet.) This leaves more room in the allotment for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, leeks, gems, courgettes and beans. None of these are doing much at the moment.

The garden is looking very bleak; the only colour is coming from fruit tree blossom and azaleas. Hopefully the modicum of rain that we had recently will spur things on a bit.

spring veggies

spring veggies

all the Chinese cabbage bolted in the hot, dry weather

all the Chinese cabbage bolted in the hot, dry weather

I planted these geraniums on Milo's grave. They're called Angels Eyes.

I planted these geraniums on Milo’s grave. They’re called Angel Eyes.

the banksia roses, before the buck had them for a midnight snack

the banksia roses, before the buck had them for a midnight snack

flowering cherry blossom

flowering cherry blossom

acanthus mollis

acanthus mollis

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Happy

 

I’m in the middle of a minor existential shake-up (“omigod, not another one,” I hear you say). It began a short while ago when I was browsing through some blogs featured on WordPress and came across one that opened with a quote from a writer called Annie Dillard who wrote: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I found this somewhat unsettling because I am acutely aware that I seem to spend a lot of my days simply running on autopilot. Not long after, I chanced upon these words again while I was reading a weekly online newsletter that I subscribe to called Brain Pickings. The author of Brain Pickings made reference to Dillard in her review of the book On the Shortness of Life by Seneca. She summed up Dillard’s overall message rather succinctly as “presence is infinitely more rewarding than productivity.”

So, with that in mind, I have since been mulling over what would constitute for me a life well spent. I am still riddled with the protestant work ethic, so a day spent not-busy is a day wasted as far as I have always been concerned. On days when I haven’t been too industrious, I feel guilty and promise myself that I will do better tomorrow. But this mindset hasn’t really been working for me for some time now because I can’t shake the nagging feeling that there has to be more to life than chores. When I brought in the laundry the other day and sat matching socks and folding underwear I despaired that my life would never amount to anything more than good housekeeping! So I’ve decided that I need to shake some old habits and create some new ones which make being present a priority. I need to pay attention goddammit!

When Milo died I was inconsolable. All I could see in my mind’s eye was a frail old dog on his deathbed and that made me feel so very sad. Then I tried to think of more happy times spent with him when he was younger and more himself. I found some photos of him looking healthy and alert and stuck them on the fridge door and now every time I look at them I smile, instead of cry.

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All it needs is a mental shift. Taking that into account, I’ve decided to replace all my “to do” lists (which make me feel guilty when nothing is ticked off and give no sense of accomplishment when something mundane is actually completed) with “to be (or not to be)” lists instead.

I think it’s about being proactive rather than reactive. For example, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time tidying up clutter and searching for misplaced things. So instead of fretting about what chores need to be done I’ve been making a concerted effort to be better organised. If everything has a home and is put there immediately upon entering the house and returned there after being used, I wouldn’t have to waste so much time tidying up and looking for lost stuff.

I’m also trying to focus more on enjoying life than getting things done. I’ve decided to be more playful. I’m always complaining that I don’t have enough fun in my life, as if pleasure is something that I need to go out and get. However, all indications are that happiness comes from within not without. (I should know that, I’ve got the t-shirt!)

playing with Photoshop!

playing with Photoshop!

The other day when I went to commune with my chickens, Layla got very jealous and kept charging at them, especially when I picked a handful of grass to feed them through the wire fence. I picked another bunch and offered it to her saying “you don’t eat grass you silly dog.” Her response was to grab the grass and munch all of it looking at me most defiantly, as if to say “I would rather eat the grass than let you feed it to those despicable creatures.” She then went down on her front paws, stuck her bum in the air and wagged her tail madly, inviting me to play with her. Now usually I would have shouted at her for intimidating my hens but this time I imitated her and we landed up rolling on the grass together, with me laughing wildly and her behaving just like a puppy. It made me realise that the opportunities to play are there, we just have to pay attention.

I shall leave you with an extract from last weeks Brain Pickings newsletter – a review of Waking up – a Guide to Spirituality without Religion by Sam Harris.

Harris writes: “Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others… Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved.”

Noting that the entirety of our experience, as well as our satisfaction with that experience, is filtered through our minds -“If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won’t matter how successful you become or who is in your life – you won’t enjoy any of it.”

Harris sets out to reconcile the quest to achieve one’s goals with a deeper longing, a recognition, perhaps, that presence is far more rewarding than productivity.

He writes:“Most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.”

Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.

(the emphasis is mine)

sunrise on the koppie

sunrise with Layla on the koppie

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cheeky chops is back, not looking his best just yet

cheeky chops is back, not looking his best just yet

a corner of the garden

a corner of the garden at sunset

 

 

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