Growin’ Food Glorious Food in the Wind

(Two for the price of one!)

Since starting my “dettermined” effort to lose weight in January, I have been introduced to the many varied uses of the unassuming cauliflower. Who would have thought that it could be a reasonable substitute for mash, rice and pizza bases? I heard a rumour that cauliflowers have been sold out countrywide as the Banting “lifestyle” (it’s not a diet, right?) has taken off in South Africa. Well, here on the farm we have no such shortages, in fact we have them coming out of our ears!

Njabulo with our cauli harvest

Njabulo with our cauli harvest

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The mash is good, as is cauliflower rice (from The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes et al) but the recipe that I would like to share is one for Cauliflower and Mustard Seed Soup from the Low Carb Revolution – Comfort Eating for Good Health – by Annie Bell. I first came across Annie Bell when she used to write food articles for  Country Living (UK) magazine. Her food has always erred on the side of wholesome. (I have adapted the recipe ever so slightly.)

Cauliflower and Mustard Seed Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  •  25 g unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and chopped
  • 600g cauliflower florets (1 medium cauli)
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 3 strips of lemon zest, removed with a potato peeler
  • Sea salt
  • 2 heaped tsp grainy mustard

Method

Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and fry the onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the cauliflower for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, lemon zest and salt, bring to the boil, cover and simmer over a low heat for 10 – 15 minutes.

Discard the strips of lemon zest, then puree in batches in a liquidiser. Pour back into the saucepan and stir in the mustard. Taste and season with more salt (and pepper) if necessary.

Since I’m trying to avoid bread, I serve it sprinkled with crispy fried, diced pancetta for crunch instead of croutons. It is quite moreish and indeed very comforting.

Another recipe for those of us avoiding wheat is Bread in a Cup . I read an article recently  in which the writer claims that “common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as the practice allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest”. How true this is and whether this is practised here in SA I do not know, but nothing would surprise me. I think that the food industry has a lot to answer for.

Bread in a Cup

1 egg
3 Tbs almond flour
1 Tbs coconut flour
½ tsp baking powder
2½ Tbs melted butter/olive oil
2 Tbs water
Optional: 50 g grated cheddar cheese / crumbled feta

Beat egg well. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Put in well buttered cup/mug (I use a Consol jar) and microwave for 1 minute 20 secs. Slice into 4 slices.

The trouble is that us wheat-flour avoiders are now all rushing out and spending an absolute fortune on almond flour as an alternative.  I bought almonds recently at the Karkloof Market and when I asked where they were from I was told California. Can you not buy a fucking almond grown locally? I watched a movie last year about bees and in it were scenes of almond monocropping for miles on end in California, contributing to the demise of the bee. So I wonder if almond flour is such a good alternative. Can one ever win?

We are so lucky to be able to grow our own veg and get our eggs and meat from reliable sources but where most of everything else is concerned, we have absolutely no idea of the farming practices involved. I have for many years been a stickler for free-range / organic / pasture-fed food. Not only because I think it is more healthy or that it tastes better, but also because I think it is kinder to the animal and better for the earth.

Woolworths has a range of fruit and veg that it markets as Farming for the Future. The blurb is “Farming for the future is a plan for growing food sustainably, ethically and responsibly without compromising quality and price. This approach to farming aims to keep soil and plants healthy, to preserve biodiversity and water resources.” It’s a pity that this doesn’t apply to nonperishable food as well.

Hmmm, what have we here? Layla and our new puppy, Buddy, investigate the day's harvest - courgette, cucumber, broccoli and gem squash. Who needs carbs?

Hmmm, what have we here? Layla and our new puppy, Buddy, investigate the day’s harvest.

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Courgette, cucumber, broccoli and gem squash. Who needs carbs anyway?

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Listen to the Man

 

Peter and his good friend, David, were both born on the same day (the 10th of February) two years apart and in the same hospital (the Mater Dei in East London). David turned 70 this year so last weekend we drove up to Johannesburg, where David lives with his lovely partner, Julie, to celebrate this milestone birthday with him. Oh I do love the country and the simple, frugal life here but there is a part of me that also loves the bright city lights and the sassiness of city folk – just in smaller doses. It was very pleasant shopping at Woolworths in Rosebank. The last time I was there was with Kiera when she flew out to Zim via Jo’burg unexpectedly and we did a bit of shopping together. Oh I missed you Kiks, you are my favourite shopping companion!

David had invited a few friends and family to Sunday lunch under the trees in their beautiful back garden. Some mutual friends we had not seen for many years were there so it was a wonderful time of catching up and reminiscing. And it wasn’t long before we were all taking the piss out of each other, just like the good old days. It made us realise that there is just no substitute for history when it comes to friendship. One of our friends, like me, is also trying to lose weight and has been on the LCHF (Banting) diet. I was telling her how much weight I had lost and not only that but centimetres around my waist. As if to back me up Peter announced to all at the table “her waist used to measure the same as her boobs”. Of course, everyone packed up laughing at my expense as Sol explained to the family members present that it was okay, we are used to being rude to each other.

We returned home on Monday afternoon, a little worse for wear, and it seemed like there was no time at all to recuperate. I’ve been busy, busy, busy ever since and absolutely delighted to be so.

Ever since my youngest, Alex, flew the nest making me redundant, I have been searching for purpose. At first I decided that my goal was to create a beautiful and productive garden and I immersed myself in that. Then I turned my attention to making the farmhouse into a comfortable home for the two of us. After that, I had a wedding reception to plan and plenty of distractions like trips to Stellenbosch, Cape Town and America to visit my children. But all the time I felt like something was missing and I kept hoping that whatever it was, given time, it would find me. And it did.

Last year I took Judy to a nearby leather shop, Groundcover, to buy shoes. While she was trying them on, I bumped into the owner, Amanda, who I know from years ago when I worked in the NGO sector. She asked how I was enjoying my “retirement” and I replied that I really needed to get my teeth into something. A few days later Amanda contacted me and asked if I would like to attend a meeting of the Curry’s Post Educational Trust, an initiative that helped to establish, and now supports and raises funds for the Curry’s Post Primary School, a local farm school. To cut a long story short, I did. A few months later I became a trustee, joining Amanda and 6 others. Not long after that I agreed to take over the fundraising portfolio from one of the trustees who was leaving the Trust.

In order to fund-raise effectively I felt that I needed to get to know the school, the staff, the children and the community. And the best way to do this I reckoned, with a great deal of trepidation, was to volunteer as an assistant, once a week, to the Grade R teacher, seeing as I’m a preschool teacher by profession. I must admit I had a lot of misgivings about this: I wasn’t sure if I could commit my time (I’m so used to being a free agent), if I had the energy to work with kids again, if the children would like me or if the staff would accept me. I didn’t need to be scared, I didn’t need a plan, I just needed to listen to what my heart was telling me. All I can say is what I wrote in my first blog (Lost for Words) almost 4 years ago, leap and the net will appear.

I’m loving what I’m doing and feel like I’m finally back in the saddle.

Peter also attends Trust meetings when he can and has been an amazing help with fundraising. Last week one of his colleagues from SANRAL visited our school to hand out backpacks for all the kids and give them a talk on road safety. It was humbling to see rural kids, who get so little, so appreciative of their gifts. What made my heart sing was that I know there will be more to come.

Nomsa and Peter from SANRAL

Nomsa and Peter from SANRAL

all the kiddies with their new backpacks

all the kiddies with their new backpacks

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my group of grade R's

my group of grade R’s

gotta love them

gotta love them

By the time Friday rolled around, I needed to retreat to my lawn to weed. It’s the best way to unwind, especially on a warm summer’s evening with a glass of chilled white wine – cin cin!

By the time Friday rolled around, I needed to retreat to my lawn to weed. It’s the best way to unwind, especially on a warm summer’s evening with a glass of chilled white wine – cin cin!

 

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Bridge Over Troubled Water

 

January is the cruellest month – full of good intentions gone bad and littered with dust covered New Year’s resolutions lists. A hundred and one packets of seeds that I was going to sort out still lie scattered across the veranda table; my spice cupboard still contains bottles of herbs with best before dates going back to 19-voetsek (a few taken out to remind me to throw them away are dotted around the kitchen not having quite made it into the bin); all the crap taken out of Alex’s room to make way for his visit over Christmas has been returned to his room and is awaiting for some sort of action by me; and herb seedlings languish in their trays, bought in early January when I still had the desire to replenish plant pots in the courtyard. And after resolving to do away with them, on-line card games have reasserted themselves in an attempt to distract me from doing whatever it is that I should be doing.

However, not all is doom and gloom. I have been exercising every morning now for about 2 months and eating (and drinking) more healthily since Christmas. I’m enjoying the benefits of both so I think it is safe to say that these are new good habits that I have managed to introduce into my daily routine. I just have to sort out the rest of the day.

The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience…not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.

Leo Tolstoy

I suppose, in a way, it has become impossible for me to continue to live with procrastination and a lack of focus. It’s making me disgruntled and the need to change has become stronger than the desire to remain the same. However the problem lies not so much in the doing, but in knowing what to do.

In response to my previous post, Judy’s sister, Wendy, sent us some links to a series of Daily Mail online articles written by Sir Muir Gray, Former Chief of Knowledge for the NHS on how older people can live healthy lifestyles. I have no idea what a chief of knowledge is but the articles are quite informative.

In one he offers some insights into how to get on well with life in your later years and proclaims A BUSY LIFE IS A HAPPY LIFE.

He points out that adjusting to retirement can be rather difficult for some (no shit Sherlock on that).

 “Yes, part of the time should certainly be filled doing the things you have always wanted to do but have not had the time to do when working. But research has proven that continuing to interact and work with others is very good for you as well as for them — maintaining and improving your intellectual functioning. The way it does this is not clear, but it may stem from the need to argue and defend your point of view as well as the need to organise your thoughts.

It may also be the interaction with other people that stimulates the mind, and that the increased motivation and morale which results from this improves how you think and how you feel. Working to boost the wellbeing of others is particularly rewarding”.

He suggests a few things we might want to do, such as:

  • Work as a volunteer on an issue that you feel strongly about, whether that’s a local charity that always needs more help or a global cause such as campaigning for the environment.
  • Be your own boss – start a small enterprise.
  • Spend more time helping your children and grandchildren, and if your own are far away, help someone else’s grandchildren who live near you but whose own grandparents are also far away.
  • Every school needs people to help pupils with reading and arithmetic, and the wisdom that mature volunteers can bring is invaluable.

I can’t argue with that but I would prefer to use the term “engaged” rather than busy. Busy implies “on-the-go” whereas engaged is more about giving something your full attention. Ideally I would like to find something that I can commit to wholeheartedly, that would make me a better person and allow me to grow old not only with a sense of purpose but a sense of fun as well. As Michele commented on my last blog post “now is the time to care for ourselves, make a difference and enjoy all opportunities and celebrations”.

When I was a teenager my father used to drive me crazy when he would tell me not to get so worked up about all the inequalities and injustices in the world because there was nothing I could do about them. Fortunately that was one piece of advice that I never paid much heed to. I like to think that I was a person who gave a damn when something was wrong. And I like to think I can be that person again. I’ll keep you posted.

And Michele, with regard to celebrations, bring on the wine or champagne. I love this description of intoxication in Michael Pollan’s book Cooked:

 “By the time I got down to the bottom of the glass …… I could feel the warm, suffusing glow of alcohol wash over me. There’s really nothing quite like that first soft spring breeze of intoxication.  Keep drinking all you want, but you will never get it back. Nothing has changed, you’re still the same guy sitting at the same kitchen table, and yet everything feels just a little different: Several degrees less literal. Leavened. And whether or not this angle of mental refreshment offers anything of genuine value, anything worth saving for the consideration of more ordinary hours, it does seem to open up, however briefly, a slightly less earthbound and more generous perspective on life”.

It’s all about balance, I suppose, and for a while now my life has been a bit out of kilter – too much spent faffing around the house and the garden, and grocery shopping – dealing with trivia and playing online card games because that’s what you do when there are weightier issues to be dealt with, like what should I be doing with the rest of my life.

And by the way, today was a day just like this – I wasn’t at all busy, but I was engaged!

Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgivable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.

Raymond Carver

if I've devised 101 ways to prepare eggs, spinach is a close second

if I’ve devised 101 ways to prepare eggs, spinach is a close second

red necked spurfowl mama and her chick

red necked spurfowl mama and her chick

rufous sparrowhawk eyeing my birdies

rufous sparrowhawk eyeing my birdies

little willy wagtail taking a breather on our steps

little willy wagtail taking a breather on our steps

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My Mirror Speaks

Age has a nasty habit of creeping up on one and asserting itself when least expected. You can chug along, quite happily oblivious to the fact that you are getting older, and then, BAM, it jumps up and hits you in the bloody face.

The other night I had a rather disconcerting dream. I dreamt that I, wrapped in a towel, was about to take a shower in some sort of communal bathroom. A good-looking, young man walked in, carrying a violin case. He was dressed all in black, as if he played in an orchestra, and had lovely, long dark hair. He put the violin down and, smiling at me, started to undress. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m going to shower with you” he replied. I protested and tried to push him out of the shower when a woman my age walked into the bathroom. She raised her eyebrows at the scene and I, feeling embarrassed, tried to explain that it wasn’t how it looked and that the young man was just leaving. After he left she turned to me and said “I don’t know why he would be attracted to an older woman.” It was then that I woke up in a cold sweat. Omigod, I am the older woman! I found it difficult to get back to sleep after that and even more difficult to drag myself out of bed the following morning.

I know that dreams are not meant to be taken literally and I hope that none of you are experts in dream analysis as I fear I might have just unwittingly revealed some of my more subconscious neuroses. Be that as it may, the dream did force me to take a long hard look in the mirror and reflect on how I’m dealing with getting older. That, and a Skype call to my daughter just before Christmas gave me the kick up my backside that I desperately needed in order to get my act together, mentally and physically.

Kiera and James spent their Christmas holidays on Long Island in the Bahamas. We were chatting on Skype and I was oohing and aahing over the video cam pictures of their villa which was right on a beautiful Caribbean beach. I happened to mention how much I wished we could be there too and Kiera’s response was “Why don’t we all meet up next Christmas in Belize?” After Peter, Alex and I had exchanged puzzled glances and quickly Googled Belize, we all agreed “Why the bloody hell not?” Now, if in fact my next family holiday requires me to wear a swimming costume in public, I have more than enough incentive to get back in shape.

I shall be 58 years old in June and in the past couple of years I have allowed myself to slip into bad habits. Not only have I become more sedentary but I am eating more than I need to and exercising less. As a result I am becoming increasingly lazy and my stomach is expanding exponentially. This is not healthy, it is not comfortable and it certainly isn’t attractive. It is also not going to help me as I get older – we all know that old age is not for sissies and in order to stay one step ahead of becoming a geriatric one needs to stay fit and healthy.

In the early 80’s I taught as a volunteer English teacher at a rural school on the Makhathini Flats. One of the other teachers, Mr Gcina, used to say quite emphatically that he was very “dettermined” about all sorts of issues. It took awhile before I realised that he was mispronouncing the word “determined”. This has become my mantra (it sounds so much more resolute) – I am absolutely dettermined to change these bad habits I’ve fallen into.

The main issue to tackle first was my lack of daily structure and focus. Let’s face it, I had become idle – getting up late, fart-arsing around during the day playing online bridge and lying in bed at night, eating dinner, drinking wine and watching any old crap on the telly. I had stopped doing what I enjoy (walking Layla, gardening, taking photos, exploring the countryside, yoga and writing – even writing my blog seemed like too much effort). And with no routine, mealtimes became erratic; instead I snacked constantly throughout the day.

So in order to get back on track I’m now trying to structure my day more creatively. I am waking up early again and have begun doing a 20 – 30 minute stint of exercise and yoga EVERY morning. What started off as agony, I now look forward to, especially as I find myself becoming more agile and flexible and my breathing less laboured (being an asthmatic this was a bit of a concern). I am eating less because we are now sitting down to 2 meals a day (breakfast and supper usually) and snacking is a thing of the past because I no longer have time to mooch about the house, bored and disgruntled. This is because I’ve been asked to take over the fundraising portfolio for a local Trust, which supports the nearby Curry’s Post primary school (which caters mostly for farm workers’ children).

Perhaps this is just what I needed, I hope so.

Oh, and I’ve dusted off my camera.

playing peek-a-boo with a malachite sunbird

playing peek-a-boo with a malachite sunbird

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Who Knows Where the Time Goes

 

“What happened to 2014, where has this year gone?” is the refrain I hear on everyone’s lips, including my own. The other day I mentioned to Peter that it felt like I had spent the first part of the year coming back down to earth after Kiera and James’ wedding reception and the American in-laws’ visit to S.A. at the end of last year and the second half of this year doing pretty much the same after my mid-year 5 week trip to the States. His comment was, “So you’ve spent most of the year on life support!” And that is exactly how it has felt. It is so difficult to readjust to the quiet life when one experiences such incredible highs. “It’s a bummer” as we used to say!

Well, Christmas has come and gone, as has my son Alex – it was lovely having him home but his visit was over way too soon. I really have become quite ambivalent about celebrating Christmas. Not being a Christian and having been raised by non-religious parents, Christmas for me has always been about presents, food and spending time with family and friends. A couple of years ago we stopped bothering with presents. Then, when Kiera left for China, we reduced the amount of food and time spent preparing it, as she had always been my main helper in the kitchen. And this year there were only four of us sitting down together for Christmas lunch. Not that I’m complaining but I think that, in future, I would like to do something a little bit different for Christmas, perhaps close up shop, travel to an exotic destination and skip it altogether.

I’m hoping for a more focused 2015 – less procrastination and greater sense of fulfilling my potential (whatever that may be). I hope the New Year brings you closer to your dreams and that we all continue to discover happiness in the simple things.

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dreaming of a tropical island

relaxing after Christmas lunch 

 

broad beans - delicious in mashed potato

broad beans – delicious in mashed potato

onion flowers  - delicious in salads

onion flowers – delicious in salads

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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(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

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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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