Lifelong lessons from a farmer's wife
We were the only pupils at the “Hughdale Mixed School” ( the farm’s name was Hughdale) and classes were held in a little rondavel set in a grove of blue-gum trees. Our teacher was incredibly good and gave us our grounding in reading, writing and ’rithmatic, history and geography, as well as a sound understanding of basic “nature study”, poetry and drawing. Most importantly, she instilled a spirit of curiosity in her two small pupils.
Her wisdom has stood by me all my life. In those days not many farms had electricity. Most farm houses were lit by candles or paraffin lamps. One of our neighbours had a carbide gas generator, which was considered very modern and rather highly technical. Hughdale was lit by paraffin lamps. Each evening, before sunset, the lamp lighting routine was set in motion. Paraffin lamps were filled, wicks trimmed, mantles replaced where necessary and fresh candles set into candlesticks to replace those that had burnt down to a mere stub.
Later, after farmers had paid off their mortgages and began to make a little extra money, the farms installed petrol-powered generating plants that charged big banks of glass jar batteries. We felt very sophisticated when we simply had to flip a switch and have light in every room. Occasionally the lights would fade and somebody would be dispatched to the engine-room to start the Lister engine and charge the batteries.
For most of my life I have accepted electricity as an integral, and essential, part of daily life. Electricity cooks our food, heats our bath water, drives our heaters, fridges, fans, floor polishers, radios, music systems and almost everything else around us. Until recently we have simply accepted it as part of modern life. Now, thanks to the incompetent mamparas up there in Megawatt Palace, we are once again being reminded that electricity doesn’t grow on trees, asyermightsay.
Now, every evening before sunset I find myself checking that the gas lanterns are full, the torches all have fresh batteries, fresh candles are set in every room and a kettle of water is boiled and stored in a vacuum flask for early morning coffee. I know many of my younger friends find this very irritating, but to me it’s simply a matter of life having come full circle. As I bustle about checking lamps and candles at sunset I remember Uncle Hugh doing exactly the same more than 70 years ago. In a strange way it’s quite comforting to know some things just don’t change.
Two old chaps were chatting in the pub. “When I was a student,” said one, “I played rugby and in my final year I was almost single-handedly responsible for UCT beating Stellenbosch.” “Really?” said his companion, “and which team were you playing for?”
* "Tavern of the Seas" is a daily column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.