MisManagers, Managers & Misses

Where one tiptoes on the edge of libel, slander and deformation of character, it would be sensible to use pseudonyms. The title to this blogpost is also not entirely accurate as the characters were what we all are; a mix of mostly good and a tad bad. Where I’d like to use their proper names to acknowledge the good, I’ll use other names to mention the bad, but without the bad, there’d be nothing much to write about.

West facade BP.jpgI had three managers to run the Backpackers after it was up and going. I’ll call them Fred, Freek and Frank for fun and for the eff.

Fred was a youngster, twentyish; a farm lad, willing and friendly, at a stage where he hadn’t a clue what he was going to do with his life. At a loose end, I thought he could use some time to get a chance to meet people and hearing their stories, be encouraged to decide what direction to take.

It seemed to start off okay. While I was watching, things got done and visitors gave me mostly positive feedback. However, the nature of the job involved a lot of trust. Visitors paid in cash and although there was a visitors’ book, it was not always filled in. I had to trust that all fees would find their way to me. After a while, I began to hear of clients that came and went without there being any record, but very difficult to prove.

Then there was an electrician who needed more permanent lodging. We came to an arrangement for a weekly fee at a special rate. Fred and the thirty-year-old from Jo’burg became drinking buddies. Excuses were tendered why the rent was not paid or was late – the contract he had on a farm hadn’t paid him etc. Then the man disappeared, 3 weeks rent in arrears, along with several items from my store room including three Surveyor’s levels and a theodolite. I could hardly accuse Fred of being complicit, but… Fred moved on.

Of course it was me that found himself back in the Backpackers as manager until other possibilities arose. A promising replacement was a wiry middle aged man we can call Freek (an Afrikaans variant of Frederick). He was a man with a very interesting background which is another reason for giving him a pseudonym. His proposal to use one room as a leather working shop met with my approval and gave him an income to augment the accommodation and the pitiful salary that I was offering. There could be an added advantage to me as he proposed giving leather-working classes of a week long, and the students would naturally be housed at the Backpackers. If memory serves, he did hold one or two of these. Besides, I rather liked him.

His story was that he had been brought up to the age of six in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia (South-West Africa) by San tribesman, because his parents had fled into the desert to escape the government authorities. Having been a German colony up to the First World War, there was still a large German population, amongst whom there were many Nazi sympathizers, including his parents.

Taken from the San by well-meaning authorities, he became a ward of the state until he matriculated and joined the army. With a sharp brain and wit, he moved into the intelligence field. He related to me how he plied his intel-gathering trade by serving as a Koffie-Moffie, the derogatory term for an airline steward, in which capacity he would overhear and record any anti-Apartheid utterances during the flights. He didn’t go into detail about whether any of this info was of any use to his masters, but did not want his previous occupation to become known in the New South Africa. At the time, there was, he said, a woman who wanted to write a book about his experiences, and I got the impression he was rather nervous about how much to relate.

Along the street from the Backpackers, there lived a man, call him Bob, who professed to be a website wiz, whom I paid R800-00 to set up a site for the Kammanassie Backpackers. He gave me the address and I thought it looked alright; said go ahead and activate it. He didn’t.

The reason for that is bizarre. In mid-February, 2007, I was delivering milk for Sheila in Uniondale when I stopped at the Backpackers to do some bookwork. I found Bob looking for his friend, Freek, with a pick-handle to beat his brains out, he said, because his wife had run off with Freek! When he finally left on his search, Freek turned up. I had to warn him because it would be most inconvenient to have my manager’s head bashed in. He admitted that he would like to run off with Bob’s wife, but had not yet done so. Long story short: he eventually married her and they left town to go and live elsewhere, but in revenge, Bob would neither activate the website, nor return my money. Bob moved to George but I did see him there twice, and yelled Thief, thief! at him, but that didn’t help.

Renting Bob’s house in Uniondale from him were a couple we briefly got to know. Call them Frank and Flossy. Because it was so close to the Backpackers, their offer to look after it was natural, and convenient. Frank was a muzo; an ex-South African Navy Bandmaster who was teaching local school kids to play and march. I liked him, too.

Ironically, his Flossy ran off to the City of George with Bob. Frank moved into the Backpackers which gave him a small salary and accommodation while he gave music lessons. When a nice shy lady, call her Sue, moved in with him, we thought that would be a happy ending. They started a plant nursery and seemed pretty content.

But the wheels fell off somehow. Sue moved out and the local church organist, a farmer’s wife, moved in. The income from guests, which had been pretty meager, now dried up. I heard from the cleaner that they were actually turning people away. Shortly after that, they moved to George to play with organs, there.

KB SW elevOn the point of closing up the business, anyway, a construction company came to town to upgrade a nearby road, and hired the whole building for a year at a good rental, which was great except for the damages. After that, I decided on permanent accommodation for four singles, and put it up for sale, in which state it remains until the present.

FOR SALE R695,000-00, anyone? Current income: R6,000-00 p.m.

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Johan du Plooy – Artist.

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Johan du Plooy – artist & salt of the earth.

A delightful new acquaintance of ours, soon to become a firm friend, settled in Haarlem in 2007 a block away from our home there. South African artist, Johan du Plooy, set to improving the rundown cottage he had bought, laying concrete floors, rewiring it and adding a bathroom. A man with green fingers, he soon had a flourishing vegetable patch going.

We could not wish for a better friend, knowing that if the tornado hit the manure, he’d be there to help. It gives me the feeling that I need to be worthy of that friendship, and likewise be the friend I’d like to earn.

Johan d PBorn 1939 in Rustenburg, Johan’s parents soon moved to Heidelberg where he was to complete his schooling. Art was not offered as a subject, but that was where Johan’s passion lay. At age 22, he began his studies at Central School of Art & Design, London, UK in 1962. He made use of the opportunity to travel and explore parts of Europe; Greece especially made a deep impression. It was six years before he made his way back to South Africa.

Kougarivier painting

Kouga River

His sculptures were chiefly in indigenous woods and his paintings are mainly in oils, primarily representational, latterly evolving towards surrealism and abstract.

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The largest piece of his life spent in one place was 22 years spent in Herbertsdale, southern Cape Province, where, for 12 of them, he was the Mayor of the town. He is proud of his involvement in various projects for the betterment of the poorer communities there, including the establishment of a profitable bakery.

From there he moved to Calitzdorp for some years, then, all too briefly to Haarlem, and now lives in Krakeelrivier where he is still hard at work at his easel.

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If a man fails to keep pace with his companions perhaps it’s because he hears a different drum …Let him step to the drum he hears!  – Henry David Thoreau.

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My wife Sheila’s second eldest brother, Alan, passed away in 2007 in Vereeniging Hospital, Gauteng Province, aged sixty four. He was admitted on 10th August; Neil, his brother was informed that he had difficulty breathing and was on oxygen, but he passed away on the 13th.

Alan Maling_2

Alan Maling – artist

When Sheila started her tertiary education as a student nurse in Cape Town in about 1970, Alan was there to keep a brotherly eye on her. They became close during this period, and her progress as new wife and mother in the years that followed were keenly and proudly watched. Her divorce was a serious disappointment and was the reason that Alan and I had a rocky relationship. He disapproved of me as partner for his only sister, and although we actually got on well after his initial bristling, every time we met, the same scenario would play out again and again each time we did so. I liked him. I found him very entertaining with a great sense of humour and was saddened by the fact that he kept reverting to a state of animosity.

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Alan Maling

Years back, on visiting his eldest brother, Tom Maling in Johannesburg, I found Tom and his wife away and Alan was house-sitting. Tom’s youngest son, Neville was not yet back from school. Reluctantly Alan invited me in. Soon we were amicably drinking red wine, and he suggested a scene where, when Neville got home, he would find us both covered in tomato sauce, still fighting!


Fishing boat


Of his art, another South African artist, Johan du Plooy, has said that Alan’s use of shadow was exceptional and he appreciated Alan’s skill. His work can be found in homes and galleries throughout South Africa.



After his passing, his cousin, Norah Shelver (nee Gibson, now Wingreen) wrote the following which I am grateful to share here:



I was six years old when Alan was born in 1943. He was the second son of Chris (Christopher Thompson Maling) and VicMaling (Victoria Alice nee Tricker). Aunty Vic was my mother’s eldest sister. As my father had died when I was in my third year, the Malings became very significant in my life. My mother stayed with them until she found work in Johannesburg, and I spent many school holidays with them throughout my youth.

Alan was an intelligent, talented child. He had a great interest in cars and from an early age he could identify every car on the road. He was fortunate to have a father like Chris who was not only mechanically minded, but a great teacher.

Aged twenty, I decided to complete my nursing training at Frere Hospital in East London (Eastern Cape Province) in 1958, where Alan was a boarding scholar at Selbourne College at the time. He had several friends from Rhodesia, together with whom he would visit me at the Nurses Home, and one of them even invited me to partner him to the matric farewell, which I loftily turned down!

By this time Alan was already showing great promise as an artist and gave me a painting of Xhosa women living on the Maling farm. This is still one of my favourite possessions.

Alan took up Interior Decorating; working for Uptons in Port Elizabeth for a time, where I visited him in hospital when he contracted infective hepatitis. He later moved to Cape Town, where, when I was studying psychiatric nursing at Valkenberg , and my daughters were at Capetown Technical College, we saw a lot of Alan and enjoyed his company. He had a small studio at Firndale Mansions, Tamboerskloof where we would spend many an entertaining evening with him and his friends, sharing mince dishes, wine and music. Edith Piaf, and Chris de Berg were among the favourites we had in common.

Money was always in short supply with Alan, but he was disdainful of the suggestion he produce pot-boilers to help with his income. I loved his scenes of fishing boats at Hout Bay, and the cottages and scenes of the Genadendal area. We loved the opportunity to attend his exhibitions set up by his friends. We had cocktails at the Mount Nelson Hotel where a mutual friend, Bruce Gardner, would play the piano and join us during his break. Another joy was outings in the vintage cars that Alan slowly collected, attracting attention wherever we went.

Contact was reduced to phone calls when Alan moved to Henley-on-Klip in Gauteng, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. The last time I saw him was when we both stayed with a cousin to attend the 90th birthday of our mutual Aunty Jewel. Such fun memories.

Where do we go when we die? We remain in the hearts of those who loved and remember us.

Farewell, Alan.

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Sept06 Cows & shedHaving built Sheila’s little 2-cow milking shed in 2007, with attached feed store, dog kennels, chicken run and pig sty, I got to thinking about cows and their lives. I wrote the following verse and sent it to The George Herald, where it duly appeared.

The Milking Shed.

See all the ladies standing there

At the factory gate.

Some impatient, some dont care

If they open late.

 Some of the old hands just barge in

For their ration meal.

Theyll knock over pail and bin

With determined zeal.

 The new girls, they stand shyly, they

Dont know where to go.

They have to be shown the way,

Have to take it slow.

 So recently theyve dropped their calves,

Some are still in pain,

Their eyes still sunken, tails still arched,

Reach out for the grain.

 Around and round and round they go,

Calve and milk, then dry.

The eternal cycles all they know,

til the day they die.

Peter J. Earle – 2008.

 It amuses my screwed up little mind that verse means heifers in Afrikaans.

Michelle Blanckenberg of the George Herald who compiles “Penveer”, meaning “Quill”, which consisted of 2 pages of prose and poetry to which readers subscribe, also thanked me for my poem, “Yesterday‘s Soul”.  She says she enjoyed it and agreed with me that Hannes Visser, our neighbour here in the village of Haarlem who subscribes almost every week to Penveer, is a special man. He was a teacher, artist and poet before becoming the editor of the Oudtshoorn Courant newspaper in Oudshoorn. With luck, I shall shortly get an interview with him to share some of his thoughts and achievements.

Yesterday’s Soul.

 Observe, my friend, the picture that you painted yesterday.

It stands upon its easel by the tubes still on their tray.

The sunlit attic window holds the oils sharp. They glisten.

You see right through the painting and you tilt your head to listen:

You hear, my friend, the voices calling softly from your dreams.

Was this really in your vision? Is this image what it seems?

You still can feel the tremble of the paintbrush in your hand

As you raised up the mountains and you forested the land.

You still can hear the gushing of the pure, clean mountain stream.

With your soul and hand uniting, you immortalised your dream.


But now, today, you’re frowning and you shiver, though it’s warm.

Is there discord in the mind? Did your hand distort the form?

The figures in the foreground, do they grimace or smile?

Walk they the path of freedom or tramp they the gallows aisle?

You hear the drumbeat plainly, see the dancers move and sway –

Do they still feel the rhythm as they felt it yesterday?

But ah! I hear you laughing. Is it bitterly or gay?

Are they not lost forever, those dreams of yesterday?

Come, hold your head up proudly – give me answers to these things,

Is that your heart a-crying, or that your soul that sings?

Peter J. Earle. 1971.


Geo Herald ads 2008 -1Life is full of amazing coincidences. I add one here from the smalls in The George Herald. A daughter advertised in the Personal column looking for her father in the city of George. Further on in the Services section, her father advertised Home Alterations. I sent her his number.

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R. I. P. Claude Arkell

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L. Claude Arkell & Nicci Earle, 2006.

There had been hints of his pain, I know, like the memory of Claude’s tall stooped figure slowly crossing his brewery yard from his Cotswold-stone built converted stables to open up for the day’s brewing. Jacket and tie, always the Boss. Shuffling a little, walking stick, just in case… Greeting the men, inspecting the brew. To the office manned by the always cheerful elderly Val – Mr Valentine-Teale – where he would captain his ship for an hour or so before returning home for a nap.

On the 1st of June 2007, There was a voice message on our phone from Claude’s housekeeper, Joy: I have very bad news for you; very bad news. Here are the numbers to phone me at…

I phoned Donnington Brewery. Val answered, clearly shaken. “What a terrible thing to happen…” Val himself was in his 80s.

“Yes, but what did happen?” I was frustrated.

“He took his own life, you know,” he said. I tried to absorb the shock. “He did it in his little garden; he took a rifle with him. I saw him in the morning, we chatted. There was no indication…”

Claude seemed to have waited for all the staff to knock off at lunchtime. I hope he took some of Steve’s weed to help, I could not help thinking. He’d told me he’d enjoyed some when his great-nephew, Steve, came to visit, which had amused me immensely.

“He was in a lot of pain, of course,” Val went on, “and he was a very lonely man.”

And damned courageous, I thought; in charge of himself, of his life and his death. Be a nuisance to nobody. Dignity. Pride. How I had loved that man.

Failing to get hold of my brother, Richard, in Australia, I phoned his son, Stephen. Shocked, he promised to pass on the news to his father as well as his brother, Mark, and sister, Jenifer. I phoned my daughter, Nicci, who had had a special bond with Claude. As a devout Christian, she does not believe that one has the right to turn off one’s own switch, but being close to him, she had known he wanted out. Mark phoned from Oz, later, to offer condolences, saying that he’d probably go to the funeral. It was then that I considered going, myself.

Arkell DrayA few days later, I phoned the lawyer involved with Claude’s estate. Claude’s body had been released – there having been a post mortem due to not having died of natural causes – and the funeral would be on Wednesday 13th. He informed me of our entitlements, and there were some shocks to come which would take me days to accept and get over. Petty me. The brewery had been founded by his grandfather in 1865 and it was only right that it continue to be run by Arkell brewers into the future.

Bequeathed to hospitals, servants, staff and family, all inclusive, the amount totalled 5% of his estate. 95% went to two distant cousins, with whom it had been arranged that they continue to run Donnington Brewery, being brewers in their own right in Swindon. I had mistakenly assumed that his close family might retain shares and receive a dividend of some sort. My mother, Richard and I (and the bloody lawyer!) all received the largest bequests, equally. Nicci and Ryan were to receive slightly lesser amounts while Steve would get yet again a lesser amount. Mark and Jenifer were to receive zilch. Nothing, nada. We never could figure out why they had been overlooked.

The lawyer had got around the fact that he was not legally able to include himself in the will by getting a codicil set up by another law firm. I had stupidly thought I’d like to establish an AIDS orphanage here in Haarlem, but my bequest, grateful as I was for it, was much too meagre to consider such a venture.

Sheila drove me to George Airport on Saturday 9th June to catch a flight on Nationwide Airways to O.R.Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, where Nicci picked me up. The following evening, my son Ryan took us both to the airport. Nicci and I flew together on Emirates via Dubai to Heathrow, landing at 14h15, where Nicci hired a car from Avis. We headed to Reading to stay with my old friend, Brian Nicholson, who had settled there after a lifetime of managing sugar estates in Papua New Guinea, Senegal and Ecuador. It had been thirty five years since I had last seen him.

The following day, we went via Smannell, near Andover, Hampshire, to show Nicci the church and graves of her Earle forebears, then on to Stow-on-the-Wold to look for accommodation, eventually settling for a B&B at Foxhill, half way to Cheltenham where we could also book rooms for Richard, Mark, Steve and Jenny who would come from London the next day.

Nicci went for a walk and, by strange coincidence, met up with Sarah (nee Arkell) who lived next door! Her brother, Charles Arkell, was manager at the auctioneers where I had sold some of the items I’d inherited from Claude’s sister, my aunt Puss, the previous year. We were to meet their parents, Peter & Ann Arkell, the next day at the crematorium in Cheltenham. Pleasant folk.

It was there at Claude’s memorial service – he had requested that there be no such thing, but some people don’t listen! – that we caught up with Richard and brood. Joy, Claude’s housekeeper, and her partner, Phil, (who had found a note to him from Claude as to where to find his body,) joined us. Joy had befriended me the previous year when she offered me a bed at her cottage so that I could be near the brewery to sort Puss’ things. (Claude had forbidden me to accept and paid for my accommodation elsewhere – It’s not done to stay with the servants!)

From Cheltenham, lots of Arkells returned to the brewery to a wake to drink his health with either his own brew of Donnington Ales, or champagne. Another amazing coincidence was meeting Sue (nee Arkell) Richardson and her husband who said they lived in a small village in Hampshire that we’d probably never heard of, Smannell.

Blandings Gathering

Rear: Mark & Stephen Earle – Middle: Jo Arkell & Tessa Bott – Front: Sue Richardson, Jenifer, Nicci, Richard & Peter Earle.

Sue said she remembered my parents visiting her parents at their home in Swaziland around the sixties. As us Earles had already decided to drive to Smannell the next day to see the church and graves, Sue asked us to join them for lunch. We did so, and after showing Richard, Mark, Stephen and Jenny all the items given to the glory of God and in loving memory of various dead Earles, like the organ and stained glass windows, we drove down the road to Blandings, the Richardson home. Lunch for us all was set out at a long table in their lovely garden, and we met Sue’s daughter, Tessa Bott.

Tessa and I stared at each other. “Didn’t you live in Maun,” we asked, almost simultaneously. Another amazing coincidence. We had become acquainted when I approached her to organise my work and residence permits, which was her business (Jambalaya) at the time. Little did we guess that we were cousins. (Second, once removed.)

Sad as it was to say a permanent goodbye to Lawrence Claude Arkell, it was good to catch up with my brother, niece and nephews, and my daughter and, back in Pretoria, my son. By the Sunday night, I was back home in Haarlem.

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Of Comets and Cowshit

  1. With the unsatisfactory efforts of my Backpacker’s manager, I had to let him go and look for somebody more committed to making a profitable business of it. In the meanwhile I thus had to be there for guests and would sleep there, if need be.
Richard Walker

Richard Walker

Canadian couple, Karin Kilpatrick & Richard Walker booked in for a night in early January. I was so taken with them that when they reappeared two days later, I had to show them Haarlem and introduce them to Sheila. It turned out that Sheila, too, instinctively liked them, and when she found out that Richard was a fellow muso, she lent him a guitar to take on his travels. Karin is in fact South African, a medical doctor who had married a Canadian farmer, but remained in Canada after their divorce. Her father lived just 160kms from Haarlem in Humansdorp. As a young man, in the Matatiele area in what was then East Griekwaland, he had worked as a learner/junior manager for Sheila’s uncle! Small world.

Richard W. - Karin Kilpatrick

Richard & Karin, beautiful souls.

A week later, Karin and Richard returned the guitar and stayed three nights, bringing Karin’s sister Andrea, her brother David, and Andrea’s daughter, Leah, with them. Lovely people with whom I am still in contact to this day. (Apologies for stolen pics.)

Just after sundown in the evening of 21 Jan 2007, Sheila took me and her neighbour with her children to watch Comet McNaught, also known as the Great Comet of 2007. (It had been discovered on 7 August 2006 by British-Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught who was studying for things which might collide with Earth. It was to be the brightest comet to enter out skies in over 40 years, and was easily visible to the naked eye for observers in the Southern Hemisphere in January and February 2007. Thanks, Wiki.)



To add to her two Guernsey cows, Sheila decided to buy two Jersey first-calver heifers from a dairy farmer outside Humansdorp. We borrowed her brother’s bakkie with its cattle-sides on the back, and fetched them one at a time. Sheila and Bush, a Zimbabwean tinker who has settled in Haarlem and does odd jobs, joined the nervous heifer in the back to calm her as I drive home.

We were just entering Kareedouw town, slowing up a steep hill when it happened. As we slowed, there were a couple of vehicles caught up behind us. The nearest was a white bakkie, just behind our tail-gate, when the heifer emptied her liquid bowels overboard, all over the bonnet and windscreen.

Sheila and Bush packed up, laughing. We couldn’t believe it when the driver pulled us over at the stop sign. Not only was he a cop with no sense of humour, he was the district stock-thief chief. We had to follow him to the Kareedouw Police station where he would have impounded the animal, too, but eventually had to admit that it had been the farmer’s responsibility, as seller, to provide the stock movement permit. He eventually only fined Sheila R50-00 for moving cattle without a permit, and allowed us to get on our way.

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Of Bequests and Property.

Sadly, I took my leave of my uncle, Claude Arkell, knowing that it would be the last time I would see him as he had admitted to me that he had bladder cancer. I told him that the family gossip had it that he would be bequeathing the Donnington Brewery to the distantly related Arkell Brewery family in Swindon, Wiltshire. If that was so, I told him, then I was very happy that it would continue to be run by Arkells. He was shocked, perhaps expecting some sort of protest regarding our inheritance, as Richard and I, besides his sister, our mum, were his closest relatives, and then he seemed very pleased,

Via email, I had been in contact with an estate agent in Uniondale, and had confirmation in the last week of October, 2006, that our home at 10 Rose Street had a buyer, which was good news. (But the sale fell though later when the buyer failed to get his bank to evaluate the property at a sum that would cover him, so I had released the tenant there to no purpose.)

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EARLEs: Mark, Ryan w/Thomas, PJE, Stephen, Jennifer, Richard, 2006

In London, I spent my last week in the UK just off Clapham Common with nephew, Stephen Earle and niece, Jennifer Earle. My search for a music shop with an Irish bodhran drum for Sheila eventually bore fruit, and after a return visit involving three bus changes, I collected it.

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Sheila’s home on Constitution St. Haarlem

Finally, picking up all sorts of horrible germs on the way that laid me low for a week afterwards, I got home on 8th November. Sheila had managed to finally sell her Pumpkin Art & Craft Co-op shop in Uniondale and buy her dream home on Constitution Street in Haarlem. Being addicted to cows and milking, she bought two Guernsey cows from a neighbour, and the two hectare adjacent strip of land along the Groot River on which to graze them. I had a milking shed, chicken run and pig sty built for her.

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Nick Thyssen

An elderly newly acquired local friend of mine in Haarlem, Oom Nick Thyssen, had an empty plot across the way from Sheila’s place in Haarlem. He was complaining to me that he had been offered only R15,000 for it when he would accept no less than R17,000! Prices were taking off in Haarlem, what with more affluent buyers, seeking rural peace and quiet, beginning to move in. Having given Sheila’s son, Timothy, and my son and daughter each an equal lump sum from my share of my late aunt’s estate, I decided to offer Oom Nick R30,000 for that plot for Sheila’s older son, Nicholas. I suspected that some disgruntled locals would accuse us newcomers of cheating property owners and was determined that I could never be accused of the same.

Needless to say, Oom Nick was delighted. Obviously, it was made available to Sheila to plant pastures for her cows as Nicholas was still resident in East London.

The year 2006 rounded off with building a shed-cum-workshop on Sheila’s Haarlem property, and welcome visits from Botswana friends.

Not to mention the hanging of Sadam Hussein, on 30th December.

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