Dying Here

Day 12 since New Wife went back to Seffrica to spoil New Granddaughter:

…which is all very well;  I, on the other hand, feel like this:

I really don’t do well by myself.

Also, I’ve had to deal with some (not serious) medical issues requiring a couple trips to the doc, and some minor repair work to the Tiguan, which means I’ve been driving Sputum for the past while.


Strangely enough, getting out of the above isn’t too bad;  getting in, however, requires a gallon of grease and at least two crowbars to wrangle my fat ass into place.

Misplaced Concern

From Longtime Reader MurphyAZ:

“I have this uneasy feeling that you might be sliding into a fire (flood?) sale. I hope that is not the case, and that all is well in Kim’s Land.”

Bless you, old son, for your concern;  but let me assure you that this is absolutely not the case.

The plain fact of the matter is that as with many Olde Pharttes, I am getting tid of stuff that I don’t, can’t or don’t want to use anymore:  the bass guitar gear was a “can’t”, the 16ga shotgun was a “don’t” — or, given that I plan on getting a 20ga to start doing sporting clays soon, “won’t want to use anymore” — and if the sale of said items can get me a “free” CZ G2 Bobtail:

…then so much the better.

Just to hammer the point home:  we have emerged from the past four months of flood disaster and theft of two guns with our finances more or less intact, thanks in no small part to the unbelievable generosity of my Loyal Readers, blessings be upon you all.

I even managed to acquire a replacement S&W Model 65 along the way.  (Range report to follow shortly.)

So once again, thank you (and anyone else who may have felt the same way) for your concern, but I’m fine.

Memorial Day

Charles Loxton was a small man, no taller than 5’6”, and was born in 1899.  This means that when he fought in the muddy trenches of France during the First World War, he was no older than 17 years old — Delville Wood, where he was wounded, took place in July 1916.

Seventeen years old.  That means he would have been a little over sixteen when he enlisted. In other words, Charles must have lied about his age to join the army — many did, in those days, and recruiting officers winked at the lies.  After all, the meat grinder of the Western Front needed constant replenishment, and whether you died at 17, 18 or 19 made little difference.

Why did he do it?  At the time, propaganda told of how the evil Kaiser Wilhelm was trying to conquer the world, and how evil Huns had raped Belgian nurses after executing whole villages.  Where Charles lived as a young boy, however, the Kaiser was no danger to him, and no German Uhlans were going to set fire to his house, ever.

But Charles lied about his age and joined up because he felt that he was doing the right thing.  That if good men did nothing, evil would most certainly win.

It’s not as though he didn’t know what was coming:  every day, the newspapers would print whole pages of casualty lists, the black borders telling the world that France meant almost certain death.  The verification could be found in all the houses’ windows which had black-crepe-lined photos of young men, killed on the Somme, in Flanders, in Ypres, and at Mons.

He would have seen with his own eyes the men who returned from France, with their missing limbs, shattered faces and shaky voices.  He would have heard stories from other boys about their relatives coming back from France to other towns — either in spirit having died, or else with wounds so terrible that the imagination quailed at their description.

He would have seen the mothers of his friends weeping at the loss of a beloved husband.  Perhaps it had been this man and not his father who had taught him how to fish, or how to shoot, or how to cut (from the branches of a peach tree) a “mik” (the “Y”) for his catapult.

But Charles, a 16-year-old boy, walked out of his home one day and went down to the recruiting center of the small mining town, and joined the Army.

When years later I asked him why he’d done it, he would just shrug, get a faraway look in his blue eyes, and change the subject.  Words like duty, honor, country, I suspect, just embarrassed him. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of them.

So Charles joined the Army, was trained to fight, and went off to France.  He was there for only four months before he was wounded.  During the attack on the German trenches at Delville Wood, he was shot in the shoulder, and as he lay there in the mud, a German soldier speared him in the knee with his bayonet, before himself being shot and killed by another man in Charles’ squad.  At least, I think that’s what happened — I only managed to get the story in bits and pieces over several years.  But the scars on his body were eloquent witnesses to the horror: the ugly cicatrix on his leg, two actually (where the bayonet went in above the knee and out below it), and the star-shaped indentation in his shoulder.

The wounds were serious enough to require over a year’s worth of extensive rehabilitation, and they never really healed properly.  But Charles was eventually passed as fit enough to fight, and back to the trenches he went.  By now it was early 1918 — the Americans were in the war, and tiny, limping Private Charles Loxton was given the job as an officer’s batman: the man who polished the captain’s boots, cleaned his uniform, and heated up the water for his morning shave every day.  It was a menial, and in today’s terms, demeaning job, and Charles fought against it with all his might.  Eventually, the officer relented and released him for further line service, and back to the line he went.

Two months later came the Armistice, and Charles left France for home, by now a grizzled veteran of 19.  Because he had been cleared for trench duty, he was no longer considered to be disabled, and so he did not qualify for a disabled veteran’s pension.

When he got back home, there were no jobs except for one, so he took it.  Charles became, unbelievably, a miner.  His crippled knee still troubled him, but he went to work every day, because he had to earn money to support his mother, by now widowed, and his younger brother John.  The work was dangerous, and every month there’d be some disaster, some catastrophe which would claim the lives of miners.  But Charles and his friends shrugged off the danger, because after the slaughter of the trenches, where life expectancy was measured in days or even hours, a whole month between deaths was a relief.

But he had done his duty, for God, King and country, and he never regretted it.  Not once did he ever say things like “If I’d known what I was getting into, I’d never have done it.”  As far as he was concerned, he’d had no choice — and that instinct to do good, to do the right thing, governed his entire life.

At age 32, Charles married a local beauty half his age.  Elizabeth, or “Betty” as everyone called her, was his pride and joy, and he worshipped her his whole life.  They had five children.

Every morning before going to work, Charles would get up before dawn and make a cup of coffee for Betty and each of the children, putting the coffee on the tables next to their beds.  Then he’d kiss them, and leave for the rock face.  Betty would die from multiple sclerosis, at age 43.

As a young boy, I first remembered Charles as an elderly man, although he was then in his late fifties, by today’s standards only middle-aged.  His war wounds had made him old, and he had difficulty climbing stairs his whole life.  But he was always immaculately dressed, always wore a tie and a hat, and his shoes were polished with such a gloss that you could tell the time in them if you held your watch close.

Charles taught me how to fish, how to cut a good “mik” for my catapult, and watched approvingly as I showed him what a good shot I was with my pellet gun.  No matter how busy he was, he would drop whatever he was doing to help me — he was, without question, the kindest man I’ve ever known.

In 1964, Charles Loxton, my grandfather, died of phthisis, the “miner’s disease” caused by years of accumulated dust in the lungs.  Even on his deathbed in the hospital, I never heard him complain — in fact, I never once heard him complain about anything, ever.  From his hospital bed, all he wanted to hear about was what I had done that day, or how I was doing at school.

When he died, late one night, there was no fuss, no emergency, no noise; he just took one breath, and then no more.  He died as he had lived, quietly and without complaint.

From him, I developed the saying, “The mark of a decent man is not how much he thinks about himself, but how much time he spends thinking about others.”

Charles Loxton thought only about other people his entire life.

In Memoriam


New Wife and I were chatting the other day about men and women — and specifically, how in the “old days” (in our case, the 1950s and -60s) men went out to work, and women stayed at home, managed the household and raised the children.  The roles were clearly defined, and because of that, there seemed to be little angst, the way there is today, about “women’s roles” and all that.  Most especially, the traditional role of the “stay-at-home mom” has been belittled, and worse still, seen as some kind of oppression.  Even uglier is the attitude which said that women, having got the kids off to school in the morning, sat around and ate bonbons all day, maybe (and reluctantly) doing housework and preparing the evening meal, in the Donna Reed manner.

That was not the case for our mothers, and I’m going to talk about mine (because I don’t know that much about New Wife’s mother — who, it should be said, disliked me for obvious reasons).

My Mom was always working.  Far from being lazy and lounging about on the couch, she was so busy that, in retrospect, I have no idea how she got through the day without passing out exhausted at the end.  Here are some of the things she did.

She went to England with my father on one of his business trips, but he was going all over the place — to Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle — and she, stuck in London, got bored on Day Two, with another two weeks to go.  So she found a beautician school somewhere in Soho, enrolled, and was able to get a certificate in those two weeks which took other students over a month.  When she came back, she started a cottage job, giving facials and nail treatments at first to her friends, and then to a much larger clientele.

But that wasn’t enough.  She took up yoga for exercise, and got so good that she was invited by her teacher to become a teacher herself.  So for over a decade, she taught yoga to women, two lessons a day each workday week.  (It started off as a single class for the neighborhood women, and by the end, she had a waiting list of over a hundred.  My father had to build her a studio on our property because she outgrew our living room in a couple of months.)

Like in Britain, South Africa had branches of the Women’s Institute all over the place.  My mom joined the local branch, and after a couple of years she became the chairlady, a position she held for nearly twenty years.  (For more about the WI, here’s the story.)  Under her leadership, that branch went from a recipe-swapping club to an institution which created sub-branches that taught traditional (but forgotten) household skills such as gardening, flower-arranging, household decoration and, outside the house, public speaking and bookkeeping.  Also under her auspices, her WI provided caregivers for a daycare center for severely-handicapped children under age 5, and she was in charge of its annual fundraising drive — which after two years enabled the center to move from someone’s house into their own building (incidentally built by my father’s engineering company, gratis ).

Mom was also an indefatigable rose-gardener.  While we had a live-in gardener to take care of the main (two-acre) garden, the forty-odd rose bush garden was her own fiercely-guarded domain, and she watered, pruned, dug out and weeded the beds daily.  (The ever-present smell of fresh roses in our house stays with me to this day.)

In addition, she was in charge of family entertainment.  As a senior business executive (and later owner of his own engineering company), my father hosted formal dinners at least twice a month;  and when there wasn’t a business dinner, it was a dinner party for their huge circle of friends — dinners which invariably ended up with everyone dancing in my mother’s yoga studio.  (My job was to take out the yoga mats and clean the place, and to restore it to its proper function after the party.)

And the meals.  Good grief, the meals.  Dinner was a sit-down affair every night, and Sunday lunch was a State occasion.  Mom designed and planned out every single meal — needless to say, she also did the supermarket shopping once a month.  She was also a peerless baker, to the point where my sister Teresa and I, spoiled brats that we were, could not only identify a store-bought cake, but would refuse to eat it.  The only variation to this was confectioneries — Napoleons (custard slices), petit-fours and donuts — which were bought from Gallagher’s Bakery in the city (the only one which met Mom’s exacting standards), where she would take us every Saturday morning, as a treat.

Granted, we also had a live-in maid to help with the cleaning and laundry work — my Black mommy Mary Madipe, who carried me around on her back as a baby in the African manner, and who alone could discipline me with a single word — but all the time that Mom saved from those chores was not spent in idleness and indolence, as can be seen above.

Of course, there were the kids to look after.  Fortunately (for her), at age 11 I went off to boarding school, but before that, while waiting for my lift to primary school, I remember that each Monday Mom would give me a manicure before going to school.  (I’ve looked after my nails in similar fashion ever since: emery boards, cuticle clippers, the lot.)  From Mom, I learned about being a gentleman:  table manners, etiquette, proper dressing, the lot — all rigorously drilled into me for as long as I can remember.  (I recall, at age eight, holding the door open for one of my mother’s friends, and her astonishment at what was, for me, everyday behavior.)

So yeah, those were the days of the stay-at-home mom that I remember.  This was not a life as portrayed in the sneering manner of today:  it was a time when “housewife” carried all the responsibilities of home management — and in those days, microwave ovens, TV dinners (and in South Africa, TV at all) were as yet unknown.  Everything was made from scratch, and an “out” meal was perhaps a monthly trip to the roadhouse or fish ‘n chip shop, all treated with the greatest excitement by us kids.

It was work, I think, which would absolutely devastate the Modern Ms. of today.

If you’re not bored by all this, I invite you to read further.  It’s personal.

Read more

Style Points

I have written before about my old band Atlantic, and with great affection of our late lead guitarist, Kevin.  While I tried to describe his guitar playing, I feel I didn’t do it justice.  But now I can.

As I was stumbling and bumbling around the Internets last night, I happened upon this oldie, and if you want to see exactly how Kevin played, note the virtuosity of Focus’s Jan Akkerman — and it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that in playing this song (as Kevin used to do, just for practice), his and Akkerman’s style, down to the way they held their guitars, are identical.  (Nobody in our band, and quite possibly nobody in the whole world could ever sing like Thijs van Leer.)

Kevin had better hair, though.