On reading my fathers journal_ w by pengxiuhui

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									                                        MY MEMOIRS – (Part 1)

                                    RONALD STUART GILCHRIST

On reading my father‟s journal, which gives a humorous and definitive insight into the lives and times
of the Gilchrist family, I was inspired to put together my own account of my current years on this
planet. My tale, starts from my birth on the 8th March 1953 in the tenements of Camelon, The Hedges
to be exact and to the break away, which my father talks of and beyond to my years in Africa and
elsewhere.

I have returned a number of times to Scotland, and for some reason I always make at least one trip to
Camelon, as if to set a benchmark from where I came. Even though my time there was not lengthy, it
somehow stirred something in my sole, or was it my root. Camelon has an aura of bleakness and a
sense of strength about it. One cannot call the living areas suburbs, as this implies a prosperous
lifestyle, which was not evident, but the people were not poverty stricken either. And so I have this
ephemeral way with the town of my birth.




                                        Falkirk (The High Street)

BASILDON
My first recollections in life were of living in a town called Basildon in Essex, England. I remember
nothing of the physical properties of this place as my family resided there for a short spell before
making a decision – this must have been a mammoth one in those days – to immigrate to Rhodesia.
The only distinguishing mark left on me by Basildon was that an unknown friend and myself where
shown the inside a car. A rare treat, as they were not common property. This man, who I think lived in
the street, told us that this car could fly and had wings. Our gullible minds swallowed this newfound
knowledge with gusto and the man proceeded to demonstrate. He made the indicators come out of
the side of the car and we were suitably impressed. The indicators on cars in the 50‟s where not
flashing lights as we know them, they were little wings with orange glass, something like a dragonfly‟s
wing, which shot out to the horizontal position and flipped back in again.

As I understand it, Basildon was not good for my parents. Prosperity was elusive, even for someone
who had actually gone to college and educated himself as my Father had done. John Ronald Gilchrist
is still studying to this day. The eternal academic. My mother, Margaret Robertson Gilchrist (nee
Esselmont) is still working to this day as well. The eternal worker. She would also study hard in her life
and become a Chartered Secretary. The glaring logic that I see from my own parents betterment in life
and the upliftment of most of my parents generation, is that, given the educational opportunity nearly
anyone can go somewhere in life.
Back to Basildon. One day, or so it was told to me by my Uncle Cameron (John‟s brother), my other
uncle, Stanley (John‟s other brother), arrived from Rhodesia, with my Aunt Vera and came to visit us.
As an offering of a meal my mother could only offer two eggs as faire for the day. To this, my uncle
Stanley informed my father, that for £50 and a trip to the Rhodesian consulate we could move to
Africa and into the relative lap of luxury. And so began the move to a new life as Camelon melted into
the shadows of our lives.

At this point in time the Gilchrists were already scattering to the four winds. My Uncle Stanley had
already made the break from being a railway clerk in Falkirk, to being a railway clerk in Rhodesia.
Trains were a big thing in Africa. My Uncle Cameron became a quantity surveyor and in the 70‟s took
up work in Saudi Arabia, where he finished his working life in 1998. I‟m sure he made enough money
there to live quite comfortably in retirement and educate my cousins Claire and David very well. At
one time he even took a trip around the world to see if there were any prime places to retire. He and
my Aunt Betty (the eternal joggers) opted in the end for an agreeable life in a plush part of Edinburgh.

RHODESIA
The great trek - to steal a portion of history - began at Southampton on the Pendennis Castle. (In all I
sailed on the Pendennis, Capetown and Southampton Castle) For me, the excitement of this trip far
outweighed anything else I had come across in my short life. I was oblivious to any emotions my
parents might have had regarding leaving “the old country”, or any apprehensions about living in the
“new country”. I was off to the land of lions and elephants.

I remember little of the trip, except that I recall running around the ship a lot. There were so many
passageways, doors and decks that exploration was the name of the game. I became, “the eternal
explorer”. One of the swimming pools was only partially filled for us little typhoons and it was
marvellous to be thrown around, as the water surged with the rolling of the ship. The rolling of the ship
also catered for another diversification. I would find two stairwells where one of them ran downwards
from one side of the ship to the centre and the other ran upwards to the opposite deck. Having worked
out the timing of the roll, I would run down the one side and try to run up the other. But, as I ran up the
other side, the roll of the ship would bring the stairs more vertical, turning them into a ladder. My
knees would buckle under this sudden exertion required and I would collapse on the stairs. Often to
the consternation of other passengers. It was great being a kid.

We more or less followed the great trek by catching a train and travelling through South Africa to
Rhodesia, where we would spend about 5 years of uncomplicated – or so I thought - living and the
massive expanse of the bushveld for me to play in. I explored as much of it as possible. We lived in
Salisbury (now Harare) and Scotland became a forgotten land, not that I was interested in such things
as a child. My father taught physical education at Cranbourne high school. My mother worked in the
city and I lived for adventure. Ignoring the politics of the day, I can think of no better environment for a
child to be brought up in. My parents simply locked me out of the house and I rode my bicycle
everywhere, in the heat of the African sun.

The great African adventure was all consuming and appeared eternal. One day lasted a week. My
newfound friends and I swam in bilharzia-infested rivers, from which our irate parents sometimes
hauled us. But we knew to swim in only the fast running water, as the bugs bred in stagnant water
where the snails lived. We climbed rocks, trees and slide down huge mine dumps in a car bonnet,
often coming unglued and extremely grazed. Somehow, no serious injuries occurred and I wonder
now, how pensive our parents must have been, waiting for their child to brought home in an
ambulance.
One friend, Russell, did manage to injure himself quite badly. We were jumping off his cupboard onto
the bed and he decided to dive head first, straight through the window. I had never seen so much
blood in my life. He slit both his arms from wrist to shoulder.

Like most kids there, I had a dog, called Yerba. A sort of crossed terrier thing. He was my shadow and
companion. He was also a disaster, or so my parents thought. The vet knew him personally. He was
forever being run over or getting into dogfights. He even had a number of pellet gun slugs buried
under his skin. He even killed an Alsatian one-day. As a typical terrier, he knew no fear and whilst
walking down the road it attacked a friends Alsatian. Yerba, as expected, was loosing the fight, so he
decided to high tail it and ran across a main road. The Alsatian gave chase and was run over by a car
and killed. So that was the end of that friendship.

Yerba was also a great watchdog. One night whilst my mother and I were asleep, Dad somehow
didn‟t get home too early and had to break into the house as my mother locked him out for his sins. As
the account goes, he managed to get the kitchen window open and with all the quiteness in the world,
put his foot into a sink full of dishes. Yerba, being a wide-awake dog, then figured out that the thief
had arrived. During the course of navigating the sink, Yerba attached himself to my fathers leg. “It‟s
me! “it‟s me. Footsack!” It was about at this point that Mom arrived on the scene.

This was also the period in which I decided to run away from home. I managed to get as far as the
ditch outside of the house one dark night - too dark to carry on. This is where my parents found me,
probably with Yerba.

My father joined the rest of the white fraternity of Rhodesia and took up the game of golf. In fact he
became so good at golf that he taught it at a later date. I think the golf club became the focus of their
leisure activities, although my mother went on to play badmington for Rhodesia. I think he was
probably in the golf club the day he forgot to pick me at school. I went to a primary school named after
the famous man David Livingstone.

Dad had now invested in a Vespa scooter, which was great fun to be on. One day after school at
about 1pm I waited for him to pitch up on the Vespa, but he never showed. So, being not of the
panicky type, I simply grabbed my friend who lived right next to the school, and we proceeded to play
marbles all afternoon. I think he eventually clocked in at 4 0‟clock that afternoon. It was no big deal,
that was the way things were.

Holidays in Rhodesia, where somewhat far removed than what the average Scot of that period would
consider to be a holiday. A trip to Loch Lomond, maybe even Ayr. In Rhodesia we travelled hundreds
of miles. Up to the border of Mozambique, to a place called Leopard Rock. It had a golf course. A few
times we went to Beira and Laurenzo Marques (LM as it was fondly called), where the great surge of
the Indian Ocean punched in. Also, for the digestive connoisseur, there was lobster and prawn. LM
also had an amazing museum, as the two-headed animals they kept in laboratory jars fascinated me.

Being an avid swimmer, in anything that was wet, from storm water drains, to slimy green water tanks
on farms, the Indian Ocean was a dream come true. Huge waves crashed onto the narrow continental
shelf and so I launched myself into this powerful maelstrom. My mother looked on in abject fear. She
was quite right to do so, as these waves were sending a message from the heart of the ocean.
Eventually a wave got a hold of me and I disappeared. I don‟t remember what happened, but I was
suddenly and brutally washed up the beach right to my mother‟s feet. There might be some significant
meaning in this, but I think I was just lucky. Mum of course had a few kittens. I‟ve always thought that
having one child exerts more stress on the parents than having a flock. Now that I also have only one
child I agree with my original thinking, There are psychological pressures that create the spoilt brat.
I did not give these waves the respect that they deserved at that time. Only later, when I became a
sailor and a surfer, did I really understand and respect the ocean for all its beauty and its awesome
might.

CAMELON
In 1963, for reasons not known to me at the time, our family left sunny Rhodesia and we returned to
Falkirk. This did not phase me, except I think I had a hard time leaving Yerba, otherwise this was a
new adventure. We took the train back down the great trek to Capetown to catch another Castle line
ship to Southampton. On the way down in the train we stopped at dust bowl of a station and there was
my Uncle Stanley. I don‟t know if all Stanley‟s are doomed to be lost in the undergrowth, but my Uncle
Stanley is as elusive as the Coelacanth. His whereabouts is often a mystery, but he did appear at my
wedding in 1987.

The ship stopped at the Canary Islands for a day or two and we did the tourist bit. Dad bought a new
radio, a little pride and joy. I think it could receive stations from around the world. As we were still not
in the realms of the elite, our cabin was about three decks down under the galley. After leaving Las
Palmas, Dad took his new pride and joy and stuck the aerial out of the porthole to tune into the world.
One of the galley crew, unconscious of these happenings below, dumped a bucket of slops over the
side of the ship. The garbage connected the protruding aerial, breaking it off and breaking off Dad‟s
communications to the outside world. My father has always been one to look after his possessions
and pamper them with pride, so I guess the cook‟s ears must have been burning somewhat.

And so we arrived back in Camelon. We stayed with grandmother at number 7 Roman Drive. One of
those famous abodes called a tenement. A pebble dashed building with a small allotment at the back,
where people built greenhouses, or small garden sheds, where tools were kept to cut the carpet size
lawn. It was not too uncomfortable, although now at the age of about 9, where I slept was
inconsequential and that the weather was cold, wet and miserable bore me no worries either. In fact
when it snowed, I found great joy in living in a world that became slippery.

At the end of Roman drive, which is a cul-de-sac, was Carmuirs Primary School. A building from one
hundred years ago. Its large sandstone blocks were stained black from decades of pollution. It still
had cast iron railings surrounding it, having not met the needs of the recent war effort. This ominous
looking building befitted a horror movie, with its big doors and bleak character. The whole playground
was tarred. There was not a blade of grass. This I suppose was practical given the huge amount of
precipitation that fell. Entering this building for me, was like walking onto a space ship, so completely
different from David Livingstone. The high ceilings and ornate cornice created a sense of majesty, but
this was assuaged by the huge banging doors, which echoed in tune with the hundreds of footsteps.
There was also this smelI. I don‟t know if it came from the heaters and wet clothes, or was just a latent
odour from the days when this building was a hospital, but it was different to the fresh air I was used to
breathing. Every time I listen to the words from the song “The Wall,” by Pink Floyd – “I don‟t need no
education…..” I think of Carmuirs.
                         Carmuirs Primary School – It was as bleak as it looks

At Carmuirs I received my first taste of the great Scottish education system. I was still exploring, or
naughty as adults would call it and I had my cousin Billy to show me the ropes. I‟ll never forget his
rosy red cheeks. He was my cousin on my mothers‟ side. The Esslemonts. I have three cousins on
this side of the family, being Jean (little Jean), Lorna and Billy. We only stayed in Scotland for about
six months and I have never seen any of them since. My Aunt Jean (big Jean) and Uncle Bill Petrie
moved to Macclesfield in England and has since passed on. Lorna married and is now living in some
mining town in Australia. Billy became a fireman and still bides in Macclesfield. I‟m not sure where little
Jean is.

From what I remember we were always in trouble. Adjacent to the school was the Alexander bus
company, so there were always double-decker buses parked in the road. One day, whilst playing
truant, we came flying off one of these, buses right into the arms of my mother and Aunt Jean. The
lesson here, is don‟t play truant right next to your own home and school. We were marched straight to
the head masters office and summarily given the strap. A wonderful device invented by the Scots to
turn young children‟s hands into pulp. It is a thick leather thong, split at the striking end, into two
tongues. The child holds its hands out in a begging fashion and the top hand is belted. This seems
quite ironic to me. Sometimes the hands were alternated and sometimes the skin of the wrist was
split, when the teachers aim was off centre. Anyway, this was the corporal punishment of the time and
when I returned in 1970, it was still in use. My Grandmother Esselmont lived in Carmuirs Avenue
(avenue?), which was 5 minutes walk away from the school. It was a long road, lined with tenements
and at one end was lock 16 on the Forth and Clyde canal. A great source of adventure and
exploration for Billy and I. After school we would race around to Grandma Esselmonts, where we lived
on tins of Ambrosia creamed rice. It was certainly „food of the gods‟ for us. That and sherbet with a red
liquorice straw. Another great source for sweets was Grandma Gilchrist‟s licensed grocer. Here we
would try to coerce Gran, or Betty, her friend and assistant (also from Carmuirs Avenue) to part with a
few sweets. This was a marvellous shop, because being in the pre supermarket era, all sorts of
people passed through. Here you could bring your own bottle and buy sherry decanted by the pint.
The only heater was in the back room where Gran and Betty would sit in front of it and turn their legs
into corned beef – as Billy Connolly put it – and smoke their cigarettes, waiting for the doorbell to ring.
A real doorbell that is, a bell which is hit by the door as it opens. There never seemed to be anything
acrimonious about their way of life. Ignorance is after all, bliss.

A real treat in Roman Drive, was when the ice-cream van came in the evenings. No matter what time
of year, this was the best event of the day. With coppers in hand I would rush down to the van and
order my favourite ice-cream. “A Black Man.” Now where this term came from I do not know, but the
description of it tells a tale and bares no resemblance to a black man. It was two rectangular wafers,
one of which, was made up of two wafers with a soft white creamy filling. About a half inch thick. The
edge of this wafer was coated in chocolate – the black man. The ice-cream was troweled onto the
wafer and so the sandwich as made. Absolute bliss.

SOUTH AFRICA
Pietermaristzburg (1964)

Before I knew it, we were heading for Southampton again and another Castle line ship: destination
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Pietermaritzburg is the Capital what is now called Kwa-Zulu Natal. In those days it was just called
Natal, or colloquially, the Last Outpost – in reference to it being the last English speaking British
Colony. This was 1963, or 64, I can‟t remember which. It was the Boers who gave the city its official
name: a combination of the name of their leader Pieter Retief, with that of the leader of the second
trek, Gert Maritz.




We resided on one of the long streets that cut through the middle of the town, it could have been
either Berg Street or Boom Street, which is laid out like an American city in blocks. The streets are
mostly tree-lined, with Jacaranda trees, where thousands of Indian Minor birds roost at night, making
a fierce din before they eventually nod off to sleep. This sound, like that of the Cape Wood Pigeon
lives in your soul forever and kind-of makes you African. The Minors are only heard in the towns and
cities, but the Wood Pigeon is more generally heard out in the bush, where its plaintiff cry sounds
quite sad in some ways. There is a pigeon, in Ireland anyway, that has the same call. And when I hear
it now, it brings back that Africaness to my being and a yearning to be out in the dry dusty bush with
the sun doing its best to turn the human body into a roast.

On the street outside of our residence was a hitching pole for horses. Unfortunately they are all gone
now, but it was these little things that made this old docile town have such character. As a child I was
oblivious to these surroundings and would have probably hated living there, but in a short space of
time we were off to live in Durban and the years that were to shape my personality and character.
Durban (1964)
On arrival in Durban we moved into a block of flats on what is called North Beach, which is part of the
Golden Mile. This stretch of the beachfront is typical of any holiday resort with numerous hotels and
blocks of flats, with the beaches being only a five minute walk away. The block we resided in was and
still is called Stromboli, after the world‟s most active volcano just north of Sicily. We were on the eighth
floor, which meant that I could see the beach and the whole of the Indian Ocean from my bedroom
window. This location was to be of great fortune to me as I was about to become a Surfer.




                                            (The real volcano)




(View of North beach. To the left of the pier in the middle is The Bay of Plenty. My beach - as it looks
                                                  today)
Durban was exciting for me as it had a completely different flavour to Scotland, although it was similar
to Salisbury, being a more modern age cosmopolitan city, with high-rise buildings and wide streets.
Politics was never to enter my head for the entire period that I lived there. This however does not
mean to infer that I did not become a young racist. The indigenous culture made that happen without
any effort.




                                          (Downtown Durban)


My schooling here started at Northlands Primary School, while my Father went off to work at
Beachwood High School as their PE teacher and my Mother went to work for the Seamens Mission in
town. The only things I can remember about Northlands was that I went out for a duck at cricket, thus
giving the bowler from the other team a hat-trick and I made fun of a girl called Zelda Bean about her
bout of polio and made her cry. Not very clever, but I was to become rather good of doing the wrong
thing at the wrong time. This resulted in a visit to the Principle. The first of many. One of the teachers
was called Miss Dinkelmann and I would become good friends with her sister Linda, who also lived in
Stromboli, with her sister Hilda and Mother, I have no recollection of what happened to the father.

I soon discovered the beach as I always loved water, whether this be swimming pools, rivers or
anything else liquid I could jump into. At this point in time I had not met the surfing fraternity, but
meshed with the trampolining crowd, mainly due to Linda, who was a member of the North Beach
team. At the boundary of the road and the beach there were eight trampolines fenced off and
generally made its income from tourists, who bounced themselves silly and suffered minor injuries
from landing in the springs, or smacking into the sandbags. The sandbags were there to protect
people from hitting the iron framework, but it wasn‟t much better hitting the rock hard sandbags.
I eventually joined the North Beach trampoline team and my newfound friends and bounced my way
to winning the only cup of my life. I achieved third prize in grade three. My Mother on the other hand
had scores of cups from her accomplishments in badmington, which were mainly won in Rhodesia.

Somewhere during this period an 8mm cine camera came into the family and I was allowed to use it.
Possibly to see if I had any artistic virtues. This was not to be at this time of my life. When the film was
processed, at the expense of my Father presumably, the family was treated to 5 minutes of watching
a trail of ants walking up a wall, followed by another 5 minutes of watching some person bounce up
and down on a trampoline and they did nothing else but that. Not one flick-flack or somersault. That
was the last that I saw of the camera.

Trampolining soon gave way to the draw of the sea and the crowd of guys, who at that time were
probably considered beach bums by most of the discerning population. To me the excitement was too
great. Who would want to be a trampolinist when there was wild surf, strong fit looking guys and the
associated hot looking girls who surrounded them. Puberty was about to kick in.

Surfing
I kicked off my surfing life with a 4 foot 6 inch belly board, which was built for lying down on, but due to
my diminutive size, I could stand on it and ride it like a big board. These boards were made in the
shape of a bullet, with a sawn off back and a single skeg (fin) underneath. They were moulded in
fibreglass in 2 halves and basically glued together and they weighed half a ton. If the thing ever hit
you, it left its mark. The older surfers were riding long boards over 10 feet long in the true Hawaiin
fashion, which us gremlins (young learner surfers) aspired to be riding on.

My great buddy in this all-consuming activity was Mark Matthews and we became part of the crowd,
or “locals” in surfer parlance, at the Bay of Plenty. A beach that was to become world famous in
surfing circles around the world as it would host one of the first professional surfing contests
sponsored by Gunston (cigarettes). The contest is still run there to this day. It was called the Gunston
500, because the winner would receive R500.oo – what happiness. Mark found himself in Durban
when his family moved from what was then called the Belgian Congo. On reflection it was probably
the internal civil wars that made them leave. Maybe his Father was killed there, as I don‟t remember
ever seeing him and if I did enquire, I have lost the story.

The other names I remember and apologies to those who are not listed are:

Bubbles, Solly, Jeremy Yates, Henry Bradley and brother, Shaun Thomson and cousin Michael
Thomson and there were a bunch of others too.

After learning my art on my little blue bullet, I progressed to a long board. It was 10 feet long and I had
to carry it on my head. I had now progressed to the big league. About this time I had also moved up to
Beachwood High School (where my Father taught). The capture area for this school was all the kids
from South Beach in Durban to above Umghlanga Rocks about 10 miles north of Durban. So, not only
was I now a surfer, but my school was also full of them. School started at 8am and finished at 2.30pm,
which certainly allowed for a lot of beach life. Somewhere in-between a small amount of homework
was done.

The surfing life as a young teenager was all encompassing and lasted throughout my stay in Durban
until I returned to Falkirk to finish my schooling, or not finish it, as it turned out. From the age of 13
until I was 17, my life was consumed by this sport. Even though I ventured into the world of golf, as
my Father was an avid golfer and very good at it as well, the power and excitement of surfing was to
win the day. Surfers had at that time, a very distinct position in society. It was not like being a cricketer
or tennis player, where kids played at clubs and were nurtured under the aspirations of adults. Surfers
were on the beach with their own freedom and distinctive sub-culture. I don‟t ever recollect my parents
ever coming to watch me surf. We wore Levis and Wranglers, before they were considered by the
general public to be acceptable apparel. We had our own vocabulary and buzz words. It was great!

Jeffreys Bay

This is an interview with Shaun from Surflink:-

“Describe your best surfing experience ever?

I started surfing Jeffreys Bay when I was twelve years old. Short boards had been introduced to South Africa in
May of 1968. When we went down there in June of '68 it was really the first time that short boards had been
ridden there. I was twelve years old and it was really something to surf a place I'd dreamt about and read about
in the magazines. And to surf it on a short board for the first time - for me it was an incredible experience.
The first morning we found our way down to the point because there were no signs. And it was flawless - it was
four to six feet and perfect. We were a group of three twelve and thirteen year old kids and here was this
paradise. It was every young surfer's dream come true. You know you read about the place and seen incredible
pictures and finally you're there and it's perfect.”

Well there you are, I was one of the other kids. Although he forgot that we were all older than him at
15 years old.

My recollection of the trip goes like this. Shaun and Michael would travel down in a car, driven by
Ernie, his Father, who had his left arm permanently bent a right angles, due to a shark ripping the
meat off it. This occurred at South Beach Durban, before the days of shark nets, which now protect
bathers and surfers alike. Anyway, I travelled down by train with Henry Bradley and his older brother.
Shaun would take the sticks (sufboards) on a specially design trailer with roof racks. The train journey
between Durban and Port Elizabeth (PE) was long and boring. It was hot and dusty as we travelled all
the way to Bloemfontein first and then described this giant arc around to PE. The whole trip took two
days, as I remember on the first night we couldn‟t sleep as they kept shunting the carriages around
while we were being re-arranged in Bloemfontein. At least we ended up back on the right track (hence
the saying) and arrived in PE instead of somewhere in the Karoo.

To amuse ourselves on this mundane trip we would do things, that in retrospect, showed our naivety
and social conditioning. The train would often slow down at minor towns to toss and collect mail and
as we crawled through these Dorps (Afrikaans for one-horse-town), we would wait for the Pikinins
(African for small child), to run alongside the train and beg for what ever they could get. Some people
would throw odd bits of clothing or coins, which they would fight over. From us they would get pelted
with orange peels, or jugs of water. How purile and nasty we were.

Henry actually came from PE and we spent the second night staying with some of his relatives. All I
can remember was that we went to watch the Sound of Music at a Bioscope – as they were called - in
town. We must have been desperate, but probably enjoyed it then.

The next day we arrived in Jeffreys Bay, which is about 100km south of PE - The newest and latest
hot spot in world surfing terms at that time. It had been made famous by a movie called the Endless
Summer. The fact is that Jeffreys Bay hit the limelight, but the beautiful waves discovered and ridden
in the movie were at a place called St. Francis Bay that is just around the corner. I was to have the
best waves of my life there about 15 years later.
In 1968 Jeffreys was nothing more than a hotel and a campsite. The campsite was to be our home for
the next week or so. We arrived late in the afternoon and met up with Shaun and our beloved boards.
As weary as our young hearts were, we hit the beach before doing anything else. In Durban we had
spent our years surfing a beach break, which does not provide for very long rides and now we were to
witness and get to ride a point break, with its possible half a kilometre wave. With boards in hand we
climbed through the sand dunes and onto the beach of Jeffreys and there it was, long lines of waves
breaking from the point and stretching far down the beach. It was not perfect surf, in that the wind was
blowing onshore, but we were out in a shot anyway. The first problem was to navigate the rocks and
coral, which lined the shore, but also helped to make the waves so good. There was many a cut foot
to come, with sea urchin spines in some people‟s feet for their troubles.




                              (This is what it looked like on the first day)




                                   (This is what is called “cooking”)

Once we were out, and catching our not so perfect waves at about 2 to 3 feet, we were in heaven.
The waves were long and the paddle back was exhausting, but we rode until the sun went down.
There were no shark nets by the way.

The board I had on the Jeffreys trip was a Shaun cast off. When Shaun appeared with this board on
the beach for the first time, we were all buzzing with excitement, as the design of this board was a
radical change from the long sticks we were riding. Not only was it much shorter – down to 7 feet from
the 10 foot long boards, but the under deck was channelled to give more bite in the turn and also
provide stability. It still had only one skeg (fin) though. The change to 3 skegs would come about 10
years later, radically changing the manoeuvrability of sufboards.
After Shaun had mastered this board and moved on to something better, I had the opportunity to buy
it at 60 Rand. Of course I did not have R60.00, which was a lot of money then, but I worked a
payment plan at R20.00 per month. Which, my wonderful parents ended up paying for. I was in my
element.

The campsite at Jeffreys was full of surfers. I don‟t recollect seeing or talking to anyone who was not a
surfer, or surfers girlfriend and there were a lot of dudes up from Capetown. This was my first trip of
any length of time away from home on my own at 15 years of age. (How did my folks let me go??)
And, in this environment there was a lot of learning to be done from this mainly older – mid-twenties –
crowd.

The first night there was one I will never forget. The two Bradleys and myself shared a tent and went
to bed early as surfing is a sunrise occupation, but not before we had feasted on some leftover
chicken, which was donated to us by Ernie. About one o‟clock that morning I heard Henry moaning
somewhat and then suddenly he jumped up and scampered out of the tent and was violently sick.
Within a short space of time his brother did the same thing. I was still busy wondering what was going
on, when my own stomach convulsed and I joined them outside, hurling for my life. All three of us
were retching on empty stomachs and taking turns glugging back water from a nearby tap, so that we
had something to throw up. This went on for a good few hours until our poor innards retuned to a
painful knot of normality. As it turned out, the chicken had been lying on the back window ledge of the
car for most of their journey and had turned fowl.

The staple diet for us young surfers was a breakfast cereal called Pro Nutro. Made from maize and it
came in 2 flavours back then - Plain and Banana. It was cheap, which helped the minimal budget and
tasted pretty good. It seemed to provide enough energy for us to “hit the waves” at least 4 or 5 times a
day, without loss of energy.

One day the surf came through quite big, probably in the 6 to 8 foot range. I felt a bit uneasy getting
out in these bigger waves, but it had to be done. Show no fear, we were surfers after all. In tune with
the ocean and its rhythms, understanding of its moods and dangers and capable of holding our
breaths for longer than most when the waves did try to extinguish our flame. I achieved some
notoriety on this day when I did a manoeuvre that brought some acclaim on the beach. If you can
imagine racing straight down the face of one of these big waves (when they say 6 foot, at the time of
breaking the water sucks up the face of the wave and the actual drop is over 10 foot) then at the
bottom you turn at right angles with all your force to speed down the face of the wave and beat the
breaking curl and a few tons of breaking water. This is called a bottom turn (how obviously named).
My technique was so good on this day, that when I did the bottom turn, my skeg (fin), broke clear of
the water and the manoeuvre was hinged purely on the rail of the board.

The leash had not been invented then either, so any wipeout, was usually accompanied by a swim
back to shore to recover the board. When the leash came along some years later, these swims
became a thing of the past as you were “leashed” to the board by a 6mm nylon strap and at a place
likes Jeffreys Bay this would have been a God-send back then. My day in this relatively big surf was to
end when an “outside set,” of monster waves rolled through and whilst trying to go under them, I lost
my board to their awesome power. When I got to the beach I couldn‟t find my board, but I finally
located it about a mile down the beach and it was still in one piece luckily, or that would have been the
end of my surf trip. It had a few “dings” from banging on the rocks, so the evening was spent fixing the
holes.

One of the reasons that Shaun become such a good surfer, was that Ernie used to film him all the
time on a small hand held cine camera. This gave him the advantage of being able to view his style
and position on the wave and change it to get the best ride and more importantly get the best scores
in competitions to come. He achieved the ultimate accolade of becoming the world champion in 1977.
The only South African to make it this far, till this day, so far.

General life in Durban

There wasn‟t much else going on in my life at this time, except for maybe playing rugby every
Saturday, going to the Ice Rink to find girls and have fun, going to the drive in movies, learning to
smoke (mistake), weekend movies, learning to fish, kayaking on the Blue Lagoon (not very blue),
getting into music and trying to handle the first parties and disco scene. Like most any other teenager,
this era had its moments and either made your character or killed it.

There was one activity that I did, which sets me apart from the norms of most other teenagers in the
world. I had to put on a khaki uniform on Fridays and march around the school fields. I think my
mother hated it. She abhorred the look of young kids dressed up like the Afrika Korp, as in her mind
WW2 wasn‟t that far away.

In the sixties South Africa was already fighting a civil war against the ANC, whom they called
terrorists. At that time all the ANC had managed to do was blow up power lines, as they had in fact a
policy of not killing civilians. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in 1965 after the Rivonia trial. I knew
nothing of this at the time. In 1966 we were all made aware of the assassination of Hendrick Verwoed,
who was considered to be the Father of Apartheid, by one Demitrios Tsafendas. South Africa had not
yet allowed TV to appear in houses and the press was tightly controlled, so we all indifferently carried
on oblivious to many things around us. We did make jokes about Verwoed being killed though. All the
Afrikaans girls were crying and moaning and we could not see what all the fuss was about. We had to
march every Friday and we really did not understand fully why. Being from the province of Natal (very
English), we despised the Afrikaners and called them “Hairy-backs or Rocks.” Most of our jokes were
centred round a thick Afrikaner called Van der Merwe.

I hated marching too and so I had a go at trying to get into the band, which seemed a better option.
They sat around practicing most of the time and did less of the marching. Unfortunately I was useless
at blowing the bugle, never mind getting a note out of it, so plan B came into operation and I did
manage to get into the shooting team. This was great and it turned out I was pretty skilful at shooting
.22 bullets into targets at 50 meters. We used single shot breech loading .22 rifles with peep hole
sights, much like the good old cowboy‟s Winchester, except that the bullet was loaded from the top
and the shell was ejected by pushing down the ejection lever underneath. Apart from simple targets
we also tried to put a bullet through the middle of a Polo mint and that was no mean feat at 50 meters,
but was sometimes possible and pulled out much higher levels of concentration from us young lads.
So now I was being trained to be a potential sniper, instead of foot soldier. Little did we know of the
greater plan of things. To add to the excitement of this training we were also sent to the army firing
ranges to “get a feel” of the real weapons of war. We shot Bren guns, semi-automatic machine guns
and Belgian FN rifles, as used by NATO troops.

Each year the school would hold a fully-fledged drill and presentation parade, which was presided
over by so called Army dignitaries. Majors or Colonels or who knew what. We would march around
the playing field and salute the army boys in our squads in starched Khaki and dubbined boots. It
seemed to us to be all a joke, except here we were in the blazing African sun getting cooked for 4
hours. They even had stretcher teams on standby to pick up casualties from the event. We stood and
watched the school army band do their thing, then the drill squad came out and displayed their skills
at various marching and inter-weaving styles. Then we listened to the speeches. About what I have no
idea and then we were inspected like troops of the King.
One year I didn‟t survive this. During the cooking I got boiled. The guy next to me fainted and down he
went. From the outskirts came the stretcher and bearers to recover the body. At this point my own
body gave up the ghost, but instead of fainting I threw-up instead and two of the squad were ordered
to take me off the field. The puke must have turned a few stomachs in the squad, but they were
steadfast and we only lost two of us, plus the two who carried me off and they never went back.
Sunstroke has a way of doing this. What I haven‟t mentioned is that my Father was the PE teacher at
the school, so he witness the whole event from the bleechers. “Agh – there goes my son.”

Now having one‟s Father as a teacher at the school was generally not a bad thing. I had a lift to
school every day. The down side came when he punished some kid for some reason and the kid took
exception to this, he would come after me for retribution. Luckily this only happened once or twice and
the confrontation never ended in a fight. The power of words. Once my Dad even whacked me with
his paddle bat for not taking my PE kit to school. This was probably a good thing, as it showed the rest
of them that I was not immune to punishment, so was therefore treated equally. I did moan to my
Mother though that Dad had hit me, not that this brought any sympathetic result.

My school sport was rugby. In order for us to be allowed to wear a school crest under our blazer
badges we had to participate in some kind of extra mural activity. To not have a crest made one open
to taunts from the other boys, as in SA, one was meant to be tough and strong. Nerds had not been
invented yet. The academic kids or those who had no sporting prowess, were frowned upon by the
general school populace. So, I became a rugby player and due to my short stature found myself
playing in the position of Scrum Half. As it turned out we had a fairly good team in the under 15 age
group. Keith Thorenson at Fly half was our driving force and game maker. He went on to play for
South Africa and apparently was doing very well until someones boot managed to smash his face
quite badly and so ended his days of fame. Out on the wing we had a speedster called Johnny
Tsouris. He could do the 100 meters in just over 10 seconds, but suffered from knee problems at
times. The highlight of my rugby career came when our team was invited to play a curtain-raiser for
The Lions Tour in 1967. In those days rugby was a national institution with massive public support.
When I say curtain-raiser, I mean one of many before the main event. It was a complete days
entertainment. There were three or four games with the best schools in their age group setting the
scene. We were to play Westville High School, the other leading team at the time. Kings Park stadium
seated tens of thousands of people, so if you can imagine a mere 14 year old running out into this
goliath stadium for the first time, then you have the picture. Trepidation, awe and excitement come to
mind. The game itself turned out to be a bit of a stalemate. We lost 3 –0. But, just being in the limelight
of this amazing occasion was an experience of note. The crowd cheered and screamed behind every
move, as if it was an international game. The Lions went on the beat Natal on that day 17-5, but lost 3
out of 4 of their games against the Springboks and drew the fourth one. Don‟t assume that I
remember all these figures – the power of the internet is amazing.
                                  Now called the ABSA Stadium (Yuk!)


How to surprise your father:

One of the big events at school was the annual sports day. I was in one event. The cross country.
Now normally during the practice sessions through the year, the not so enthusiastic kids, like myself,
found all kinds of amusing things to do on the run. The class group would take off on this 2.5 mile
course and immediately turn into a line of runners. The fit and passionate runners would tear off in the
front, followed by the middle, semi-interested crowd and then the couldn‟t-give-a-damn bunch. The
first obstacle was a tunnel under the freeway, which ran next to the school, called the stinky. We cold
only go through a few at a time, so the snake was compressed to near single file. The front-runners
streaked away, while the tail-enders stopped to have a cigarette on the other side of the stinky. They
would re-join us on our return and somehow look suitably exhausted for the show. The course then
went through some suburban streets and then onto the hardest part of the course. About a mile and
half of beach before doing the return leg through the suburbs and back to the stinky and the puffers.
Anyone who has tried running on a beach will know that you do not run in the soft sand, as it will sap
you energy in no time. The hard sand next the water is where to run. Of course, some of us being
surfers loved this part as it allowed for some cooling off and body surfing in the waves.
When asked (by my Father),”Why are you all wet?” The answer would be that we just fell into the
water whilst running on the hard stuff. During these runs I never came in any reasonable time at all.
Now, during the annual school cross-country, for some reason I decided that I was going to run this
course at full tilt. Who knows why, maybe to impress the Old Man for once. Well, anyway, of I went
with this in mind and low-and-behold I came back in 2nd or 3rd position. I don‟t know who was
impressed more, me or me Dad!

My teenage years in Durban, were as routine as most I reckon. Surfing, school, rugby, movies, drive-
ins, music, ice-skating and trying to chase girls. The last part I was never good at. Somehow they
used to scare me to death, or I was afraid of rejection. Who knows. It took years to suddenly realise
that they were equally nervous maybe.

I also had to repeat a year at school because I failed 2 subjects. Afrikaans and History. I always failed
Afrikaans as I had no interest in it what-so-ever, so that was a given. I didn‟t want to do history either,
as my choice was to do geometrical drawing. These in fact were the only 2 choices available in the
wonderful SA school system. In my repeat year I was allowed to do geometrical drawing and flew
through it. You see, my Father is “arts” orientated and I am “science” orientated. With my chemistry
set, I discovered that the giant Durban cockroach could survive indefinitely in a solution of dilute (10%)
hydrochloric acid. Great little creatures. They were also good for shoving down girls dresses and
listening to them scream. The girls that is. How purile, but great fun.

Back to Falkirk

My parents came to the decision that I needed a better education and so I was shipped back to
Falkirk to attend Falkirk High School and live with my grandmother. The main reason for this move I
think, was that they did not want me to go into the army after school and learn to kill people in the
protracted war on the border, with ANC insurgents. The demise of many a young man in Rhodesia
would have been on their minds, as that country fought its revolution.

At the age of seventeen, I boarded a BOAC Comet and left South Africa. The first stop on the leg was
Johannesburg, where I ended up having to stay the night, as they found some problem with the
aircraft. We were given the option to either transfer to another flight, or spend the night in a hotel and
continue the flight in the morning after they fixed the problem. The later sounded like more fun to me.
As it turned out, this was a good decision, as the plane was nearly empty the next day and I could
stretch out across three seats and have a good nights sleep on this long haul.

My Uncle Cameron picked me up at the other end and deposited me in 7 Roman Drive, where I was
stay with my Gran for a few years. Gran was still running her licensed grocer and my cousin Billy had
moved away, so I had to start making friends afresh. Something that I had no problem doing. At
school I met up with a character called Gary Bullen, whose father was a shark and dealt in all kinds of
dubious ventures. Gary and I became friends and so I moved at times around the seedier side of life. I
have since fathomed, that one of the dangers of moving your kids from school to school, is that when
they move to a new school, they become pray to the kids who are generally ostracised, because they
are idiots. And, they are the ones who will try and befriend the newcomer.

The school was like any other, full of kids and teachers. Some good and bad in both. There was a
teacher there that haunted me though. He, for some reason was one of your ultra anti-Apartheid
people and saw me as an oppressor of some kind (at seventeen?). The one incident sticks out in my
mind when we were having lunch. Now lunch there was a three-course meal and we moved around
the table each day, so that the one serving could pick the biggest pre-cut portion for themselves. A fair
system I would say.

On one particular day I was stirring the salt into my soup, when this abusive teacher came up and said
in a venomous tone, “Gilchrist, we do not stir our soup like that here, this is not Africa.” The whole
table went into a trance. What was that all about?

The subjects I took when I arrived there included metal work. A choice at last, but this was short lived
and my parents influence transcended 10,000 miles and I had to do German, as a close facsimile to
my old Afrikaans. The effect was the same. I never passed any German exams. It is a blatantly much
more sophisticated language. At the end I managed to get four “O” levels and left school before I
made it to Higher level. The only subject I really excelled in was English. I actually understood
Shakespeare and could decipher the damn stuff.

Having lost my surfing, I turned to golf as a sport and started playing down at the Falkirk Golf Club.
The clubs I used initially were from Gran‟s old set. Wooden (Hickory) shafted clubs, with names, not
numbers. This sounds amazing as we are talking of the year 1970. Anyway, I trudged around the golf
course in all kinds of weather and even got a decent set of clubs. I stuck at this until I managed to
convince my parents to buy me a 50cc motorbike, so that I could tour the country and open up my
vistas. This they did, but unfortunately the new outlet put an end to my golf. The weather didn‟t help
matters either as it is difficult to be enthusiastic, when you are always uncomfortable. I had also
reached the age of 18, which now opened up another door on life and the door into a pub. The
pastime of most of Scotland and a place I loved to go.

During this period I met and “went out with” my first girlfriend. Her name was Eunice Walker, the twin
sister of Jacqueline. My mate at the time (name forgotten) dated Jacqueline and the four of us used to
always seem to meet up and wander the streets of Falkirk and through the fields down to the Carron
river during the summer months. The theory that identical twins seem to have a psychic link was
certainly proven in the case of this pair. For some reason they had the odd habit of fainting during the
summer months and it didn‟t matter about distance either. I could be with Eunice, miles away from
Jacqueline and she might faint. Having become used to this I would just wait and in a few minutes she
would come too again. When we met up with her sister later, it was normally confirmed that she too
had fainted at the same time. Which one fainted first could never be determined. Strange but true.

The biggest problem going out with Eunice, was that she lived in a part of town called Bainsford in a
council house estate, which I believe was built to house all the workers of a large aluminium factory
there. This was the way things were. Where I lived with my Gran, in Camelon, there was the
Alexander Bus Company and they manufactured buses and supported most of the workers there.
Some of the boys in Bainsford belonged to a gang called BUNDY (Boys United Never Die Young),
who designated there area with swabs of graffiti written on walls at all entry points to Bainsford.
Luckily they were not as violent as their counterparts in Los Angeles. I didn‟t belong to a gang, but
was tolerated to some degree as I was dating Eunice. Things could get a bit hairy down at the local
fish and chip shop, when the more antagonistic boys would have a go at me, in the verbal sense.
Nothing ever came of it though. Even if it had, most altercations ended up as a fist fight until someone
“gave-in,” rather than the more modern practice of knifing or beating someone into a coma.

One day I took Eunice to see Gran and she dressed herself appropriately for the occasion. It was
summer, so she wore a short mini skirt with Roman like sandals with thongs that crossed the calf up
to the knee. Very sexy, I thought, but not so my Gran. I think Agnes had a few heart flutters when she
laid eyes on Eunice. Now Gran was a good Presbyterian. The Kirk and Calvinism. I knew nothing of
any faith, but this was a serious subject for her. I heard her say once, “there‟s never been the foot of a
Catholic cross this doorstep since your Grandfather died.” And I was to be the first to wreck that
policy. When Eunice sat down with her mini now around her waist my Gran looked at her sternly and
said. “Are you a Catholic?” Her first words, what an ice-breaker. The reply was even better. “No, I‟m
Episcopalion.” Well the look on her face displayed an image of utter confusion. The retort confirmed
this. “Is that a Catholic?” ……….Noooooooooooo!!! As none of us knew what an Episcopalian was, it
looks like the law had not been broken after all.

The Falls of Lenny

Before the days when my motorbike arrived, three of us likely lads decided we would spend a night
out in the wilds of Scotland. My two comrades on this venture where Gary Bullen and Joe. I was
eighteen at this time and they where both seventeen. Somewhere we found three bicycles and a tent
and that was good enough for an adventure. So, one fine Saturday morning we set off with no where
in mind to go, except that we would head north into the foothills of the Highlands. We managed to
cycle all of about 30 miles that day – Across the Kincardine Bridge, over the Firth of Forth and then
into the foothills. We arrived in the late afternoon in a picturesque town called Callander.
In true camping tradition, I purchased six cans of Tennents beer and cycled off in search of a
campsite. Two cans of beer was all that was needed to have a good time at this age. We found our
campsite just above a car park at the Falls of Lenny on a sort of lumpy bit of ground in the trees. It
was getting dark by this time, so we hastily erected the tent and kindled the fire. We may or may not
have eaten that night, but we certainly drank the beer and had a great old time. There was no
shortage of water, as the Falls of Lenny were right beneath us.




Once the beer was finished and the local trees wetted, we retired into our two-man tent and into our
sleeping bags. I awoke early the next morning with the distinct feeling that my body had leaked during
the night. The fact of the matter was, that during the night half of my body had exited the tent and the
Scottish rain had done the rest. The day had started with continuous drizzle in fine Scottish tradition.
Everything was wet, which escalates ones sense of misery and so we called it a day and packed for
the downhill run to the lowlands. I was all worth it just the same, just for that one night of mirth and
morning coffee made with the water from the Falls of Lenny.
The end of school

Somewhere during this period I decided that I wanted to join the merchant navy as an engineering
cadet, but alas, I was to old. I had approached Shell Fleet in this regard and was turned down as one
had to be younger than eighteen and a half and here I was, too old and still at school. Not deterred, I
discovered that I could join the navy as a Radio Officer, after I had completed 2 years at college. So, I
quit school, probably to the consternation of my parents. I had six months to go before sitting my
higher exam, but I just could not hack it any more. Armed with my four “O” levels I was accepted at
Leith Nautical College (LNC) and also managed to get a government grant. This was a massive
£360.00 per annum, or £1.00 per day.

Whilst at College I tried to get Scottish Higher passes, but only succeeded in getting another four “O”
Levels. So I have eight altogether, but only in four subjects. Not many people can say that.



End of Part 1

								
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