I never really met a goat up close until we were in Kenya. At work I occasionally helped with operations on animals in the Veterinary College. The Vets that taught me what to do said to watch out for the goats because they would appear asleep and then jump up. They were sly and great pretenders. You had to be sharp to keep them well under anesthetic but not too deeply under. A goat never woke up on me, thank goodness.
The operation that was done was to put a window in an animals stomach. The professor put the window in cows, camels, sheep, goats and other animals. Then he could take samples from the animals stomach without any trouble for the animal. He was doing research on the differences in digestion among ruminants. The window was sort of a plumbing affair with pipes and flanges and gaskets. When finished it looked like a plastic cover that you might have for a wide mouth jar on the side of the animal.
Anyway, to get to the story. We had a goat in the animal house which had had the operation And one day it was missing. If any animal was going to get out, it would be a goat. They are pretty smart. So everyone in the department got busy phoning, asking for help and driving around, try to find the goat. We did not want to lose that goat because of the time invested in it and because it needed to be properly looked after because of the hole in its side.
We got a lead after a while that children were playing with a goat at a local school. So off the rest of us went to the school. No goat.
Meanwhile, 'back at the ranch', Harry had arrived to get me from work. The place was deserted except for the janitor and a man with a goat on a string. The janitor would take the goat to the animal house but the man kept a tight hold – he caught the goat and it was his. Only money was going to part him from the goat. Then we returned. 'Roared up the road in the big Land Rover', as Harry tells it. The Prof offered two shillings and reached for the goat. This was a perfectly reasonable tip for finding and bringing back the goat. But the man had the string and possession is the thing. He pointed out that this must be an important goat. Not many goats have things on their side. A little more was offered. Well no; this goat was fast and he had to run very fast to catch it and he had to get the string on the goat. It wasn't easy. A little more was offered. Be fair, he could have just taken the goat home, he was an honest man. A little more was offered. The man made his final plea – the goat had peed on his foot. The Prof gave him enough to be satisfied.
I found in my Mother's calligraphy things a little limerick that I suppose she intended to do up in fancy writing for me someday. I don't know whether she wrote it, or Grandpa, or someone else.
That stage of my life is not something
I remember. But I do remember starting to school a little later. I
was looking forward to starting school and I had walked the mile and
a bit to the school a number of times and stood outside a few minutes
before leaving. I had new shoes and some other clothes. I had a
couple of books and a lunch box. It was really exciting.
But then I learned that I could not go to school until I learned to tie knots. Mom started teaching me to tie a knot. There were other things that needed dexterity that she tried to teach me before and after this. This time we could not just give up. She never did manage to teach me to knit or crochet. Grandma Wight taught me to hand sew, darn and embroider. I think the only tasks like this that my Mother ever managed to teach me was to tie knots and to braid. She got some rope and put it around the top of a kitchen chair. I sat backwards on the chair, she stood behind me and reached over me to tie a knot and talk her way though the process. Then she would undo the knot and ask me to do it. I would make a hash of it – she would tie another – untie it – I would make a different hash of it.
When she got busy with something, she would left me alone to keep trying. Once she walked away without undoing the knot. I cheated and loosened it almost to the point of falling apart and then tightened it up again. When I announced that I had tied it, she said I had to do three knots in a row before I went to school. I finally learned but it took a long, long time and much crying.
As a child I didn't realize the difference between what I learned and what I didn't. If I could be shown what to aim at as the final product, I could learn my own way to get there. If I could memorize the hand movements (left handed as I would make them) I could learn them. But if I was shown a right-handed version of something, I could not reproduce it.
The picture is me about to go to my first day at school with the knot episode behind me. What I didn't know was that the knots were a foretaste of what was to come. I liked to learn and I enjoyed school in general but in the first year and a half I changed from a happy, calm, easy-going, day-dreamy, secure, open child into something else. Between left-handedness, dyslexia and slow reflexes I was just not making the grade. The first thing to go was the day-dreaming – my concentrated attention rarely wandered. I stayed happy and calm. But as time went on I became more and more determined, even driven and less and less open, even eventually devious. I was like a drowning person, clinging on for dear life.
It took some time in my later teens and early adulthood to regain my natural personality.
I received an email from a friend, Judith Copithorne, that I have known since I was in high school. This particular email was something she had written, about poetry in the 60s in Vancouver. It got me remembering ...
Long ago in early 60s Vancouver, there was a man called Jackson. He and his wife had just returned from a grand tour of North America when we met them. They talked for hours about San Francisco and New Orleans and New York. Each place was slightly disappointing to them because, “the scene had been there but now it was gone”. This repeated theme finally became very funny and we began to mildly tease Jackson. Someone said, “the scene was here, in Vancouver, while you were away and you missed it”. Ever since I have sort of believed that – the scene was in Vancouver when I was there. There were artists and poets and many who were both.
In Judith's piece were references to Robson Street, Kaye's Bookshop and the Little Heidelberg cafe, the center of my social life. And the people Judith mentions: bill bisset, Fred & Ev Douglas, Curt Lang, Roy Kiyooka, John Newlove, Claude Breeze, Gerry Gilbert bring them to mind and many more that weren't in her piece.
We lived for a while in a one room place near the Stanley Park. John Newlove lived rough in the park at that time, writing poems. After many re-workings, he would be satisfied, come to our place and type a poem on our typewriter. If it rained, Newlove would come up the hill and sleep on the 6 foot long bench that went with the 6 foot long table that was the only furniture in that little place. (Oh, there was also a bed that came down out of a door in the wall and there was a screen). In February it rained 28 inches in the month and we saw a lot of Newlove.
For a while we shared a house on Pender Street with Lance and Inger Ann in a weird deal with the landlord. Lance and Harry saw this house that was empty, found out whose it was and went to see the owner. He was a speculator who was going to sell it to a big development in the area, but there was some sort of hang up. He didn't want squatters or vandals or whatever but he also didn't want sitting tenants to complicate the sale or demolition. We got the place for no rent in exchange for keeping it well looked after and occupied, on the promise to fix a few things and get out the minute he needed the house vacant. So Lance and Inger lived upstairs and Harry and I lived down stairs. Anyone who didn't have a place to stay could use the basement. Newlove and Graham did for a while.
The picture is not from the rent-free house but a later place where we lived shortly after. But there is the 6 foot table, a picture by Fred Douglas on the wall. There is Newlove, Harry and me on the one side of the table and Inger and Lance on the other (plus my brother's knee). When we left Vancouver, we traded the table to Fred for a different one of his paintings.
Back to 'the scene' – after noticing that the scene was in Vancouver when I was there, I realized it had been in Regina when I was there in the late 50s in the form of the Regina 5 or 6 or 7 artists. Later in the 60s when I was in England there was a music scene. It is important to be able to realize when you are in a great place at a great time because talented people are building something. I felt that way sometime later when I was in the first year's intake to the Open University – what enthusiasm from the students and the staff. I remember one lecturer, after a great lecture, got an actual standing ovation. He was so moved he had tears in his eyes.
On my mother's side of my family there was a lot of chess playing – but not in my mother's house if she could help it. If I had not lived with my grandparents two separate years, I might have escaped chess but I didn't.
I remember it well. Grandpa had many ways to get his fix of chess: he did the chess puzzles in the newspaper and magazines, he played chess with his sons who lived in the States by postcard in games that took many weeks, he played checkers (draughts) with a neighbour in exchange for chess games even though he disliked checkers and always easily beat the neighbour at chess, he replayed famous games from published records, and he played children and grandchildren when they visited.
He taught me chess, starting when I was 6, going on 7. This may have been too young or maybe not - it depends on whether you want to produce a winner or not. I never in my life won a game against Grandpa, not one little game. My brother won once! Grandpa thought he had George in a trap. George was moving a pawn to the last row for queening but Grandpa knew that George had miss counted the moves. Grandpa could get to a checkmate on the moved after George got his queen but before he could use it. But George did the unthinkable but legal move and changed his pawn into a knight which produced a check and Grandpa could not do his mate but instead had to escape the check. George mated him on the following move. George walked on air. Grandpa was very proud of George and said that a knight was the only piece that was not an inferior queen and could attack a square that the queen couldn't. But a move like George's would only work if he could mate with the knight and therefore no one ever thought of doing it. George was about 12 and he just beamed every time Grandpa explained to someone how clever he was.
But I never won a game against Grandpa. What I learned was to be a tenacious player who always lost after and long, good fight. I did learn the game well though. Over the years, I have spent many, many hours enjoying watching other people play chess. I have been able to teach a few people who wanted to play chess, but never playing real serious games with beginners. And I have won a few games. It seems that if it means a lot and if I decide to put every ounce of energy into it and if the opposition is over-confident, I can win. Actually these conditions go together – there is a sort of proud, shallow person who thinks that chess is 'the' measure of a person and that I am some silly stupid woman, that just upsets me enough to give me the determination and energy to win. It has happened about four times in my long life and has been worth it every time. Otherwise I enjoy watching about a hundred times more than playing.
Chess was a little disruptive in our family. The family would come together for a big meal. Without fail some pair would set up with a chess board in a place that was destined to end up being the wrong place: on the dining table where the aunts were going to want to lay out dishes and food, on a little table near a door or in a hallway where kids were going to bang though eventually and upset the board, on a chair that someone was going to want to sit on. I believe that all the hassle around chess was why my mother disliked it. On the other hand, the best cafes in my memory were those that allowed (encouraged) chess: the Heidelberg and the Da Franco.
I feel no worse about the time I have spent watching chess than I do with the time I have wasted on doing cryptic crosswords or killer sudokus. They are some of the real pleasures of life.
Me and frogs
Years ago (near the beginning of time) a pregnancy test involved injecting a rabbit with an extract of the women's urine, waiting for ages, killing the rabbit and looking at its ovaries. I learnt to do the 'new, advanced, fast method'. The extract of the women's urine was injected into a frog and the frog's urine was collected. If there were sperm in the urine, the test was positive. Easy. I never had to look after rabbits but I did have to look after frogs.
All the virgin, male, South African frogs in the world seemed to come from a company in Oshkosh Wisconsin. The frog shipments were packed in damp moss in cardboard boxes. The boxes were put in a frig until the frogs were cold and docile and then the box was opened and the frogs put in trays of water in the frig. When a frog was need, it was taken out, warmed a bit, injected and left for a while in a beaker with a lid. When the frog urinated, the urine was examined under a microscope for sperm. Now that particular frog could not be used again. The frogs did not have to be cleaned or fed or looked after in any way, just left wet and cold.
At a large hospital where I once worked, a shipment of frogs came in the night. Someone with no experience of frogs opened the box to see what was inside. The frogs, full warm, jumped out of the moss and down the corridors. By the time the regular lab staff arrived there were frogs throughout the hospital and frantic orderlies chasing them. The trick to catching animals, frogs included, is to never hesitate. But the chasers did not really want to touch the frogs and so they almost always did a little hesitation – and hop, the frog is out of reach. The lab staff and a few orderlies and nurses that had got the hang of it had to round up the frogs. There were a few very surprised patients waking up to find a frog jumping around their rooms.
I worked by myself once in a one-tech lab. In the frig amongst the chemicals were two frog trays: one for unused frogs and one for the used ones. I didn't fancy killing the used frogs and so when there was enough to make it worthwhile, I took the frogs with me and phoned for a cab for my trip home. The lab was in North Vancouver and so on the way home the cab went through the large wild park called Stanley Park. In the middle of the Park where there was a little stream near the road I would ask the driver to stop and wait. I would get out with my tray and put the frogs in the stream. Usually the cab drivers would be a bit nervous about being asked to stop in the depth of the park. Then they would be entertained by the sight of me putting frogs in the water. We would talk frogs for the rest of the ride.
Later it became known that a disease of frogs was spread from Africa to the rest of the world by the trade in frogs for pregnancy testing. I felt very guilty about putting frogs in Stanley Park until I found out that that sort of frog bred in Oshkosh were not the carriers.
There were times when I had finished all my work and was waiting on a frog have a pee-pee before I could go home. I found that it was possible to kind of tickle the frog to get it to urinate. That might save me ten minutes or so, but I never let anyone see me do it. I also used to perfect my ability to draw a frog which I used then and for years to entertain children.
I have a very soft spot in my heart for frogs. But NOT FOR TOADS. One hospital where I worked kept toads as a fall back if there was a problem with the supply of frogs. Toads could be re-used. They were kept in a big glass enclosure at room temperature and therefore had to be fed. We fed them hamburger with some supplements mixed in. But toads only eat live prey. So we had to make the hamburger appear live. We put a tiny bit on the end of a little stick and then pretended that it was a fly. We had to move the stick like a fly in front of a toad. Not too fast or the toad would miss then it flicked its tongue and not too slow or it would not recognize the food. I really resented the hours spent being a good fly mimic for dumb toads.
Were you there?
When I was in grade 1 or 2 – in feels like grade 2 but I was in Yellowgrass for much of grade 2 and it was was definitely a Lang event.
There was a little room off the class room where we hung our coats and all the other clothing we wore in the winter. We could sit on a long bench to change shoes and the like. When the school day ended there was a bit of a crowd, all trying to get dress at the same time in the one little room. On particular day I changed and left the school, met my parents near Grandma's and we were on the street when my uncle Bert, who was the school Principal, asked if I had been in the fight at school. I said no and my parents confirmed that I left school on time.
But the next day, the whole of our class was lined up in the hallway. I was near the end of the row and the questioning started at the other end. Each child was asked if they had been there, if they had taken part, who had taken part, what they saw, extra. Every once in a while, one of the children would say something wrong and there would be a mummer in the line. And the question would be asked down the line, “Is that what happened?” The picture was slowly emerging: Walter had his rubber boot taken from him and thrown back and forth over his head so he could not catch it; he was push around but not hit or hurt; the boot ended up stuck behind a radiator and was damaged; Walter went home crying and without his boot. In due course they got to me. “Where you there?” When I said no there was a big mummer. So down the line “Was Janet there?” I could not believe it when almost everyone said I was. A few said they didn't know but not one of them confirmed that I wasn't there. WHY DID EVERYONE LIE ABOUT ME? I was shattered.
The next thing that happened was that all the children who had been throwing the boot around or pushing Walter got a single strap on the palm of their hand. But not me, I had to stay in after school. Every day there was the same ritual. I went to Uncle Bert's class room and sat there for a while and finally he would come in the ask if I was there. I would say no and he would tell me to come back at the end of the next day. This went on for at least a couple of weeks, maybe longer, until there was some natural break or holiday. It was not resolved but it just faded.
Then many years later when I was in my teens, I had a dream. I must have been mulling over the incident in the back of my mind for years because it was so hurtful to think everyone would lie about me and my uncle did not believe me. The dream was very clear in many details even though it had been years. In this dream I was getting dressed and while the boot throwing was going on around me, I was paying no attention. I felt just tired of paying attention and concentrating so I was not noticing. I dressed and walked out through the fray. I woke up. It was a dream not a memory but it probably was close to what actually happened. I realized that no one had lied about me and that probably uncle Bert came to believe me that I had no real part in it, although he would have known I was there and would have been puzzled by my stubbornness.
What is a Roho?
The Roho (means spirit) is the African built copy of the Renault R4 car. We had a Roho in Kenya as our 'game park' car. It was ideal for that, lots of ground clearance, so light that we could just lift it out of difficulty, with a sun roof that we put a second canvas cover over so we could stand up and take pictures. We drove a Roho from Kenya to Norway and back to England. It was half the game park Roho and half parts from a wrecked one.
Many years before that we had a new R4L when we were first in Europe. The L is for luxury. Don't get the wrong idea – even a luxury R4 is not much better fitted out than an old jeep – simple sling seats, interior of painted metal, no roll down windows because no door cavity to roll them into, and other spartan touches. The L just had a little bigger engine and a few minor changes. The car was produced substantially unchanged for 33 years.
So here are some stories.
When the R4L was new, we picked up a hitchhiker who was a young apprentice in the auto industry in Coventry (in the old days when Coventry had an auto industry). He had never seen the car and was interested in hearing all about it. Harry was explaining the suspension (the suspension was something of a marvel) and in order to demonstrate he put one wheel off the tarmac and onto the grass verge. He hit something invisible in the grass and it kicked the car up onto just the two wheels still on the tarmac. We traveled a little way balanced at about 45 degrees on two wheels and very slowly the car settle down on with all four wheels on the road. We were all speechless. Harry from nerves, me lost for words and the apprentice spoke first, a short gush of words. I forget exactly what he said but it implied that Harry meant to do this as his demonstration of the suspension; it indeed was an amazing suspension and Harry was a great driver. So he probably entertained the other apprentices with stories of a crazy Canadian in a little weird France car that could drive the car on two wheels whenever he wanted to.
Because the car was rare in England, any time two R4s saw one another they hooked and flashed lights. It got a bit tiresome. One day a R4 was hooking, flashing and chasing us through traffic. It finally got in front and forced us to stop. They had noticed a R4 and made the hook/flash and then noticed that it was 'Harry and Janet'. The man had known us in Vancouver. He lived in London and had come up to the midlands with his girlfriend in her car to take his visiting Hungarian cousins to see an old school friend. They could not find the friend's address but we found it. The friend turned out to not be very friendly and so we all when to a restaurant for a meal and to cheer up the Hungarians. We later visited them in Hungary. In different cars, we would not have met.
After driving the Roho back from Africa we were in Holland on the way to England. We took the car to a garage because a funny noise was getting worse. Harry told the mechanic that when the car cornered it made a knocking noise. The mechanic said he didn't need to hear it, if Harry could tell him if it went 'ticka, ticka ticka' or 'tacka, tacka, tacka'. He said a 'ticka' problem would go several hundred miles but a 'tacka' one could fail at any time. Ours went 'tacka'. In fact it was the change from 'ticka' to 'tacka' that had prompted us to visit a garage. Actually it did last quite a while with its 'tacka' sound, at least a few hundred miles.
People would look at the little car with the lion cage on top and ask, “what's a Roho?” followed by “what's a EAK?” because it still had plates and an oval from East Africa Kenya.
It seems I do not have a picture of either car around so here is a drawing of the one with the lion cage on top.