This last period of our lives may be divided into two distinct phases – before and after Bernard’s disabling stroke of October 2001.
We arrived in Cape Town on August 13, 1999, having made some advance preparations; we were fortunate in having – as we had had when we arrived in England ten years previously - a network of good friends and relatives. Bernard’s sister, Eileen (who died on Christmas Day, 2000); Chris, his niece, and her husband, David; Elspeth and David Jack, whom we had met in California in the 1960’s; Valerie and Martin West, from the University of Cape Town, first met in California in the 1970’s; Enid and Howie Bates, who had house sat for us in Sherborne when we were away. These were our main supporters, and they rallied round us, not only on arrival, but throughout our stay, helping us until Bernard’s final days.
In our travels, we were not only interested in vegetation. During our stay in Kenya, we had become, as I have mentioned, enthusiastic birders, and we both enjoyed familiarising ourselves with the local birds. In August 2001, one month before Bernard’s first heart attack, we spent a week at Knysna, along the Garden Route. . “An Information Bureau member annotated our visitor’s map to indicate the best bird-watching locations, especially those accessible an elderly wheel-chair using ‘twitcher ‘. She recommended ‘The Garden of Eden’, east of Knysna, in a pocket of coastal closed-canopy indigenous forest, which included a boardwalk designed for physically handicapped visitors. This was one of the few remaining patches of indigenous forest left, after the extensive extraction of valuable timber in the nineteenth century…I saw, perched on a branch, a rather dumpy, immobile bird, which is described thus in the Twitcher’s Bible :’ NARINA TROGON (Apoloderma narina) 30 – 34 cm. Although brightly coloured, this furtive species is difficult to see, as it normally sits with its back to the observer, well camouflaged by is leafy, green surroundings. Habitat: riverine and evergreen forests of dense, broad-leafed woodland. A locally common resident, but, by its usual immobility, often overlooked’. THIS WAS OUR FIRST AVIAN COUP IN THE CAPE!” Bernard had once seen a trogon in Kenya, but this was my first sighting, and we were both so excited.
|“On our way, we saw a truly amazing
sight. Within yards of the road, on a gently rising slope, we encountered
a whole gathering, thirty-eight in all, of Blue Cranes, the South African
National Bird, now endangered. We had seen Blue Cranes before, singly or
in pairs, gleaning in cereal , usually at some distance from us. Their
tall, sleek, graceful outlines and distinctive colouring are instantly
“Out of the car, I could hear
a muffled, deep-note ‘Humming’, barely on the threshold of audibility,
and I realised that many of he slightly taller and slimmer birds were impatient
males. With their beaks slightly raised they moved forward and backward
with tiny paces, rapidly beating the ground. The slightly dumpier and somewhat
paler females stood their ground. It was an unforgettable sight” (and this,
too, became a Christmas card hotograph – “ A cotillion of Blue Cranes,
Overberg ”). We were thrilled to have had two such rewarding bird-watching
|Both Bernard and I loved visiting
the Karoo, with its great open spaces, its distant horizons, and the picturesque
small towns along the way. We made one major trip to the new Kgaligadi
Trans-frontier National Park, on the border with Botswana, and to Augrabies
National Park. Both parks were rewarding, especially in terms of the birds
and the geology, but Bernard often remarked that we had been spoiled, having
visited many Kenyan parks in the 1970’s, when wildlife was much more abundant,
and varied. However, Bernard managed to take some good photographs, and
to find some new plants. He thoroughly enjoyed the trip, as these extracts
from his report show.
“Our recent trip northward to the Kalahari fringe was the realisation of along-held goal for me. I first became interested in the interior of Africa while an undergraduate at Manchester University….Both .Alfred Wegener and Alexander Du Toit had seriously challenged the standard geological and geo-morphological theories and explanations. Their basic premise was that the Kalahari areas of the Northern Cape and Botswana, as well as the Karoos of the Cape, display irrefutable evidence of a major catastrophic event in earth history . They suggest that the evidence is there in the unique physical features in the landscape.
“Water carved holes in boulders are a hallmark of fluvial erosion, and cannot be explained by occasional deluges of the recent rainfall regime….Kalahari plateaux surfaces rose suddenly. Many areas comprise igneous rock (chiefly basalt) formed in a series of sills from west to east…characteristic of ocean floor spreading, as plate tectonic investigations in the South Atlantic confirm.”
Intrigued by searching for corroborative evidence for this controversial thesis, Bernard was constantly and eagerly scanning the vast Karoo landscapes, pointing out features, which, he claimed, supported the cataclysmic theory. I was unable to judge the merits of the theory, but Bernard’s obsession certainly enlivened the journey, and caused me to be more aware of the fantastic geological formations en route.. Travelling with Bernard was never dull. Bernard was intrigued by the dramatic rock formations, especially in the mountain passes . Knowing of this interest, and to encourage further exploration, Valerie and Martin West gave Graham Ross’s book on “The romance of Cape Mountain Passes” to Bernard : we were able to visit many of the passes before Bernard’s death. Bernard loved exploring new places, and in a lovely tribute Mary Lee, whom we knew at UC Santa Barbara, wrote that “Bernard will now be exploring the geography of heaven”. I told friends that Bernard would surely be checking to see that everything was in its proper place.
Bernard was also fascinated by the huge nests built by weaver birds on disused telephone posts.
“ hundreds of kilometres of disconnected telecommunication installations parallel the roadside. The columnar relics are joy to countless colonies of sociable weaver-birds, whose gigantic tenement agglomerations (avian ‘sectional title?’) are skilfully attached. They are enormous bulges, like monstrous toffee-apples on sticks. Pale Chanting Goshawks are the sociable weavers’ main predators, ever alert, easily identified by their brilliant yellow featherless legs, like avian Malvolios.”
We made several trips to the Little Karoo, usually driving along our favourite road, Route 62, a broad well maintained highway, with very little traffic. We enjoyed stopping, either for coffee or for an overnight stay, at the charming small towns of Montagu, Barrydale, Ladismith, Calitzdorp, and the larger ostrich centre town of Oudtshoorn. From Oudtshoorn, we made a spectacular drive. east to Meiringspoort, whose formation s were a source of much wonder and speculation from Bernard; then to Prince Albert, and down the most dramatic of all mountain passes, the Swartberg Pass, and along a little travelled gravel road to Calitzdorp. This route made us think of what South Africa must have been like in the 19th century, it seemed a forgotten part of the landscape, full of ghosts.
While based in Graaff-Reinet, we visited the fabulous Owl House at Nieu Bethesda, where the late Helen Martens, and her assistant, Koos Malgas, had created her fantastic sculpture collection. We had read Eve Palmer’s evocative book, “The Plains of Camdeboo”, and had corresponded with the author, We spent a night at “Cranemere”, which had been Eve Palmer’s home, now in the possession of her nephew. Alex and Marianne Palmer showed us the places, especially the impressive dam, which Eve Palmer had written about. Driving along the road, all you see is emptiness, apparently; but this is an illusion , for two kms off the road is “Cranemere”, a lovely , gracious country home surrounded by large vegetable and flower gardens. Bernard loved our visit to this oasis, and had as usual, many sensible questions, which pleased our hosts.
In August, 2001, we drove to Durban, choosing a scenic route and skirting Lesotho, in what was both sociologically and scenically a wonderful journey.. There was snow on the mountains, and the nights were cold, so that Bernard was glad of our electric blanket .Durban is my home town, but I have grown away from it; we both were glad to see family and friends, but were pleased that we had settled in the Cape rather than in Natal. On our circuitous route, we passed the Great Fish River Irrigation project, in the Eastern Cape. Having known Bernard for so many years, I was not surprised to find that he knew a great deal about this project, from his classes at Stretford Grammar School, sixty years ago : I, despite having taken geography at Durban High School, knew virtually nothing about what was one of South Africa’s major irrigation project. The difference reflects both the quality of education, and also Bernard’s phenomenal memory.
One of our trips was different and memorable : to celebrate Bernard’s 74th birthday, May 13, 2000, I hired a helicopter, inviting Eileen and Chris to join us for a flight over the Cape Peninsula. Starting at the Waterfront, we flew down the Atlantic Coast to Cape Point, then back along False Bay, circling our home. It was a day of unusual clarity, our young pilot telling us that he had seldom seen such a clear day; we could see Langebaan (100 kms.) to the north and Cape Agulhas (180 kms.) to the east . Bernard, sitting next to the pilot in the front, took several rolls of film, later meticulously putting the best photographs in albums, all neatly labelled in detail. That was the first time I had properly grasped the complex topography of the Cape Peninsula.
We soon came to appreciate the variety and high quality of much that was on offer in Cape Town. Angelo Gobbato, Professor of Opera at the University of Cape Town, had established a first rate opera school, and had encouraged African and coloured singers, sometimes recruiting singers from the township church choirs. At Artscape, the main theatre, and at other venues, staff were unfailingly helpful in giving us seats suitable for Bernard’s wheel-chair. In the summer months, we went to open-air opera at Spier and at Oude Libertas, both located near Stellenbosch, seeing some memorable and exciting performances. We often drove with Elspeth and David Jack, because we neither of liked to drive at night. Artscape also offered excellent symphony concerts, and we were delighted to discover the Lindbergh Arts Centre in Muizenberg, a ten minute drive from Fish Hoek . The Lindbergh presents a morning and an evening concert each month, mostly singers or chamber musicians, often young artists.
Another attractive arts feature is the annual Shakespeare play, produced in the open-air at Maynardville Park.Bernard thoroughly enjoyed these outings, with a picnic with friends beforehand, by the lake, The lively productions of “Romeo and Juliet”, “As You Like It” and were innovative without being “gimmicky” and they honoured the text. Even out local theatre, the Masque at Muizenberg, offered some compelling theatre, Bernard particularly approving of a gripping production of “A Man for all Seasons.”. Some of the Masque productions, all done by amateurs, were dire, but we both adopted the policy that we had to be adventurous – “win some, lose some.” The Theatre on the Bay at Camp’s Bay was initially attractive to us, but we fond that (a) the productions were often not to our liking, and (b) accessibility for Bernard was limited. Finally, we are better served for movies in Cape Town than we were in London, because the Cine Nouveau presents outstanding films, including many foreign ones, and is also wheel-chair friendly.
We continued trying out new restaurants, concentrating on those in the winelands. We had several criteria : apart from the usual emphasis on food , service, wine list and ambience[[, we chose establishments that had wheel-chair access – we gave up trying to negotiate narrow doorways into small loos, too frustrating. In addition , we gave preference to restaurants which were making serious attempts at “transformation “ – i.e., that were employing African and coloured staff, and not only in the most menial positions. Finally, Bernard, as the inveterate geographer, liked to have an expansive view of the landscape. Within our parameters, we found some outstanding restaurants. Durbanville Hills fully met our high standards, and as a bonus was designed in a bold and imaginative way, architecturally one of the best venues we knew. This became our favourite location, and it was there that we had our last lunch, two days before Bernard died.
On September 13, 2001 ( not co-incidental, we believed, that this was two days after the harrowing “9/11”) Bernard had his first heart attack, from which he made a fairly good recovery, although his angina pains were more frequent and more severe.. Then on October 29, 2001, Bernard had a stroke, while working at his computer in his study. Then followed a worrying time when Bernard was in a “Frail Care Centre”, which was depressing because most of the patients had some form of dementia.. After a month, Father Bram told me that I must get Bernard home, at once : “That place is no good for Bernard, no good for you.” I was initially apprehensive, whether I could cope at home, but Bram assured me that I would be given the strength to manage, and indeed I was – abundantly. When he came home, we engaged Steina Daller, a nurse who came in every day ( never on Sundays) until the end. She was brilliant – thoroughly reliable, knowing when to coax Bernard, compassionate, professional, she made both our lives much easier. When she came, at 7 a.m., I was able to go for my early morning 50 minute walk, the length of Fish Hoek Beach, essential for my physical and mental well-being.
Whenever I said “goodbye” before leaving the house, Bernard, to Steina’s amusement, always solemnly admonished me to “take care” – which I did, knowing how much he depended on me: I wanted him to be able to rely on me, fully..
I kept telling Bernard that “my task is easy, my burden is light”, when he was concerned about me. It was difficult for Bernard; he is left-handed, and the stroke affected his left side. One of Bernard’s pleasures had been writing his reports, on trips and events and thoughts; he had a rich descriptive gift, and a keen sense of humour, with an appreciative circle of friends who looked forward to his writings. After the stroke, he could not use the computer. We tried a voice activator, but his speech was slightly slurred, and that did not work. I did take dictation a few times, but I could not persuade him to do this regularly..
The last two years were terribly frustrating for Bernard, as he was so dependent on others. Despite this handicap, he was remarkably and consistently cheerful and positive. Once he told me that he felt sad because I did so much for him, while he could do so little for me. I reminded him that he gave me the greatest gift of all – he surrounded me with love ; it was an exhilarating experience for me to return home and see his eyes light up, his smile broaden.
Physio-therapists helped his recovery, starting from his time in the frail care centre. first, Ros helped Bernard to walk again, even if he could manage only a few steps. She also helped him regain more use of his hand, with simple exercises. For nearly a year we went two or three times a week to an indoors , heated swimming pool, where Leslie and Kerry encouraged Bernard to do increasingly demanding exercises, and to swim. I could have wept when I saw Bernard painfully and slowly manage to swim the 10 metre length of the pool, remembering the days when he daily swam one mile, in half an hour. Bernard did all he could to help himself, all the physio-therapists remarked that he was joy to work with, because of his resolve.. In his last year, Bernard found the aqua- therapy too tiring, so we went twice a week to Clovelly ( next to Fish Hoek), where Leslie put Bernard through a series of exercises to strengthen his left limbs. When Bernard was feeling weak, Leslie came to the house. ; Leslie was such a good-humoured and lively young man , his visits were a tonic for Bernard. We reminded ourselves how well we had done in the Cape, with all the excellent medical help we received.
We determined to continue, albeit on a smaller scale, our trips out. Bernard had long hoped to visit Etosha National Park, in northern Namibia. At first we considered driving, but settled, more realistically, on flying to Windhoek, then renting a car for the last 250 kms. The air journey was a challenge, but the cabin crew were most helpful . We stayed at a B & B in Windhoek, chosen because it advertised as being suitable for disabled visitors. . Bernard was overwhelmed because the owner asked him what additions to our “wheel-chair friendly room” he would recommend : Bernard told her about a few improvements suggestions, and was amazed to find , . when we returned a week later, that all his suggestions were in place.. Would that all accommodation providers were so thoughtful! Bernard – and I, too – found Etosha a little disappointing – again, we had such vivid and rich memories of the Kenyan Parks, in the 1970’s., when the mammals –and the birds, were so much more abundant and more varied. Even the vegetation had been more interesting. Still, our trip was a useful exercise in confidence -building, showing us what we could achieve.
On one of our journeys along Route 62, in the Little Karoo , we stopped for the night at Ladismith. When Bernard had severe chest pains at 10 p.m. on a Sunday evening, I asked our landlady for help, and within ten minutes the young doctor arrived, followed by an ambulance to take Bernard to hospital, where had the usual tests. It was a “near” heart attack; we were both impressed by the speed and quality of the medical attention that Bernard received in this remote small town.
We spent a few days in the Cedarberg, based in Clanwilliam, from where we visited the remote mission village of Wupperthal, navigating tortuous mountain roads. Bernard said that he was fully compensated by the remarkable geological structures along the way. From Clanwilliam we drove west to Lambert’s bay, to see and photograph the huge colony of Cape Gannets. Fortunately, Bernard could still manage to take photographs, taking our annual Christmas card photo each year.
“Appelsdrift’ remained a frequent destination, the Jacks even installing ramps so that Bernard had easy access to all the rooms; they also made the shower in “our” room accessible. This Overberg farm was such a special place for Bernard, that I was delighted when I was invited to plant a tree ( an indigenous African olive) for Bernard, in the rural “Garden of Remembrance”. From “Appelsdrift” it is an easy drive to the coastal village of Arniston, where we could indulge in the lively company of Ron and Davina Kirby. Davina liked to persuade Bernard to recite the tale of “Albert and the Lion”, which he did in perfect Lancashire dialect, from memory, rivalling, we thought, Stanley Holloway. Even a few months before he died, Bernard managed this feat, to high acclaim. Once, when we were driving to “Solutions” (our wheel-chair agency), I told Bernard that we would be turning into Milton Street. Not sure if he had heard me – Bernard did have a hearing problem – I said, “you know, as in John Milton”. Whereupon Bernard recited “On His Blindness “, perfectly,
“When I consider how my light
It was indescribably poignant Bernard then told me the name of his fourth form English master, c 1941, who had got Bernard to memorise this – and many other poems
Bernard liked to go out every day, unless he was particularly sore, or tired. A little outing would suffice – coffee ( “Mint-choc Caffe Latte” ) at Mugg and Bean, or at the Simonstown Jubilee Square; browsing at Excusive books, or at the CD Wherehouse; a drive to Cape Point, or to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. We continued our tradition of wineland lunches, revisiting our favourite places, and discovering new ones. It was always a pleasure for me, taking Bernard out, both because of the good food and wine and scenery, but also because Bernard was so keenly observant of physical and social phenomena, as well as being most appreciative, forever thanking me profusely. After lunch, for which Bernard always dressed elegantly, he would rest happily on the bed, content to observe the view and drowse until it was time for our sundowners. Bernard was never a serious imbiber, but he certainly enjoyed his (weak) brandy and apple juice, or sometimes a Pernod.
We kept up our Lindbergh concerts, Artscape and Spier operas, movies and plays , choosing, whenever possible, matinee performances to avoid night driving and a late night. We much enjoyed the visits of several friends – Agnes Klingshrn and Therese Neuer-Miebach, from Germany; John and Carol Nellis, and Garry and Connie Thomas from the U,S.A. Both my sister-in-laws. Margaret Thurso from Scotland, and Elizabeth Brokensha from Zimbabwe, came, the latter every year for a short visit. We accommodated them in a B&B, or a self-contained flat near us, an arrangement which suited us all. Bernard enjoyed the company and the stimulation of our guests.
In his last period, Bernard read little. He could not be bothered with newspapers or the Guardian Weekly, or Newsweek, perhaps indicating that he had reached a stage of higher consciousness than most of us achieve? He did, however, eagerly seize the weekly New Scientist , when it arrived, and read it from cover to cover . He no longer did cross-words, and he read chapters rather than whole books, All his was perfectly understandable and acceptable behaviour, after his disabling stroke.. Sometimes Bernard would lie on the bed, resting, not reading; when I asked if he was :alright:, he would smile and say “just thinking, and remembering…..I am quite alright.”
Chris invited us, as she had each year, to join them for Christmas Day lunch. I was not sure if Bernard could manage this, as he was noticeably weakening, but Bernard was adamant, “the children will be disappointed” and – with a great effort of will –he went, thoroughly enjoying the lunch and the wine and the company. Yes, he was exhausted when we came home, we all admired his courage and determination. Bernard was battling on three fronts – his cardiac problems, the effects of his stroke, plus the prostate cancer, which had not responded to any therapy.
During the last weeks, Bernard and
I talked about his death. At his wish, we had bought two plots for our
ashes in our church’s “Garden of Remembrance”. Bernard several times told
me that he was not afraid of death, then he would add, with tears,
‘but I don’t want to leave you”. In the evenings, Bernard was usually in
bed, asleep, by 8 p.m. I would read or potter until about 10 p.m.; when
I joined Bernard he would rouse and say “here is my little blue-eyed boy”,
purr like a cat, cuddle me and fall asleep. I sometimes thought that that
was a silly thing to say, to a little old man, but after he left me, I
would have given anything to hear him say those sweet words again.
A GOOD EXIT
Saturday January 19.
Bernard was in pain, from the
prostate cancer, and our G.P. Dr Geoff Duncan, prescribed morphine, taken
orally every four hours.
Although Bernard’s spirit was high, his legs were weak, and I had to ask a security guard ( fortunately they are ubiquitous) to help me get him in and out of the Audi.
Tuesday January 20
Bernard had his last (of five) radio-therapy treatments, and saw Dr.David Eedes, our oncologist, who was concerned about Bernard’s weakness.
Wednesday January 21
Realising that time was short, we
decided on another winelands lunch, and drove to Bernard’s
favourite venue, Durbanville Hills Winery, where we had an excellent lunch,
and a bottle of Biesjes Craal Sauvignon Blanc,(****+) while looking at
Table Mountain from the north.
Thursday January 22
Bernard had severe chest pains, so Dr Duncan came at 7 a.m., diagnosing another heart attack and gave a morphine injection; he told me that I “should be prepared for anything, at any time”. Because we had made Living Wills, Dr D ( who visited three more times in the next 24 hours) did not send Bernard to hospital, knowing that we both wished him to stay at home, with me, until the end.
When I asked Bernard at noon if he would like a Pernod ( his favourite tipple), he smiled weakly and said “Silly question” – although he did not finish his drink. Our nurse, Steina, who had been with us all day, stayed all night, so that I would not be alone. She arranged for another nurse to be there for the next evening.
Friday January 23
Bernard’s niece, Christine, came at
9 a.m., and was a great support With all the morphine, Bernard
was drowsy, but lucid at intervals. When I knelt by his bed, he held my
hand, and said “Oh, I do love you so much”.
Tuesday January 27
Fr.Bram conducted a moving funeral
service, at 10 a.m., followed by a “celebration” of Bernard’s life; I had
thought of offering tea, but David Jack, correctly pointing out
that Bernard would prefer us to drink wine to remember him, provided good
Flagstone wine : Bernard had a good send-off. Bernard’s ashes have been
placed in the Church Garden of Remembrance , after another good calming
Please visit and sign the guestbook
You may also read some of the many tributes that I received after Bernard's death.
The Tributes Page