Part 2

Granny Vere’s father was a reprobate, but Granny May’s father, E.B.J. Knox, was not. When he came to South Africa from Britain, it was in answer to the call of diamonds. E.B.J. was the seventh son of well-born and wealthy parents, but too far down in the line of succession to inherit a major share of the wealth. He had to go to the colonies to secure for himself the basis of his lifestyle – land or money or both. Having arrived, he quickly bought a claim – a piece of the Kimberley Mine, now the Big Hole.

091 EBJ KnoxI was unaware of this except in the vaguest way until one day, walking past a diamond dealer in St George’s Street in Cape Town, I saw in a display advertising their wares a map of the Hole at that time, and on it was a rectangle bearing his name. When gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand, he moved in quickly, and bought, at four-and-a-half pennies an acre, a farm called Doornfontein, now a large suburb completely absorbed into the city of Johannesburg. He must have lived well, and in the family it was said of him that he never in his life removed his own boots – there was a man who did it for him. Who this footman was is not told, nor whether he was one faithful retainer or a succession of hired servants. However E.B.J. managed it, the life of a Rand-Lord was, in its details, not very different from the life of a squire – the glassware, cutlery, crockery, clothing, food, technologies, conversations, literature, even coins would not have been very different from what the other Knoxes back ‘home’ were enjoying. Architecture had adapted British styles of building to local conditions, but many of the ingredients of the rooms, the pressed ceilings, the various mouldings, the dark furniture, the faux-Persian carpets, the chintz drapes, were the same throughout the Empire, and were made in Sheffield, Birmingham or Manchester. Also the same were the candles and paraffin lamps, illuminating with equal power the same kinds of rooms.

092 kimberley ceiling

E.B.J. Knox met and married Maria Czerny, a Prussian woman who had been orphaned at an early age. She was brought up by her cousins, the Krupps, the same family that armed Germany for the two wars. For a while they enjoyed the comforts that great wealth brings, having persuaded others to extract it from the earth on their behalf.

The settlers who came to the White River area in the 1920s were of a similar class – high-level colonial officials, third and fourth sons of land-owning families in the south of England. They too were seeking for themselves the necessities of the life of squires – land, money and servants.

In South Africa, these were still to be had cheaply, especially in the newly opened-up Lowveld. The 1919 census, according to Claire Nevill’s book, White River Remembered, shows 175 ‘Europeans’ and 1011 ‘natives’ for the entire district, extending from the Lydenburg area and including Barberton and Nelspruit, although how these figures were derived it does not say. Land prices had risen to around £1 an acre. I do not know what the average wage was then for the black worker in the Lowveld, but Jack’s biography of the Communist leader W.H. Andrews, Comrade Bill, records that black mineworkers, who were labour aristocrats by comparison with their rural relatives, earned £3 1s 1d per month in 1895 – a wage which had decreased by 1s 6d fifty years later, in 1945. When I lived at Plaston, it was a common custom for young black men to go to the mines, where, although it was understood that conditions were harsh, they could earn enough to send things like blankets and sacks of mielie-meal back home. White mineworker were of course far better paid, and each one enjoyed, like E.B.J., the status of a squire: he was provided with a ‘boy’ – a black worker who carried his tools and equipment and did all of the heavier work.

E.B.J.’s years of prosperity were ended by the Anglo-Boer War, when his property was confiscated and he and other uitlanders were rounded up and put on trains for Moçambique, where he caught malaria and died. Maria Czerny survived, and lived out her life on the Cope family farm.

At this point in the writing, my hand goes to the drawer in my desk, immediately below the computer on which I work. I think that what I am doing is looking among the large photos and drawings that I know are in there, to find a family tree that Jack prepared before he died. The family tree has never been kept there, but I look among the papers nevertheless. What I find among some photos is a crumpled carbon-copy of a typed letter, in a typeface that I recognise as Jack’s. It seems vaguely familiar.

My dear Marjorie, reads the letter dated 5th November 1981:

Here is the branch of the family gum-tree as far as I have dug it up some generations back. It’s probably inaccurate in places and there are a lot of details missing or put in as approximations, especially dates. You will have to fill in local details, particularly the younger generation.

I expect George has told you at one time or another about some of the family legends going back to the Stockers and Knox’s. Granny May (my mother) used to go on about her family but I must admit I wasn’t very interested at the time and it mostly went in one ear and out of the other.

Briefly, the story on the Cope side goes back to Charles Stocker. The Stockers were university people, parsons, doctors, lawyers etc for a good many generations. Charles took holy orders at Oxford in the early 19th century and became a don at St John’s College. The college at that time was strictly celibate and when Charles got married he had to leave Oxford. His wife was from a French family settled in England and her father was Vice-Provost of Eton College. Charles was found a living on Guernsey Island but eventually wangled a much more lucrative living at Dreycott-on-the-Moors in Staffordshire. I have a painting of the rectory which is an enormous double-storey house with about twelve bedrooms, which was necessary in those days; country parsons having time on their hands and not much entertainment usually gave their wives a rough time and produced hordes of children. The parish was wealthy and a lot of the country people were freeholding yeoman farmers owning their own land and not tenants or labourers under the squirearchy as in most of England. Frances, one of the younger daughters, did the unmentionable thing of falling in love with a yeoman farmer, John Lymer Cope, and the old rector refused her his permission to marry him as he was ‘beneath her station in life’. I don’t know how long the romance lasted but Granny was twenty-eight when they eventually decided to elope and get married without Papa’s permission. They did this and sailed off to Canada in 1862. In retaliation Charles in his will cut Frances off with one shilling. They settled at the lakeside near Toronto and the three boys were born there, the last being Charles (Carol), your grandfather. About this time the old Rector died and Frances was duly paid 1s. out of his estate. Her older sister Emily (I’m not sure about the name, she was usually known as Auntie Turner) had married and lived in Natal at Warley Common, the next farm to where you used to live. She offered to share her inheritance with Frances, but Granny was so hurt by what her father had done that she refused to accept a penny. So Auntie Turner bought Rudolf’s Hoek and gave it to the latest baby (Carol) as a christening present. Just at this time while John Lymer, Frances and the family were in church one Sunday something frightened their horses which were tethered outside and they bolted with the trap and went kerplonk into Lake Ontario and were drowned. The family were finding farming in Canada hard and winters freezing and they took the accident as a sign from God. So they accepted Auntie Turner’s plan and left Canada to settle on the Hoek, 1874, the owner of the farm, Carol, being three.

On Granny May’s side, the Knox’s came of a landgrabbing Scottish family ‘planted’ in Ireland in the 17th century. On a terrible scale these planters either killed or dispossessed or starved the Irish peasantry to death and seized their land. By the mid-18th century the Knox establishment had carved for themselves big land holdings in County Dungannon and Thomas got himself elected a member of the English Parliament, in the Tory interest. For his services to the government he earned a title as Viscount Dungannon. This did not permit him to sit in the House of Lords. By some means he acquired a Scottish peerage as the Earl of Ranfurly. The Ranfurlys were from that time entitled to sit in the Lords, though there is no record that they ever distinguished themselves there or even spoke in the debates. One of them, the 4th Earl, one Uchter John Knox, was for a time in the late 19th century Governor-General of New Zealand and I am sure he looked well in his scarlet uniform. The present Earl has his name in the London telephone directory and I believe is on the board of various City companies.

Granny’s father, E.B.J. Knox, was an architect and engineer and came out to the Cape to do architectural work for Rhodes. He lived in one of the houses on Groote Schuur estate and must have done some of the restoration on the old Cape-Dutch houses bought by Rhodes. He met Lena Czerny when she was on a health trip from Germany to Africa and they were married in the old Lutheran Church in Cape Town. Granny used to say her father never put his own boots on in his life and always had a valet to do it for him. That’s blue blood all right! Of course in the Cape he had a coloured valet and a coachman who drove his carriage. After the discovery of Gold on the Rand E.B.J. arrived on the diggings with his coachman and valet in a Cape Cart. For a short while he was the Town Engineer of Johannesburg, being called in when the first Town Engineer turned out to be a crook who bolted with the cashbox. As an engineer he was much in demand and he bought and lived on the farm Booysens which is probably worth hundreds of millions today. E.B.J. is said to have made and lost two fortunes. At the outbreak of the Boer war he and other British were evacuated from Johannesburg to Lorenço Marques in open cattle trucks and he fell ill and died there. Grossmütter was a lovely old lady, about 5ft tall and we all adored her, especially your dad. She was born in Düsseldorf and lost both her parents when still a young girl. She was a cousin of Alfred Krupp of armaments fame and was brought up in the Krupp home near Essen which is now a museum. To her dying day she spoke terrible English and she used to laugh away when we kids teased her about it.

I have two different names: On my birth certificate registered at Estcourt it is Jack. The family later had me baptised Robert Knox. The story goes that my parents after three boys in succession lost hope of having another girl to replace Nancy who died in infancy. Then four or five years later they had another try. Dr. Parker rode out from Mooi River for the confinement and a family midwife came up from Maritzburg by train. We were all born on the farm. Well, Doc Parker came out on the veranda where Dad had been marching up and down chewing his handlebar moustache. 

‘Congratulations, Carol. All’s well,’ he shook Dad’s hand.

‘What is it? A boy or a girl?’

‘Not one, but twins! And both boys.’

‘Oh Damn and Blast!’ said dad, not very welcoming to the strangers. So they were called Damn and Blast. I was Damn. But the old midwife wouldn’t hear of anything so awful. She said – ‘They are such dear little things and I am going to call them Jack Tar and Tommy Atkins.’ It was 1913 and the war clouds were getting thick. When Dad rode in to Estcourt to register us they hadn’t thought of any other names and he said – ‘Put them down as Jack and Tom.’ I did not discover this until long after I left school when I had to get a birth certificate and the registrar couldn’t find a Robert Knox but only Jack. Tom was struck by lightning on the farm when he was 20.

I hope all of this history of old times does not bore you. All the best and love

followed by the blank space on the copy where my father’s signature would have been on the original.

I read the letter as if for the first time, for much of the information is ‘new’ to me and contradicts the ‘true’ story which I tell myself and others. But whose hand remembered the placement of the document in the drawer not five centimetres below the keyboard where I now work, and who fetched it at exactly this time?


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If Lesley was seeking warmth, passion and romance in contrast to what she had perceived as emotional distance and coolness, and Anton was seeking to transcend the culture into which he had been born, then they were primed and ready for each other. They were anode and cathode, and when they came into proximity, current flowed.

089 L & A wedding



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085 knox sealI do not know how deep my heritage of family memory goes, but presumably, on an organic level, it stretches back to the colonies of unicellular organisms that left their traces in the form of petrified mounds. The oldest family artefact I possess is a seal from the second half of the eighteenth century, which belonged to one Thomas Knox, my thrice-great grandfather. The handle of the seal has an almost baroque excess of lathe work and the brass face of the seal also shows marks of machine turning in the circular lines which texture the surfaces. I have reversed the photograph so that the initials of his seal can be read more clearly. About Thomas Knox, nothing else is clear to me. I have neither image of his face nor details of his life. I do not know exactly where he lived. There is a family story that the Knoxes were planter aristocrats lording it over Irish peasants, but I do not know whether this was the case. Thomas Knox has become, for me, less than a text: just two initials, a degree of relationship and a rough date. Were it not for the seal, he might not exist at all. As the imagination moves into the past, the inhabitants of that zone become increasingly tenuous until they merge into a more general notion of history, or disappear altogether. 

049 Transport ridersA photograph from near the start of the oldest album shows a group of people lounging around a campsite, having posed themselves for the invisible and nameless photographer. One of the men, although I cannot say which one, is Raymond Cope, older brother of my grandfather Carol. The woman on the right with the white collar is presumably Jeannie Cope, nee Jeannie Roberts. If this is the case, then the man with a pipe and hat who places one hand on the back of her chair is probably her husband. On his right (our left) a young woman stands holding a rifle. She is, I think, my grandmother Vere. Family legend has it that Raymond Cope, after whom my brother was named, was a transport rider who worked the route between the new gold town of Johannesburg and the port of Lorenço Marques. 87 vere with gunThe route was a difficult one and involved braving the dangers posed by the wildlife, the inhabitants of the region and tropical disease. It was none of these dangers which was to prove to be the older Raymond Cope’s downfall. Rather, the family story goes, it was a liking for booze and the wild life that did him in. In these rough conditions, he brought up his daughters (and if there were two of them, I do not know the other’s name) as boys, teaching them the manly skills of hunting, shooting and bush survival.

87 vere with gun face

I can conclude that this life was not satisfactory to Jeannie and her daughters, as the story relates that the women left Raymond and his rough and ethanol-soaked habits, and that Vere never once again mentioned her father. If this is in fact the case, then I am at a loss to guess the source of the legend of his roughness and of the flight of the women. I do not know what became of Raymond, or whether he died before the railway replaced his function as a transport rider.My grandmother, who wore a bandolier and a spotted necktie as a young girl, can be seen in a Queen-Mum hat in her latter days. In the photograph from which this image was cropped, she holds in her right hand the symbol of her station: gin and tonic, in a glass.

088 vere with gin

Throughout the time that I knew her and, for all I know, ever since she left her father, Vere was devotedly ‘feminine’, wearing well-cut dresses, specialising in a modest demeanour and generally behaving in a very lady-like manner. The people in that brown and fading photograph have, with the exception of Vere, passed into that realm of forgetting where they have become names, initials, ghosts, surmises, or nothing at all. Those transport riders trekked through the mosquitoes and tsetse-fly of the Lowveld, and Vere must have passed through the White River area to which she was to return much later. Perhaps when she was a girl, the wagon train stopped and camped under the Big Thorn, a truly vast flat-topped thorn tree which stood at the centre of a circular driveway outside the main buildings at Luitingh’s Guest Farm, and which was known to have been a popular outspan place for the earliest whites who moved through the area. Vere may have had a continuity of connection with the place completely unknown to me as a child, and it also seems possible that this relationship, if it existed, may have shaped the lives of her younger daughter and her grandchildren in ways that she could not have suspected, for it was not more than a few metres from the Big Thorn that, in 1961, she attended the wedding of her daughter Lesley to Anton Luitingh Junior. Anton was, as I make it, about twenty-eight. It was less than a year before Lesley’s fortieth birthday.

089 L & A wedding


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Stephen Rose’s book The Making of Memory sets out in sim-plified or summarised form everything important that was known by science about memory by the end of the twentieth century*. He tackles his subject mostly from a neurobiological perspective, but, in the final analysis, he has to conclude that there is nothing much that is known about the mechanism of memory, if indeed memory is contrived by means of a mechanism. Experiments performed on chickens (involving teaching the hapless birds to do something and then killing them and analysing their brains) have revealed that there are indeed some measurable morphological processes that take place in chicken brains when they have remembered, or rather learned something, which may not be the same thing. In spite of such advances, the ignorance of science in the face of memory is palpable, even when hidden in technical language like the following sentence: ‘We don’t know yet how universal the biochemical changes that are being found are to the different types of memory categorised by psychologists with their taxonomy of procedural and declarative, episodic and semantic.’ It is as though the neurobi-ologists were attempting to describe a book, say, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, with reference to the shapes that are formed in the spaces between letters. Dr Rose has spent most of his adult life studying memory, and is keen to show that there have been some advances during his tenure, notably from his own experiments. And yet, for me, as an explanatory artefact, the book’s value is close to nil.

083 hippocampusSo what if the hippocampus, a two-pronged structure in the brain, has something, though nobody knows precisely what, to do with memory? Memory is the experience of a subject, and the science that studies bodies as objects has banished subjects and their experience to the realm of ghosts. And it may be that Dr. Rose was barking or perhaps cheeping up the wrong tree when he performed ‘operations on young chicks that I wish it were possible to avoid.’

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenologist who, like W.G. Sebald, died in a motor crash in his fifties before he could consolidate his work, paid particular attention to the phenomenon of bodily learning. He shows us how the practice of skilled actions such as driving a car or even simply reaching out and touching one’s knee cannot be accounted for by the association or projection of memories, but that instead, the structuring of perception as a meaningful presentation must be prior to the association of memories.

I have seen and experienced this many times during karate practice. In randori or mock-combat, one moves very fast with a partner, attempting and parrying acts of extreme violence with all four limbs and yet never making other than the lightest contact. The action is improvised in response to the partner, and the atmosphere required is light and co-operative, even at times humorous, rather than aggressive or competitive, although everything one does in randori is expected to be firm and focused. In this situation, the karateka must use, without thought or memory, techniques which he or she has learned through repetitive action. The remembering mind, like the conceptual mind, is slow and cumbersome, so that by the time one has recalled and compared some prior situation to the current one, with the hope of, perhaps, recycling a response that worked before, the situation has moved on. The memory, far from being useful, delays the response and perhaps opens us to attack: ‘Stop thinking, Mike, I can see you thinking.’

The way that our bodies and minds configure themselves in response to situations, although learned, does not involve memory of the kind on which I mainly focus in this work, and perhaps does not involve memory at all. Knowledge of the world, for Merleau-Ponty, is given to us in perception rather than hauled out of memory. My experience, both on the dojo floor and at the jeweller’s workbench, to cite two areas where I have had reason to study my actions carefully, seems to confirm his analysis.


* Not much significant progress has been made since


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My maternal grandmother Vere, towards the end of her life, was a thin reedy woman who wore Liberty print dresses, chain-smoked Rothmans plains and coughed dryly. Tidy and conservative, she played endless games of patience sitting on her neatly made-up bed, using packs of small cards which she dealt onto the candlewick bedspread. Her first husband, my maternal grandfather, was one Frank de Villiers, of whom I know nothing beyond one or two badly faded photographs. He died in the late 1920s, when Lesley was seven.

077 FdV&DotIn my mother’s much-pruned photo album, I find a picture of a man standing in a field. His posture is curiously asymmetrical and his attention is entirely on the toddler at his feet. The fact that there is only one toddler suggests that it might be Dorothy, who was eighteen months or so older than Lesley, and I conclude that Vere, my grandmother, must have been pregnant at the time that this picture was taken. By scanning the picture and electronically enhancing it, I have produced the image of a face. He looks downward with an expression that I can only interpret as affection, and a slight smile turns the corners of his mouth upwards.

078 Frank De Villiers

 I have no memory of my mother mentioning her father, or the pain and confusion that his death must have caused, though I recall the idea, perhaps from Lesley, that Frank was Vere’s one true love, and that she had never forgotten her desire for him. Lesley did tell me that towards the end, Vere looked forward to death and the possibility of being reunited with Frank. Was he, like so many men of his time, cold and unemotional? It is hard to say, although this frozen moment in front of a camera suggests otherwise.

Very much later, after her daughters had grown up and left home, Vere married Jim Cunningham, a Scotsman. There is no image of Grandpa Jim, as we called him, in the photo albums, and I find that I cannot remember his face at all. I met him only briefly, at Luitingh’s Guest Farm, where he and Vere had, it seems, retired.

Here I find a conundrum: Had Vere and Jim come to join Lesley and her children, perhaps to solace them, or had they been at Luitingh’s all along, retirees living in the crumbling remains of Archie Hopper’s glory, and had Lesley run away to mother? I could easily settle the issue by phoning Raymond, who is four years older than I am, and probably remembers the events better than I do, but I find that I am loath to do so.

At any event, Luitingh’s Guest Farm, by the time we arrived there in my mother’s small dark-blue Fordson van, was largely inhabited by old people who had come there to see out, it seems to me, their last of their days in the subtropical warmth of that region beneath the colourful canopies of the many flowering trees. Among these ageing people I can remember Mrs Nevill, and Mrs Crewe who had rinsed white hair, and Alida’s father, Oupa Nel, an ancient barrel of a man with pee-stained trousers who shouted at us in Afrikaans. A formidable patriarch, he had fought in the Anglo-Boer War. Others pass through my memory as if in a parade beneath the vast bougainvillea pergola in front of the main building, but they have no names. This nameless and often faceless parade of mainly women, for they tended to survive their men-folk, seem to me like ghosts, shuffling from the dining room, where they ate Alida Luitingh’s unspeakable food, to the decaying ablution blocks and rondavels in which they conducted their private business or sat alone.

My brother and I were sent to the White River Primary School, a dual stream state school seven miles away, which dispensed Christian National Education and corporal punishment. Every school day my mother drove us the mile to Plaston, where we boarded the school bus, driven by a thin irritable man whom we called Oom Thys. We were in the English stream, which constituted about a quarter of the school population, but our teachers were Afrikaans: Mrs Badenhorst, Mrs De Lange, Mr Grove, and another, a woman whose name I have forgotten along with all the other details of her presence and of my school life in the year that she taught us.

In this scratched photograph, my brother and I stand at an airport, with a propeller-driven aeroplane in the background. The picture must have been taken during one of our frequent transits between the extreme ends of the country. 080 m & R airportRaymond wears the blazer of the White River Primary School, which was green. The blazer bears the badge or crest of the school. The crest is surmounted by the winged head of a springbuck or other antelope facing forward. The shield, divided into three compartments, contains images of Legogote, a high granite peak visible from the town, an orange tree (with fruit) and the rising sun. Below it, on a scroll, but unreadable in the picture, are the words LABOR EST ARS, a local variant on the ‘Liberation through Labour’ theme. I can remember the school motto because it was part of the school anthem, which I sang many times – not to know it was a punishable offence. I would not have been able to recollect the crest without the aid of the picture, but the picture has allowed me to remember it. After all, it accompanied me daily for seven years. I remember in particular that the background to the three pictures was sky blue, and how the badge-thread gleamed when new.

081 Laerskool Crest

I recall the way the orange threads of the borders stood proud becoming the first to collect dirt, so that eventually the high points of those ridges became more begrimed than the lower-lying parts, emphasizing, somehow, their grubbiness. The picture of the badge, however, does not prompt any memory of the winged buck. Perhaps if I were given scratched black-and-white photographs of Mrs Crewe, Mrs Nevill and their ghostly cohorts I would recall something of them, some detail of blotched or powdered skin, of dark-blue shoe or bent back.


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According to Cicero, the Ars Memoria, or Art of Memory was invented by the poet Simonides of Ceos. He had been invited to chant a lyric poem in honour of his host, a Thessalanian nobleman named Scopas, at a banquet. Poets were paid entertainers in those days, and Simonides had struck a deal with Scopas, but the when the poem was performed, it included a long passage in praise of Castor and Pollux. Scopas told the poet he would only pay him half of the agreed amount, and that he must get the rest from the twin gods to whom he had devoted some of his poem.

A little later, a message was brought to the poet that two young men wished to see him and were waiting outside. He went out, but could find no one. While he was outside, the roof of the banqueting hall collapsed, crushing Scopas and all the guests. The bodies were so mangled that the relatives who came to take them away for burial had difficulty identifying them. But Simonides remembered the particular places at which they had been sitting at the table, and so could name the dead.

The invisible callers, Castor and Pollux, had paid Simonides for their share in the panegyric by saving his life, and more than made up for the loss of Scopas’ fee with the gift of the Art of Memory. Noting that it was through his memory of the places at which the guests had been sitting that he had been able to identify the bodies, Simonides realised that orderly arrangement is essential for orderly memory. He concluded that whoever wished to train the memory must imagine places, form mental images of whatever they wished to remember and store these images in their places. On recalling the places, the images would also spring to mind, and these images would denote whatever they wished to remember, much as one might use a wax writing tablet and the letters inscribed on the wax.

The Romans, inscribing their words on writing tablets, were able to erase the words and reuse the tablet by the simple expedient of heating. Not so the memory, which, if it persists, distorts and changes with time. Perhaps the memory is more like a town than a wax tablet, for buildings can be erected, redecorated or torn down, trees can grow, people and animals can leave, arrive, be born or die. In the course of a lifetime, the whole place may come to be unrecognisable, even a ruin; but it can never turn into a tabula rasa.

I find it particularly telling that the invention of the Art of Memory should involve the divine twins Castor and Pollux, because twinning, the existence of a living analogue, is at the core of what it means to remember. My father had a twin brother Tom, and such was the resemblance between Tom and my mother that for a while Lesley was called ‘Tommy’. She was nine years younger than her twin second cousins Jack and Tom. The only early family photograph that I have which shows both my parents dates from the first part of the 1930s. My mother sits on the left, between the dogs.

074 lesley & fam hoek

On the right, above Dorothy, my father squats down next to his mother, May. Tom is not in the picture. I do not know where it was taken, though I suspect that it may be outside some outbuilding on the Cope family farm, Rudolf’s Hoek. Here my grandfather Carol Cope*, the bearded gentleman in the centre, if my surmise is correct, had lived since he was an infant in the 1870s, with intervals during the so-called Bambata Rebellion, the Anglo-Boer War and the Great War, when he served in the Natal Carbineers, rising to the rank of Captain. Like him, I am a father of twins, so I have come to regard myself, in the succession of generations, as the filling in a twin sandwich.

Castor and Pollux are of course not the only twins in mythology, although by inhabiting the constellations which are before our eyes every night, as though they are ‘mental images’ which have found a special place in the Ars Memoria of the sky, they have also lodged in our memories. Twins abound in mythology and symbology, and Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols mentions the Vedic Asvins Mitra and Varuna, Liber and Libera, Romulus and Remus, Isis and Osiris, Apollo and Artemis, Amphion and Zethus, Arion and Orion. Of these, I note that the American spell-check software I use recognises Romulus (but not Remus), Isis, Apollo, Artemis and Orion.

Further, Cirlot tells us, they are all semi-divine beings of benign nature, born of a mortal mother and a divine father. They often have different natures – one twin may be fierce, the other peaceful. In representations of the sacrifice of Mithras, the figures of Cautes and Cautopates are often shown, one with a burning torch pointing upwards, the other with an extinguished torch pointing down. They are variously interpreted as standing for life and death, the presence or absence of the sun, and memory and oblivion.

Jack and Tom were the fourth and fifth sons to Carol and May, who were hoping for a girl, as their first child and only daughter, Nancy, had died at the age of four. They were non-identical twins, and had very different temperaments. Tom favoured practical skills and excelled at woodwork. Jack was intellectual, a thinker. The sixth and last child, Dave, born exactly a year later, merged into their double entity, and they became an inseparable trio, ranging over the farm and surrounding land, and supporting each other at high school, where they were known as the Cope Gang. They were big, long-limbed, tanned farm boys. After school, Jack became a journalist and Tom stayed behind on the farm. Aged twenty, Jack went to London to work in Fleet Street as a foreign correspondent. Tom was walking on the front hill of the farm one summer’s afternoon that year. A storm came up, and he was struck dead by lightning.


* Not Carol Cope but Percy Cope, his brother, it turns out.


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One way to ensure endurance is to make something out of a durable material, although of course it will be the material object that endures and not its maker, except by a causal association carried in significance outside of the object. The Plinys are remembered because they carved their memories into a fairly durable material – the text – and Stone-age people, as their name suggests, left the texts of stones that they had formed. The Acheulians or Early Stone Age humans took great care in the shaping of stones, especially in the manufacture of almond-shaped hand-axes. They made billions of these during their tenure of perhaps a million years on the planet, and left them scattered over a range of territory from Cape Point to East Timor. The axes are difficult to make, requiring that great strength and precision be maintained over thirty to a hundred and fifty procedures. In South Africa they are common, and there is one desolate field in the Kalahari where billions of hand-axes and other stone tools lie in a layer a metre deep, extending to the horizon. We can see and touch these axes, and yet we have no idea of their use, what their makers, our ancestors, looked like, or any details of their history. They are thus a text which we cannot read, and so tenuous has the causal link between these tools and their makers become that we can imagine the ancients only dimly. 071 h rhodesiensisThey appear as plaster models in museum dioramas, filtered through our fantasies of animal savagery.

David Morris, head of Archaeology at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, explained to me that archaeology, a science, is engaged in explaining the past in terms of the present. This, he says, is more or less the opposite of what religion is up to, which is to offer explanations for the present in the light of the past, or of an imagined past. I must nod to David in this regard, though I am unsure whether this investigation is, by his reckoning, religious or scientific.


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