22 July 2024

The Petersen House, AZ

 In a recent issue of Arizona Highways magazine, I was astonished to see an article on the "Petersen House" in the town of Tempe, Arizona, USA.  The name "Petersen" always grabs my attention, as it is my Best Beloved's birth name and she has many relatives in Denmark.   The article tells of a Neils Petersen (a traditional christian name in her family) who settled in Arizona in 1878 and built the house in Tempe in 1892.  The house is a two-story Queen Ann style building designed by James Creighton, who also designed part of the University of Arizona at Tucson.  Here is the article, with acknowledgement to Arizona Highways Magazine:

It is quite evident that this Neils Petersen was a very successful man, and is the ancestor of the large population of Petersens who live in Arizona, and elsewhere in the USA, today.  In fact, the present governor of the Arizona senate is Warren Petersen, who, I am willing to bet, is a direct descendant.  It's a small world.


23 February 2024

Rust - A basic stupidity

Reading about the trial of the young woman who was the "Armourer" on the set of the Alec Baldwin movie, Rust, now taking place in New Mexico, USA, my hackles rise at the sheer stupidity of all concerned with the management of that film set and their blatant disregard and/or ignorance of the fundamental principles of firearms safety!  Here is an excerpt of the BBC report:


A movie set weapons handler who loaded a gun for actor Alec Baldwin before it fired and killed a cinematographer was "sloppy", her trial has heard.

"Negligent acts" by armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 26, led to Halyna Hutchins' death during the production of Rust, prosecutors told the court.

Ms Gutierrez-Reed's lawyers laid the blame at the feet of Mr Baldwin, who they argued violated basic safety. 

During opening statements for the trial in Santa Fe on Thursday, prosecutors argued that the defendant's "unprofessional" on-set conduct led to an avoidable tragedy in which live ammunition found its way into a weapon.

"You will hear testimony that she routinely left guns and ammunition lying around the set unattended and her gun safe and ammo cart were constantly disorganised," special prosecutor Jason Lewis said.

    To make their case, prosecutors showed jurors boxes of ammunition that were on set the day the shooting took place, which they said contained live rounds interspersed with dummy ones.

    They allege that Ms Gutierrez-Reed negligently brought live ammunition from her home to the set that day, including the bullet that struck and killed Ms Hutchins.

    Ms Gutierrez-Reed's defence team, however, denied any wrongdoing and instead argued that it was Mr Baldwin who violated "some of the most basic rules" of operating a firearm.

    "The first event that had to happen is the actor Alec Baldwin pointed a gun on that set and he either had his finger on the trigger and the hammer cocked or he pulled the trigger," attorney Jason Bowles said.

    Court submissions show assistant director David Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin,  did not know the gun contained live ammunition, and indicated it was unloaded by shouting "cold gun!" 

    Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said police had recovered 600 pieces of evidence so far - including three firearms and 500 rounds of ammunition.

    He (Baldwin) also says he "didn't pull the trigger" of the gun during the incident, and adds: "Someone put a live bullet in a gun. I know it's not me."


    The arguments regarding who did what, when, are not relevant to my opinion regarding the lack of basic firearms safety procedures on this film set.  It is a fundamental rule that no live ammunition is allowed on any film set where firearms are used unless very specific safety procedures are observed.  No ifs or buts.  It is the responsibility of the armourer and the producer to make sure procedures are in place to enforce this rule.  This has been the case on any film set that I have been on.  There are various organisations around the world that promote certain standards in the film and television production industries.  I would think that most of them have a clause in their mission statement that promotes or even requires certain standards of health and safety from their members, and I would urge all of them to review their requirements regarding the use of arms and ammunition on film and TV productions. Perhaps the closest to a list of suggested rules is that published by the American Labour Management and Safety Committee.

    Its advice includes:

    Blanks can kill. Treat all firearms as though they are loaded

    Refrain from pointing a firearm at yourself or anyone else

    Never place your finger on the trigger unless you're ready to shoot

    Anyone involved in using a firearm must be thoroughly briefed at an on-set safety meeting

    Only a qualified person should load a firearm

    Protective shields, eye and hearing protection should be used by anyone in close proximity or the line of fire

    Any actor who is required to stand near the line of fire should be allowed to witness the loading of the firearms

    But the committee points out its guidelines are "not binding laws or regulations" and its safety document appears to have been last revised in 2003.

    There should be strict security protocols in place to prevent firearms and ammunition from being brought on to a production location by anyone but the official armourer. There should be protocols in place that require the armourer to be fully trained and qualified in the handling and safety of firearms, and for the management of the prop firearms and dummy ammunition on set. It should never be a free-for-all, unmanaged situation! All of the actors who are required to handle firearms on a production set should be given basic firearms safety training as a contractual requirement. The fact that Alec Baldwin pulled the trigger of a handgun without first checking to see if it was loaded and if so, what it was loaded with, illustrates blatant ignorance of firearms safety procedures. The fact that he was handed the handgun by the assistant director who told him it was a "cold gun."  The assistant director, Dave Halls, also demonstrated blatant ignorance and/or negligence in basic firearms safety by not checking the handgun first. I have taught firearms safety for many years and in my opinion, the firearms safety protocols on the film set of "Rust" were either absent or totally inadequate.   It's not rocket science!!

    11 September 2022

    In Memoriam - Elizabeth II Regina

    H.M. Queen Elizabeth II 1926 - 2022

    You gave us safe harbour and a fresh start in life.  
    With gratitude and admiration, we thank you.


    25 May 2022

    In Memoriam

    Richard John Lawrence Pascoe

    1942 - 2022

    A remembrance of Ricky Pascoe - friend, confidante, soulmate.

     I first met Ricky at a holiday camp near Rustenburg in the magaliesberg mountains called Inanda, in 1959.  I was sent there because my parents had gone on a trip to Italy.  The following is an excerpt from my memoirs:

    “On arrival, I am greeted by an affable chap with black-rimmed glasses and a winning smile.  He introduces himself as Rick Pascoe.  I mumble my name and he introduces me to the rest of the crowd as “Ram” and the moniker sticks.  We have adjacent beds in the boys hostel (The boys sleep in one dormitory and the girls in a separate, but attached, dormitory) and discover that we have much in common.

     Ricky becomes a fast friend, the brother that I never had and eventually, my best man at my wedding and godfather to my children.  He is still my best friend as I write this, over half a century later.


    We decide to climb to the top of the “Tiger Kloof” gorge, 150 metres high, without ropes, medical kit or water.  It’s a tough climb and takes us three hours.  At the top, we discover a paradise plateau where it seems no man has ever been before. There is the source of the stream that plunges over the edge into the gorge below as a 100-metre waterfall, with a pool big enough to swim in.  We strip and cool off and spend the day swimming and exploring the fauna and flora of this beautiful place before climbing down again at sunset.  When asked where we have been all day, we reply “To paradise!”

    We walk the five K’s into Rustenburg town as a group, ten of us, to go to the cinema on a Saturday night.  We see a Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis movie called Hollywood or Bust. We walk back in the moonlight, listening to the sounds of the nocturnal wildlife along the way.  We tie (not too tightly) Lenny Dembofski, one of the boys who is making a real nuisance of himself, to a tree in the old abandoned cemetery that the road runs past, and leave him for the Tokolosh. At the hostel, we sit around a campfire and Ricky impersonates Dean Martin singing “Amore.”   Ricky and I apple-pie the beds in the girl’s dorm.   There is one girl called Lulu, who occupies Ricky’s bed in revenge and forces him to sleep on the floor.  I’m sure that she was hoping he would join her, but being the gentleman he was, he didn’t.  Maybe he did and I slept so soundly that I didn’t notice. “ 

    Once back home after the holiday camp, our friendship endured and we visited one another as often as we could.  We were both in our final years of high school and neither of us had our own transport so we had to use busses and trains.   Ricky lived in Sunnyridge in Germiston and I lived in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg.  Ricky’s parents were the most warm-hearted people and welcomed me into their home without reservation.  Ricky also had a sister, Sue, who I rarely saw.  Once I graduated high school and went into the Air Force for three years, we did not see much of each other but Ricky entered the world of having to work for a living and got a job with a company called Shimwells, who were the importers of Walther firearms and Honda motorcycles.  When my time in the air force was up, I also got a job at the O.K.Bazaars in Johannesburg and Ricky and I used to meet for lunch at the Wimpy bar in Eloff street.    It was the beginning of my long association with all things guns and shooting.  Ricky owned a genuine DWM Luger in 9mm Parabellum, made at the DWM factory in Erfurt in 1917.  It was the most beautifully engineered piece I have ever seen. 

    In 1964 Ricky bought himself one of the new Honda motorcycles, a CB350.  Now we had transport!  My father was a cameraman for the African Mirror newsreel,  (for those of you too young to remember pre-TV, a newsreel was a 30 minute news film which was shown in movie cinemas before the feature film, much like a TV news program today) and he occasionally allowed me to take a movie camera and cover a newsworthy event for African Mirror.  Ricky would take me where we needed to go on his Honda.  We also made friends with (I won’t say “joined”) the Hells Angles, who Ricky met in the Honda showroom.   

    For my 21st birthday, my parents gave me a car, a Ford Anglia, and  Ricky presented me with a Walther PPK .380ACP pistol.  The Anglia did a lot of miles between Sunnyridge and Craighall, where my parents had built a new house.   One night it was raining very heavily when I had to take Ricky home.  I foolishly used a shortcut called the old Rosherville road, that went between the mine dumps.  I didn’t realise that the road had become a torrential river and the car was literally picked up by the water and washed off the road into a ditch, landing on it’s side. 

    Ricky’s door was uppermost, and he climbed up out of the door still holding a cigar in one hand.  When some people stopped to as if we were ok, he replied, cigar in hand, “Oh yes, thank you.  We do this quite often!” 

    Ricky married a girl called Brenda, who was the PA to the CEO of Coca-Cola SA.  He rented a small flat in a building overlooking Joubert Park in central Johannesburg, called Lorna Court.  The first time I visited, I realised that it was the very same flat that my paternal grandparents had lived in.  Ricky bought a series one Land Rover, which he parked outside the building in Joubert street.   We planned a road trip around Africa, starting at Cape Town and progressing through Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, the Rhodesias  (now Zimbabwe and  Zambia)  Tanganyika (now Tanzania) Mozambique and back to SA via the east coast.  It was to be called “Operation Nomad” and we obtained all of the necessary permits, visas  and licenses.  We even arranged the purchase and delivery of a new 4x4 in Windhoek, a Ford F150 because the Namibian authorities would not allow the use of a narrow track vehicle such as the Land Rover on many of the desert roads.  Sadly, we never got to do the trip, due to the war in Angola and Rhodesia and Noelin’s father’s refusal to give her permission.  

    Ricky’s marriage to Brenda was annulled after three months.  Something just didn’t work there.  Brenda ran off with an American pilot.  Ricky was very broken up about it.  He soon found solace in Lorraine, who lived on a large property in Bedford View.  They married soon after and were very happy.  I had married Noelin, and the four of us were very good friends.  Ricky was my best man at my wedding.  It wasn’t long before we all purchased new homes in a new suburb of Kempton Park called Birch Acres.   A daughter was born to Ricky and Lorraine, Melissa.  We had Venetia, Dario, Gia and Carina.  Noelin and Lorraine became very active in the dog showing and breeding fraternity, Noelin breeding Dalmatians and Lorraine breeding Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

    Ricky always had a joke to tell, or to liven up an evening.  He was a walking encyclopaedia  of all things firearms and ammunition.  We created a business together customising and nickel plating pistols, and gained a world wide reputation for the excellence of our work.  Ricky was appointed as a consultant to Armscor, the government arms manufacturer, and carried out much of the testing of vehicle armour against military small arms.  For this purpose he was given a permit to own an AK47 assault rifle, which was otherwise banned from civilian ownership.  He also owned a FN R1 and an American AR15.

    Our interest in firearms and the shooting sports resulted in Ricky becoming the chairman and me becoming the secretary of the Combat Pistol Association.  This consumed much of our free time every weekend.  We eventually had over twenty clubs affiliated to the association and entered Springbok teams in two world championships, one in Johannesburg and one in Switzerland.  Ricky was the team manager on both occasions and was awarded his Springbok blazer.

    Lorraine’s aged parents passed on and Lorraine inherited the Bedford View property and they sold the Birch Acres house and moved in there.  We moved to Cape Town and Ricky and I maintained our friendship by telephone and eventually, by eMail.  Ricky and Lorraine eventually sold the Bedford View property and moved to Knysna in the Cape, where they bought a hardware and general store business.  Unfortunately the business was not a success and Ricky and Lorraine separated.  They divorced and Ricky needed a lot of moral support at this time, but even through the dark times, he was always a delight to talk to.  Nothing ever got him down.  He eventually met up with an old shooting girl friend, Mareta, who we had both taught to shoot when we ran the Germiston Combat Pistol Club.  Mareta had been involved in a motorcycle accident and had one leg in a brace.  She and Ricky moved in together and Mareta’s condition deteriorated until she was confined to a wheelchair.  Through all of this, Ricky devoted his life to her care.  He had dreams of going into the bush on camping trips which never came to pass.  Mareta inherited her mother’s house in Knysna and she and Ricky lived there, devoted to each other. 

    Ricky had a remarkable gift - his handwriting was pure calligraphic copperplate.  It was a beautiful thing to behold and he did it effortlessly and totally naturally.  I was amazed when he showed me the journal of his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Lt John Pasco(e), who was Admiral Lord Nelson's Flag Lieutenant on HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar.  It was written in a hand identical to Ricky's.  I mean Identical. This is what "The Trafalgar Roll" says about John Pasco:

    Rear-Admiral J. Pasco was born in 1774. Entered service, 1784; Mid., 1790; Lieut., 1795. Lieut, of Beaulieu at reduction of St. Lucie, 1796. Lieut, of Victory at capture of French frigate Ambuscade, 1803. Senior Lieut, and Signal Lieut, of Victory at Trafalgar, 1805 ; but did not act as First. Arranged with Lord Nelson the memorable signal, “ England expects that every man will do his duty.” Was severely wounded in the right side and arm, for which he received a grant from the Patriotic Fund, and an Admiralty pension of /250 per annum. Was promoted Commander, 1805. Carried a bannerol of lineage at 14 THE TRAFALGAR ROLL Nelson’s funeral, 1806. Captain, 1811. Good Service Pension, 1842. Captain of Victory, 1847. Retired Rear-Admiral, 1847. Medal and clasp. Died at Stonehouse, Devonport, November 1853, aged 78.

    Ricky came from noble stock.    

    I will miss him dreadfully.  Although we lived half a world apart, he was always a part of me.  He was the brother that I never had,  and I feel a dark hollow in my soul that used to be filled with his life, laughter and love.

    Rest in peace, Amigo.   

    9 April 2022

    War Criminal? It's not enough!

    I type this with a heavy heart.  I have been dismayed and totally horrified by the news reports of the atrocities that are being uncovered, that have been committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine.  The kind of vile, evil things that the Russians have perpetrated on the innocent civilians of Ukraine have not been seen since the days of Atilla The Hun, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin and Sadam Hussein.  I am sure that there are, or have been, many others throughout history but surely they belong to less civilised, less knowledgeable and less humanitarian eras?  What is being witnessed in northern Ukraine as the Russian forces retreat is mind numbing.  

    The wanton killing of people in the street, the rape and murder of women, young girls and of children, the torture and dismemberment of innocent people are acts of barbarism that cannot be allowed to go unpunished in the 21st century.  If the individuals who commanded or allowed these acts to happen, starting with Vladimir Putin himself and progressing down the line to the commanders on the ground and the men who actually did these horrific deeds are not brought before the International Court of Criminal Justice at The Hague, then our civilisation and all of the nations within it who believe in the rule of law and in human rights and dignity, are reduced to the same low level of barbarity.  To allow the perpetrators to go free would be to condescend to the worst kind of evil and would open the door to similar acts being perpetrated in the future without fear of retribution.

    I have always had a keen interest in the events of the 2nd World War, simply because my father served in the North African campaign, the Italian campaign and the European campaign.  The horror of the Nazi concentration camps made civilised people doubt their sanity and mechanisms were set up at the end of hostilities that were to prevent such things ever happening again, the most important of which was the League of Nations which became the United Nations Organisation.  Within the United Nations, a Security Council was created.  Forgetting, or ignoring the fact that the Russians, under Stalin, had double crossed their allies by annexing most of eastern Europe and by erecting an "Iron Curtain" that divided Europe in two, five member states were made "permanent members" of this council, being China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the USA.  Then these five were were all given the right to veto any resolution drafted by the council!  This, of course, made the United Nations virtually toothless, only able to intercede in matters that concerned countries or states that were of no particular import to Russia or to China.  It is against this background that any resolution drafted and brought before the Security Council condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine has been vetoed by Russia.  The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky told the UN that they should dissolve the Security Council, erase it from their charter, and than start again with a fresh Security Council without the veto rule, or remain an inconsequential body with no real power. 

    I see two possible scenarios unfolding now:  

    1) Russia becomes totally isolated from the civilised world, a pariah state, totally embargoed, with all visas of any kind held by Russian citizens, cancelled by the issuing countries.  Russia joins the ranks of the likes of North Korea, Myanmar and Syria.  This situation resolves into another prolonged cold war.  Eventually, the Russian people will realise how their president and his cronies have deceived them and deprived them of the goods and freedoms that they once enjoyed before Russia invaded Ukraine.  There will be a civil war inside Russia, with some of the former Soviet Union countries such as Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan supporting the Russian regime.  Ultimately, UN supervised elections will result in a regime change.  Timeframe:  10 to 15 years.

    2) Russia continues to commit atrocities in Ukraine to the point when the civilised world will stand no more and NATO throws down the gauntlet.  Putin relishes the opportunity to vanquish the west and takes up the challenge, resulting in WW3. He could very probably use biological weapons as well as small nuclear weapons i.e. nuclear tipped artillery shells and short range rockets.  He will not use full-blown nuclear intercontinental missiles because he is not that stupid that he would not believe that the USA would retaliate in kind, resulting in the total destruction of Russia.  The USA would annex Cuba early in the proceedings.  Taking advantage of the wests preoccupation with the war in Europe, North Korea will attack South Korea with a high probability of the use of nuclear weapons, if only because Kim Yong-un and his sister are megalomaniacs.  Likewise, China will attack and invade Taiwan.  African countries would not be physically involved, but their allegiances will dictate their degree of participation.  Australia and New Zealand will support the UK in every way possible while maintaining a "ring of steel" around their coastal waters. Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia will keep their heads down.  NATO would eventually win the contest with Russia being occupied and placed under a UN or NATO governing body.  Timeframe 2 to 5 years.  Timeframe for a return to normality 20 to 30 years.

    We should hope for the former but prepare for the latter scenario and never trust the word of the Russians.

    London, April 9th, 2022  


    7 March 2022

    For Evil To Prevail, Good Men Need Only Do Nothing.........

     With the war in Ukraine raging as I type this, visiting death, destruction and terror on the innocent and totally bewildered people of that ancient land, I cannot remain silent.  Here is part of a letter that I wrote to a friend recently, which illustrates my thoughts on the subject:

    "I always thought myself fortunate that I was born at the end of WW2 and not before.   I was born at the dawn of a new age, when war was going to be consigned to the bin and the future was going to be shiny and bright and peaceful.   The wars of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia and Iraq were excused as policing actions with the purpose of maintaining that state of peaceful optimism.   Now, in February 2022, it would sadly appear that the world is on the brink of WW3.   All it takes is one megalomaniac with sufficient power and authority to impose his will on subordinates who are mesmerised by his persona and fooled by his false justifications.

    In my view, Putin will not stop with Ukraine.   He will want all of the former Soviet Union states such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Czechia and Slovakia.   If he succeeds, he will then want Poland.  His ambition is to recreate the old Soviet Union.  This is his remedy for Russia's economic woes.   None of this can be allowed to happen, and the only way to prevent it will be to destroy his regime in Russia.  As things stand at this moment, that will only be possible by use of force.  That means WW3.  And if anyone, anytime, is foolish enough to use a nuclear weapon,  we will have armageddon.    How China, North Korea, India and Pakistan play their cards is still unclear.   So far, the punitive sanctions that have been imposed on Russia aren't worth a row of beans in the short term and in the short term, he will destroy Ukraine.  It takes months if not years for economic sanctions to have any severe effect.   Putin will circumvent most of them by using China and still starve the west of oil and gas.  He holds the trump (sic) cards."

    Putin is using the reluctance of NATO and the EU to do anything that could result in a response by Russia that would trigger the NATO Common Defense Clause of the NATO charter, as a deterrent.   (At the present time,  NATO has 30 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020).

    "Why is it that the Prince of Darkness always manages to find a compliant host to execute his will?  The list is long and goes back to the dawn of history.  As mankind has become more powerful and technically advanced, the death and destruction wrought on the innocent have been equally enhanced.  Now we have Putin.  I fear that Biden is not the man to stand up to him in a meaningful way, and that Trump will use developments in Ukraine to sabre rattle his way into office once again in 2024."

    A nuclear war is unthinkable.  Putin does not seem to agree and has threatened the west by placing his nuclear forces on standby.  This is the act of an unstable and irrational man.  I fear that I will not live long enough to witness Putin getting his comeuppance but I will encourage, in whatever small way I can in the time that I have, Good Men to Do Something! 


    The deliberate destruction of a paediatric and maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9th by Russian forces is a clear and undeniable crime against humanity, which will be one more example of the evidence put forward at the International Court in The Hague when, at some future date, it sits to determine the extent of the war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin and his military commanders during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Putin (I will not dignify him by using the title “President”) would be well advised to consider this in the immediate future, for it is certain that the Court will issue international warrants for the arrest and detention of himself and his military commanders as soon as circumstances permit.     

    26 December 2021

    Christmas Past-


    Perusing the diary notes of my grandfather’s brother, Ninio Serretta recently, I was struck by the similarity of the circumstances when his family emigrated from Sicily to England in 1898, and then to South Africa and when my family emigrated from South Africa to England in 1998, exactly 100 years later!    Ninio’s family consisted of himself and his brother, Giovanni Jr (my grandfather) who were nine and eight years old resp. and their three sisters Maria, eleven, Virginia, six and Ester, four and their mother Maria Concetta Ammirata and their father, Giovanni Serretta Sr.  Giovanni Sr was an artist and had no interest in joining the family’s banking business.  There was no work for an artist in Sicily, so he left Palermo to make a new life for the family in London, where he thought that he could make a living with his artistic talent.  He went to London in 1893, five years before his wife and children joined him. 

    Reading between the lines, and using the limited facts as I know them, I am of the opinion that it was his father-in-law, Giovanni Ammirata, who arranged for Marie Concetta and the children to finally move to London to join her husband.   Evidently the marriage was arranged by the two families in order to consolidate their respective business interests and properties, and was not a happy one.   Both families were wealthy with considerable land holdings and properties.  Giovanni Ammirata financed the travel expenses of his daughter and grandchildren, purchased a house in London for them, furnished it lavishly and installed a servant come housekeeper.   I can imagine him admonishing his son-in-law: “No more excuses!  Now you have tour family and a home!  Get on with it!”  He returned to Sicily shortly thereafter and left his daughter to her new life in England.

    I arrived in London in August 1998, looking for a job, and it was three months later before I was joined by my wife, Noelin.  Some of my children were already in London and some would follow shortly after.  I did not have a wealthy father-in-law to pave the way for my family to start a new life in a strange land.  However, we also experienced a degree of non-acceptance and bias towards us as “foreigners” by a lot of the English people, as had my grandfather and his brother.  Here is an excerpt from my great-uncle Ninio’s account of their arrival in London in August 1898:

    Lucio’s Serretta’s memories of his parent’s emigration to England when he was 9 years old- Quote:

    "It was an evening in autumn of 1898 – to be exact, Sunday 24th October.  A cloudy sky over the mountains that surround the Bay of Palermo in whose port the small vessel ‘Gallilco – Gallile’ was anchored which we were to board.  We were seven, six of us never to return to see our beloved land again.  Besides myself there was my mother, my one brother and three sisters.  My maternal grandfather accompanied us.  We were destined for England where my father awaited us and from whom we had been separated for just under five years.  The vessel was bound for the port of Naples and on the morning of the 25th it passed the isle of Ischia,

    I had already risen and was on desk when we sighted Naples.  Although chilly it was a beautiful sunny day and the sight of Napes with its busy port, Mount Vesuvius on the right and the hills of Pozzuoli on the left was most impressive and a sight never to be forgotten.  My mother’s uncle Bartolomeo (Brusco) met us on the quay, and we spent a very pleasant day sight-seeing with his family.  The next portion of our journey was by train to Rome, where we arrived at nearly midday on the 26th and left at 10.30pm.  We arrived in Genoa on the afternoon of the 27th and took the train to Turin late that night.  At Turin, we stayed at a Hotel and had our meals there.  I was very cold.  As we came from a warm country, we had no overcoats and warm clothing and my grandfather bought some for us.  By this time the children were already getting rather too much for my poor mother.  Ester was a baby of four.  I remember my sister Virginia had a stomach disorder.   My brother John wandered off in the crowd and got lost when we were sight-seeing.  It was very tiring for a woman with five children.  We left Turin at night the next day 29th October on a train to cross the frontier at Modena on our way to Lyon, where we again changed trains to Dijon and again to Paris.  It was just terrible taking our entire luggage off one train to load on another in the dead of night.

    We arrived in Paris on the night of the 30th, and had to stay on the station until daylight and then transferred to the Gare Saint Lazare.  We wandered around Paris in a carriage all day and had a good meal at one of the Boulevard Restaurants.  At 9.30 pm our train left for Calais to cross to Dover.  The crossing was dreadful.  A big storm got up.  The small vessel was crowded with people of all types, many from Russia and Bulgaria.  Everybody was seasick and rolling from one side of the salon to the other as the vessel swayed.  Although we boarded the vessel at about 1:30am it took over three hours to cross the channel.  It was still very dark when we landed at Dover, but we were soon helped into a train.  As it was getting light we were able to see the country around us.  It was Sunday morning, 1st November 1898.  The country all over was covered in snow and we shivered and cried with the cold, but we very soon arrived at Charing Cross Station in London where we expected to see our father again after 5 years.  My mother could not believer that she would set eyes on him.  She was filled with anger and resentment towards him.  I remember grandfather warning her to be calm and forgiving and to look forward to a new and happy life even though it would have its trials.

    But it was difficult to calm her.  My father was on the station awaiting us.  He was tall and wore a warm light brown overcoat.  He was good looking.  He received us very happily but my mother was very cool to him.  We went to another platform on the other side of the station to board another train.  We though that very strange as we had not imagined London to be so big.  The train took us to Clapham junction about 4 ½ miles, and from there we went to a house in Swanage Road, Wandsworth Common in a horse drawn cab.  Everywhere was snow.  The road had about 18cm snow.  All the roofs and gardens were covered.  We alighted and the door was opened by a young woman servant with a black frock and white cap and apron.  The house was magnificently carpeted in red plush heavy Wilton throughout.  We were first taken upstairs to our bedrooms which all had double beds and bathrooms.  We changed into what new clothing my mother had been able to buy for us and then we came down to the dining room.  Fires were burning in the grates and all lights were on.  The dining table was fully dressed and the sideboard was laden with food.  Hams, cheeses, fine rolls of bread and many other things – all ready for us.  We all sat down to a meal, my father explaining that in England it was the custom to have breakfast.

    Being hungry, we all had plenty to eat.  The servant was doing her best to make us understand.  She took us to the kitchen where a big fire was burning in the grate, and utensils and crockery were on the shelves.  My sister wanted to inspect inside the pantry and she cried “Mama! Mama! Come and see all the food!”  We were all enchanted and asked many questions.  My brother John was curious to know what was inside some jars on a shelf.  My father said it was jam, but no one knew what jam was.  My father explained that it was fruit cooked with sugar, and as we had always regarded sugar to be a luxury and prohibitive, we were all anxious to taste it.  So my father opened a jar and with a teaspoon we all tasted it.  What worried us however was that when we pushed the curtain aside there was no sun and only heavy snow.  “Do people go out?” we asked.  “Yes! Tomorrow, not today.  Tomorrow will be Monday and all the people go out.  You will see children playing ‘snowballs’ and other games in the snow”.  Shivers were running up and down my back and legs as he was saying this!  We could not imagine anyone wanting to go out and to play in such weather.  Thus, we spent our first day in England.

    We passed the next few days indoors in the same way, while my father went away to business in the City.  More snow fell, and we were afraid to open the windows and doors.  We thought our father very brave to go out in the snow.  Saturday came, and my father said he never worked on Saturdays and Sundays, which we thought strange but wonderful.  So, he took us all out.  We went to St Johns Road, Clapham Junction, where there is a very large shopping centre with very large department stores.  One of them was called Harding and Hobbs which was the biggest.  My father bought new suits for my brother and myself, and dresses for my mother and the girls.  Also shoes and hats.  I remember my mother looking very elegant in an outfit made of Scottish tweed, with long skirt, very narrow waist and very wide sleeves, narrow at the cuffs, called ‘leg of mutton’ sleeves.  The hat was a Trilby to match and it had a peacock’s feather at the side.  My mother said it was ridiculous, but my sister Maria (Marie) liked it very much, so the assistant fitted her out with something very similar.  She was only 11 years old, and my mother said she looked 20.  So, my father was pleased.  We boys had Norfolk suits with straps below the knees, and wool stockings, and nice wool caps to match.

    The next day was Sunday and as the weather had cleared a little we were allowed to go out, so we walked a short distance near a railway line.  The road was wide and lined with very large oak trees.  Maria was wearing her new dress but thought she was too conspicuous and so when people were approaching to pass us Maria would hide behind one of the large trees so that she would not be seen.  She cried when we returned home and said she looked like an old woman.  My father suggested that it was the red woollen muffler that was too large.  My mother laughed and said my father should have known better that to have dressed them both that way.  Maria would never wear her outfit again, but my mother kept hers and when Queen Victoria died in 1900 she wore it at the funeral procession.  During the following week, one morning, John and I were allowed out again to the Common.  We went a little way and noticed a very large field.  The snow had melted and it was very green.  We saw a group of boys kicking a very large ball, very high.  We had never seen this before so we were curious and went near to watch by the iron railing.  Then one of the boys came over and spoke to us.

    We could not understand what he was saying, but I could see he wanted us to go over the fence onto the green.  As we just stood looking at him I understood him to say “you speak?” I replied “Italiano.” He then called to all the other boys – shouting “Forina! Forina!” so they all ran over, about eight or more, aged between 8 and 13 years of age also shouting “Forina! Forina!”. First, the first one then all of them began hitting us.  They got us on the ground and punched and kicked us still shouting “Forina! Forina!”.  Then they all started to run away and I saw a gentleman in an overcoat and gloves had come over to us, but we could not understand.  He took us with him.  We were crying.  Our faces were bruised and bleeding and our clothes were wet and soiled.  The gentleman took us to a nearby house, which long after I got to know on Westside, Wandsworth Common.  A very nice lady took us in.  She washed us, gave us tea and biscuits and later the gentleman took us around the nearby streets until we were able to recognise our own house.  My parents were very upset, but nothing could be done about it.  However, I always remembered and later understood the meaning of what to me had sounded like “Forina”.  It was Foreigner.

    Evidently, they had a dislike for foreigners, which I did not understand then, but later when I could read in English I concluded that certain classes of the English were politically indoctrinated to hate all foreigners.  This caused the whole family very great sorrow through the years in England.  The months of November and December 1898 were passing and my grandfather’s return to Italy was nearing as he wished to be back for Christmas.  However, before his departure he was taken to the City and the West End and to see the sights of London.  Christmas came and we saw that the people celebrated immensely and so did we.  As we could not speak English we naturally could not make friends even with our neighbours.  Early in the New Year my father managed to get us, the three eldest into the local school, which was called ‘The Swaffield Road Primary School 

    (Swaffield Primary School is still there now (2021) 

    Lucio and John suffered severe beatings from bullies, but Lucio who was more aggressive soon learned to defend himself and his brother, who was gentler of the three children, hampered by having to learn a new language and culture, Lucio progressed the best.  Maria was relegated to the back of the classroom and given knitting to do by the teacher, who provided her with wool and needles and who’s family benefiting by the supply of socks and stockings.Unquote.

    Now I daresay that it would have been much more difficult for such young children in those days to integrate into a new culture, especially children who had never had the opportunity to experience any other culture than their own Sicilian one, which was very cloistered, than it is for children today, who have had exposure to other cultures via the WWW.  I, however, did experience resistance from some British people when I first tried to fit myself into the local society, as did my family.  I came up against some vehemently unwelcoming individuals who had very preconceived ideas about people from South Africa, even though they knew nothing about me, and even less about that country, but strangely enough, never people of colour.  The fact that I was comparatively well educated and was arguably more proficient in the English language than they were, created some great hurdles for me to climb over.   I succeeded by demonstrating ability and accomplishment but I had to start at the bottom and work my way up the seniority ladder, re-inventing the wheel that had come to a crashing halt in a political ditch in South Africa.  My efforts were also made easier by the fact that I had a better and more disciplined work ethic than the average Brit.  This is a fact that applies to most South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders and East Europeans.  The average British worker is very unionised, and is more concerned about the length of his tea break than his productivity.  South Africans stop work when the job is done, Brits stop work when the clock strikes four-thirty.

    One can only admire Concetta and Giovanni Jr for taking on the huge task of integrating their family into British society, and becoming British.  My grandfather, Giovanni Jr (Big John) went on to fight with the British Army at the battle of the Somme in 1915.  He drove an ambulance between the front lines and the field hospitals.  His ambulance, a commandeered truck, took a direct hit and he was blown into a lake of mud, which saved his life.  Nevertheless, he was invalided back to England with burns and concussion.  Here is a photo of him and one of him and his crew, taken in Calais in 1914:

    Giovanni on the left.