M3/7. Phillip Warwick May.
(1956 - )
Phillip Warwick May, the third and youngest son of Phillip Alistair May and Ruth Frances May nee Freemantle, was born in Johannesburg on 2nd. February, 1956 at approximately 10 a.m. and it was his mother’s choice to name him Phillip after his father, but to avoid confusion between them, his parents wanted to choose a different name especially for him. It took a little while for them to decide what his other name should be and ‘Warwick’ was suggested by the wife of one of his godfathers, which appealed to both his parents. So, for convenience sake, his family and most of his friends called him Warwick.
Initially, when I said that I wanted another child, Warwick’s father was a bit concerned over whether we would be able to afford all the costs involved in raising a third child, especially as during that period he was in the process of starting and building up a new business and we were living with my father at the time (after my mother’s death). However, on reflection, this was the one baby whose birth was planned from the start and everyone anticipated the arrival with pleasure.
The family were living at ‘Graystones’ and, by his mother’s wish, the birth was to take place there with a mid-wife and doctor in attendance instead of in a maternity home.
All was planned with great care and when the doctor said he would need the bed to be raised so that he could assist me more easily, his grandfather insisted that his own bedroom and the adjoining bathroom should be used and he proceeded to parcel up four lots of six bricks in strong brown paper to place under the legs of the bed.
That morning,(on 2.2.1956) the two older boys went off to their schools as usual and when they returned they found they had a new baby brother waiting in the crib next to my bed.
Warwick was also Christened at St. Martins-in-the-Veld and his godparents were Pamela Freemantle, the daughter of Con and Ron, Keith Hitchens and, I think, John Freemantle, his uncle. Like his brother Andrew’s godparents and all of Peter’s except Helen O’Donnell, none of them took much interest
[If it is of any interest he was born in the Chinese Year of the Goat]
While he was still an infant the family moved to a rented house in Bramley at the time of his Grandfather, Eric Freemantle’s marriage to Alice Letty, nee Tidmarsh and they remained there for about six months prior to moving down to the Cape. While they were in Bramley, his other Grandparents visited and stayed for a few weeks before they returned to their home in Cape Town.
Warwick had fair curly hair, which we refrained from cutting until Grandma could see it. She always favoured Warwick saying he was ‘one of us’, meaning he took after her side of the family, this particularly so because one of his toes tended to curl under his foot and she claimed this was a family trait as both she and her father had the same anomaly. She considered Peter took after the Mays and she was even less interested in Andrew as he was like the Freemantles.
[Actually, as he has grown older, Peter’s looks have become more and more like my brother John’s, but when young he was obviously a May.]
Warwick was about two years old when the family left ‘Graystones’ and during the time they were residing in Bramley, prior to moving down to the Cape, where they eventually returned to stay in his Grandmother’s cottage called ‘The Bungalow’ in Roslyn Road, Rondebosch, directly behind his grandparents house in Rouwkoop Road.
While we were living in the Bungalow we often took walks down the road, passing a row of garages and going on down to the river and it was during one of these strolls that we made friends with two small girls who, thereafter, used to visit the cottage and to keep all the children happy and occupied in the confined space of this small property we would make cakes with all the children taking turns with the mixing.
In the latter half of 1958 his parents purchased a small farm (of about 18 acres), which fronted onto Steynsrust Road, on rising ground above the Firgrove station, and the family lived there for about five or six years before they moved into a house on Beach Road, Gordons Bay.
The small station at Firgrove was actually the highest revenue producing railway station in South Africa owing to its position next to the South African Explosives Factory (later A.N.C.I or I.C.I.) where all the dynamite was loaded, to be transported to the mines in the Transvaal. While there, one day an explosion occurred which shook the house and had the party line phones busy as all the residents compared notes on the effects that had been felt for miles around.
In buying the farm it was our intention to have somewhere for the children to grow up in a rural situation that would provide, as much as possible, an environment giving them safety, space, trees to climb, the dam to fish in and surrounded by different kinds of farm animals. Looking back I am not sure of the benefits these provided during their childhood and can only hope we were right, but the farm also assisted the family economically because, although it never made a profit, all basic costs were covered through the sale of milk, carnations and crops. Consequently, with care, we managed to pay the school fees, clothing and for other ancillary items during the years when Phillip was building up his own business and our income was somewhat limited.
As his two older brothers were both away at boarding school during term time, Warwick spent most of his time trailing after me as I supervised and worked with the 4 or 5 farm labourers we employed. The head man, Elias, drove the tractor when needed and when we planted the crops it was accepted that he always led a diagonal line of workers across the field, with the others each following a yard or two beside, but a couple of steps behind him (in order of seniority!); then bringing up the back, the last in line, Warwick with me. On reaching the far end of the field, Elias would wait until we all caught up and then we would set off on the return path, each in his allotted space according to their status, either ‘scoffling’ or planting as was required – always in the African way, the strongest in front, woman and child last.
Sometimes, when we had a housemaid, Warwick would remain in her care and it was at such a time that a real disaster occurred. I had decided to paint out the back bedroom, which led off the side porch and the maid was hanging out the washing on the line behind the garage. Warwick was supposed to be in her care or with his grandparents, who were staying with us for a day or two, when something made me leave the painting and go into the kitchen. There I found Warwick collapsed on the table. He had climbed up onto a chair and then onto the table to reach the plug that attached to the kettle. Having watched Phillip using his electric shaver, we presume he intended trying the same on himself because he had put the plug to his neck. The shock had burnt him there and on both hands but the need to reach up high above his head to get the plug caused him to become detached as he fell and was what probably saved him - and me, because I had no idea what had happened and immediately picked him up when I saw he was not conscious, long before understanding the situation or switching off the electricity. Although CPR was not common knowledge then, and certainly unknown to me, I blew into his mouth several times and called to my mother-in-law to help with him while I ‘phoned for medical assistance. We were on a ‘party line’ with an old fashioned telephone having a box and handle that one turned to connect with the operator and when I asked her for a doctor… any doctor… she connected me to the District Surgeon. He instructed me to wrap Warwick warmly and drive directly to the local hospital, as he would inform them we were coming and he would personally attend to him there. I placed lots of cottonwool padding around the burns, bundled him into a blanket and set off towards Somerset West with me nursing the child but as Grandma was always terrified of travelling faster that 25 miles an hour, she was cautioning Grandpa to slow down and I was silently urging him to hurry. In the event, we sat in the waiting room for more than half an hour, while the hospital cleaner vacuumed and dusted all around us, before the doctor arrived. He cleaned up the wounds and commended me over not using any ‘old wives remedies’ that would have required removing, then admitted that he had a problem over Warwick’s worst burn, between his thumb and forefinger because, apparently, the child had a double-jointed thumb and each time the doctor bandaged it, he would wiggle it so that it popped out of the bandage, laughing as he did so! To solve this, the doctor fashioned a wooden frame with a small y-shape section, bandaged around the hand and board and then around the separate section and thumb. Warwick was put to sleep in one of the wards but less than half an hour later he was awake and full of bounce, so the matron said, “You better take him home now as I can no longer keep him still or quiet.” At first the dressings needed regular replacing and this was not a pleasant task being smelly and painful and a few days later showed little sign of healing. Then, the family all went to spend the day on the beach at Hermanus and it was not reasonable keeping Warwick out of the water. In any case, his father recalled how, during the war when he was so badly burned, the burns patients were taken swimming to assist their healing. However, when I saw Warwick’s hands afterwards I was horrified to find that the wounds were embedded with sea sand. It would have been impossible to dig it all out, so I simply replaced the bandages and from that time the improvement in healing was quite astonishing.
His next major adventure before he started school was when he decided to visit the local trading store about a mile from the farm down the hill and across the railway track, which was run by a Jewish man called Jocum, who stocked almost everything one could need in the way of household goods and also some farming equipment and animal food. It looked like and had the unmistakeable smell of many trading stores in South Africa but the attraction for children was his supply of sweets. So, Warwick got on his trike and trundled down the hill and across the railway line, his absence unnoticed immediately, but fortunately one of the farm labourers had seen him leave and by the time he reached his destination I had caught up with him – to his great disappointment!
Being the youngest of our three sons, Warwick as ‘the baby’ was more indulged than the other two boys and relatives would remark that we were inclined to spoil him, which they claimed made him more temperamental than the others. In point of fact, he took after his grandmother’s family, much more than the other two, in both looks and nature and no doubt for this reason he was the favourite child of both his father and grandmother.