BILL CURRY (26 March 1931 – 28 July 2015)

Bill Curry 26 March 1931 – 27 July 2015

Bill Curry and Denise Newman in a play in 1981.

Bill Curry and Denise Newman in a play in 1981.

The late Jonathan Rands, Michael Richard, and Bill Curry (1981)

The late Jonathan Rands, Michael Richard, and Bill Curry (1981)

Many years before I met Bill Curry I saw him in a play at the Laager in the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. The play was called The Indian Wants the Bronx, a three-hander with Michael Richard, Jonathan Rands, and Bill as the eponymous “Indian” being brutally harassed by two yobs at a bus stop in downmarket New York. A few years later I saw him again in Athol Fugard’s A Lesson from Aloes, with Marius Weyers and Sheila Holliday. On both occasions I was deeply impressed by his fine acting.             Market Theatre, Newtown, Johannesburg

St Andrew's, Ocean Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart

St Andrew’s, Ocean Street, Kensington. Photo: Rev. Fr. Stewart Peart

It was an unexpected pleasure to find him  reading the lessons at the 7.30am service. He and I had arrived at St Andrew’s at about the same time in 1993. I had been appointed as the music director there and after the Nine Lessons and Carol Service he had congratulated me on the choir’s singing. I discovered that he had played the organ in Cape Town many years before my early fumblings on the instrument as a piano-organist. He was always willing to play the organ if I was ill or away. Later still he joined the choir, first as a bass, later as a tenor. He often took the men in the choir for special rehearsals when we were working on something difficult. I do not know how I would have managed without his constant support, kindness and enthusiasm.

I was delighted when he asked me to give him some vocal tuition. He visited me each week at my home in Derby Road, Kensington and he worked diligently at everything I gave him. We played Schubert duets on the piano and often interesting conversation got the better of us and we would find that considerable time had passed without a note of music being played or sung. He told me about an amusing encounter at the Festival Hall when he was studying at the Central School in London in 1956. He had gone to hear a recital by the great contralto, Marian Anderson.The woman next to him assumed that he was Indian and asked what he thought of Western music. Bill replied in his pristine actor’s voice, “Madam, I have known no other!”                                                                                    Marian Anderson (contralto)

St Andrew’s presented a Christmas in July dinner and he gave some infectious performances for the entertainment of the guests with him singing and me accompanying him.

I was very sad when he told me he had decided to sell up in Kensington and return to the Cape where he had been asked to stay in a cottage on the property of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones who ran the Handspring Puppet Company in Kalk Bay. He had been instrumental in helping them when they were launching their company in the 1980s. In recent years the Handspring Puppet Company have become internationally famous with their creation of the War Horse for the play and film. Before he left Johannesburg he gave me his vast collection of LPs and a number of books and scores.

I missed his warm presence and his life-enhancing personality when he moved to the Cape. He appeared in a play at the Kalk Bay Theatre for Nicholas Ellenbogen and played the grandfather in the film, A Boy Called Twist, a South African adaptation of the Dickens’s book. We exchanged letters and phone calls for a while and I had hoped to visit him in his new home, but that visit did not materialise.

Earlier this month I was sad to hear that he was ill and in the frail care section of a home for the elderly. Yesterday I had news of his death at the age of 84. I will never forget our wonderful friendship. May he rest in peace.

30 July

I had a call from Jill in Cape Town to let me know that Bill’s Memorial Service will take place on Tuesday, 4 August at 4pm at Holy Trinity Church, Kalk Bay.

Jean Collen (29 July 2015)

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Going, going, gone …

Thank you for this interesting article. I’m very sorry indeed to hear of the words that have been expunged from the OUP junior dictionary. It suggests that the editors of the dictionary assume that children are not going outdoors to play or to pick bluebells any more but are glued to their computers reading about “so-called” celebrities. Very sad indeed!

via Going, going, gone ….

Theatres in early Johannesburg

This is a marvellous article about theatres in early Johannesburg. I am sure it will be of interest to the many people who have followed my post on “life in Kensington and Johannesburg fifty years ago”.

Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

Just a quick thank you to everyone out there following, reading and commenting on this blog. Thanks also to the Heritage Portal, Past Experiences, Lost Johannesburg, and Candice from Wyatt’s Hairdressing who have all either linked to this blog or mentioned it in some way over the last few weeks. Since moving it to WordPress in March 2013, the increase in visits and views has been phenomenal. The average visitor reads just about 6 pages according to the stats. I’m told that’s a good number…it means the content is engaging.

This out-of-place post is the result of some research into theatres I was doing for a scene in the story. I had to find the right kind of theatre with some outside and inside photographic reference. It also had to be in the right part of town so the scenes that follow are believable. Here we go:

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Recollections of Paddy O’Byrne who died on 3 December 2013

On 4 December 2013 I heard the sad news that Paddy O’Byrne had died the previous night, shortly before his eighty-fourth birthday. People on social media and on radio remembered the man and his broadcasting skills with great affection, just as I do myself.

The Voice of South Africa competition 

I first heard of Paddy during the Voice of South Africa competition organised by the SABC in 1961. My parents and I sat in the lounge at 21 Juno Street, Kensington, in front of our large valve radio with the green cat’s eye tuner, listening to the weekly competition with interest. Paddy won that competition, with Michael Todd second, and Dr Tony Venniker in third place. Paddy was Irish, Michael Todd English, and Dr Tony Venniker was South African!

Paddy’s father was a high court judge in Eire and Paddy himself had studied law and was working for an insurance company in the city, but when he won the competition he began his broadcasting career on the English service. Michael Todd became a newsreader with the SABC, while Dr Tony continued practising medicine but made frequent broadcasts in an excellent series called Medical File with fellow medics, Professors Harry Seftel and Peter Cleaton-Jones. Sadly, Dr Tony died of advanced prostate cancer in 1989, and Michael Todd also died many years ago.

Paddy O’Byrne was a fine broadcaster. He had a beautiful speaking voice, a beguiling personality and had a wide musical knowledge. He and his wife, Vicky, who had a charming singing voice, had appeared in a pantomime with the Hungarian/South African singer, Eve Boswell, before coming to South Africa.

Gilbert and Sullivan series presented by Webster Booth – 1962 

The first connection between Paddy and Webster Booth began in 1962. Webster was presenting a Gilbert and Sullivan series of programmes when the copyright on Gilbert’s words was lifted. Unfortunately he was taken very ill during that year and spent some time in the fever hospital in Braamfontein with a mysterious virus which gave him myocarditis and threatened his life. He was away from the singing studio and unable to record the Gilbert and Sullivan programmes for some time. It fell to Paddy O’Byrne to read Webster’s scripts for several of these programmes, and he made a very good job of this assignment.

Sunday at Home – 1963 

In 1963 Paddy presented a series on the English Service called Sunday at Home. He visited the homes of different celebrities to interview them. On one particular Sunday, Anne and Webster entertained a young Paddy in their home at 121 Buckingham Avenue, Craighall Park. It was a charming, informal interview and I liked it so much that I ordered a tape of it from SABC Enterprises some years later.

To the UK and back to South Africa 

I went to the UK in 1966 for several years, and some time later Paddy and his family went to live in Croydon in the UK. During that time Paddy worked at the BBC as a broadcaster on Radio 2. The family returned to South Africa in 1980 when Paddy launched a new radio station, Channel 702, which initially had a licence to broadcast from the South African “homeland” of Bophuthatswana.

Shortly after the launch, Paddy returned to the SABC, succeeding Peter Broomfield and Ken Marshall in a weekday morning programme called Top of the Morning with Paddy O’Byrne. On this programme he chatted to listeners about a variety of topics which interested him, played a wide selection of music and the occasional request from listeners, and also interviewed guests. I particularly remember him interviewing John Robbie, the Irish rugby player, who is a long-established talk show host on what is now called Talk Radio 702, broadcasting from studios in Sandton.

By this time I had been married for ten years and had two children. Anne and Webster returned to the UK in 1978 and, for a time, established a third career on stage and radio. Webster was not in the best of health and his voice was a shadow of what it had once been, so it was very sad that he had to get up on the stage and sing in public. The only news I had of them in 1983 was a comment from Paddy on his programme to say that he had heard that neither of them was very well and “needed looking after”. I wrote to Paddy asking for further news as I was worried that I had not heard from them for so long. No doubt he thought I was some loony fan for he did not reply to my letter! Later that year I had a letter from Anne telling me that Webster was very ill and was now in a nursing home in North Wales and unlikely to return home. He died on 21 June 1984.

 I Bless the Day (De Jongh)and Brian Morris 

Paddy O’Byrne continued his regular morning programme on the English Service and I listened to it regularly. One day, he had a request from Brian Morris, a former student of Anne and Webster’s. When I was Webster’s studio accompanist I had often played for Brian at his lessons. He had a very good baritone voice, reminiscent of Peter Dawson’s.

Brian asked for Webster’s recording of I Bless the Day by De Jongh. The SABC in Johannesburg had got rid of its collection of 78rpm records years before, so there were few of Anne and Webster’s recordings in the SABC library at that time. I had the recording Brian had requested on a Canadian Rococo LP, and also I Leave My Heart in an English Garden by Harry Parr-Davies, which was on the flipside of the original 78rpm. I wrote to Paddy, offering to lend him my precious recordings so that he could play the song Brian had requested. This time he did get in touch with me. His daughter, Jane, who lived near us, collected the records and Paddy duly played Brian’s request and some other recordings from my LPs over several days.

I was rather worried when Paddy didn’t return my records so eventually I phoned his home. Paddy was out, but I spoke to his wife, Vicky. She was charming and realised that I was concerned about my records and said she would make sure that he returned them very soon. Paddy called at our home unexpectedly one Saturday morning to return my records and was fascinated by the photographs of Anne and Webster which adorned my music room. I had a duplicate copy of the LP The Golden Age of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth and gave it to him so that he could play a wider selection if listeners requested one of Anne and Webster’s recordings. Because of Brian Morris’s request for I Bless the Day Paddy and his wife, Vicky, became personal friends of Brian and his wife, Denise. Someone contacted me on my blog a few years ago to tell me the sad news that Brian had died.

Paddy was writing articles about music and broadcasting, so after our initial meeting he often phoned me if he needed to verify information about Anne and Webster. He was always charming and friendly, and I enjoyed our chats together.

He continued as a broadcaster with the SABC, and in 1995 he did a combined afternoon programme with Vuyo Mbuli. I think this was the first time Vuyo had done any broadcasting. Sadly he died suddenly a few years ago, still only in his forties. By that time he was a top TV presenter and very popular with the South African public. Their musical taste differed widely, so it was often a case of hearing Thomas Hampson one minute, and Michael Jackson the next!

After Paddy retired from the SABC he joined the community radio station of 1485 Radio Today and was as popular with listeners as ever. Return to Ireland He and his family returned to their native Ireland towards the end of the last century. His beloved wife, Vicky, died some time ago, and in June this year Paddy came to South Africa to attend a Requiem Mass for her at the Catholic Church in Rosebank where they had worshipped while living here. He and Peter Lotis were guests on Clare Marshall’s programme Morning Star on 1485 Radio Today, which broadcasts from a beautiful plant nursery in Jan Smuts Avenue. It was good to hear his voice once again, although I could hear that he was not very well.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends. He will be sadly missed, but very fondly remembered by everyone who knew him and enjoyed listening to him on the radio.

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Scarlet Fever in Glasgow and Immigration to South Africa

Early beginnings

My mother was forty-two when I was born in a maternity hospital in Balshagray Road, Knightswood, Glasgow in the middle of World War 2. Some years before I was born my mother gave birth to a son who survived for only a few hours, so.I was an only child. My first home was in Manor Road, Old Drumchapel, a pleasant mock tudor semi, with a fair-sized garden.

Manor Road, Old Drumchapel, Glasgow

I have no memory of  how the war affected me, although my parents shared stories with me as I grew up. Mrs Agnes Woodhead was our neighbour in Old Drumchapel. She had a little girl, Annette who was six years older than me. Mrs Woodhead’s husband and younger brother served in the home guard. On the night of the big German raid on Clydebank both were killed. My parents kept in touch with Agnes for many years, and I was delighted to meet her in 1990, still living in the same house in Manor Road forty-seven years after my birth. She married a Welsh cabinet maker some years after the war and became Agnes Harper. She had a second daughter, Moira who married Sandy. They in turn had two delightful daughters. When I visited them all in Glasgow they made me feel very welcome. After many moves in my life, it was good to think there was a family living in the same place who still remembered my birth and had fond memories of my parents.

Annette Woodhead (Wallace) aged 6.

Annette Woodhead (Wallace) aged 6.

I often wish we had stayed in my home country. I felt at ease there, as though I belonged. For the first five years of my life I had the same accent as everyone else. I was surrounded by loving parents, maternal grandparents, aunts and uncles, who referred to me admiringly as “wee Jean”. We had a player-piano at our home Sunnyhurst, 3 Southview Terrace, Bishopbriggs, and I soon learnt to put the different piano rolls into it and do a fair performance of playing it to the amazement of passers-by who heard the music and thought there was a child genius seated at the piano.

Next door to Sunnyhurst lived a delightful old widow, Mrs Renfrew. I remember visiting her on my own and playing all kinds of games with her. My mother recalled going in to her house to fetch me to find us both jumping from the couch on to cushions on the floor! There was a hard winter in 1947 with bad weather and rigorous food-rationing which continued after the war. I distinctly remember sausages composed of far more bread than meat, and tastier rabbit stews.

My maternal grandparents came to stay with us and we moved to another house called Quarryknowe in Kirkintilloch Road, also in Bishopbriggs. Perhaps it was a bigger house to accommodate my grandparents. Like Sunnyhurst it was a bungalow with a nice garden. My father had smooth white stones known as chuckies put on the path leading to the front door. My father worked as an insurance agent for the Cooperative Insurance company after the war ended. I remember he had a fine oak bureau in one of the rooms at Quarryknowe. He sat long into the night working on his insurance books.

Kirkintilloch Road, Bishopbriggs.

Kirkintilloch Road, Bishopbriggs.

I started school in Bishopbriggs when I was four and was quite happy there for a month or two. There was a scarlet fever epidemic and I had hardly been at school for very long before I caught it. My secure world changed in an instant. I remember the doctor visiting, the ambulance arriving, the ambulance men wrapping me in a rough grey blanket and taking me from the warmth and comfort of my home, parents and grandparents to the isolation of the fever hospital, Ruchill, where I remained for six weeks. Perhaps I was delirious but I can’t remember my mother telling me how long I would have to stay in hospital or that they would not be allowed to visit me for all the time I was there. I have found photographs of Ruchill on the Internet. It was a fine building when I was there, with well-tended grounds. Now it is abandoned and in a state of advanced decay like so many other buildings in Scotland which are no longer in use.

I was placed in an old-fashioned ward with about thirty other children, all of whom must have been in various stages of scarlet fever. The nurses wore starched white uniforms and little starched caps. The senior nurses had long white head-dresses covering the nape of their necks. I was in tears, longing for my mother. A young nurse came to my high bed and tried to console me.

“I want to go home. When can I go home? I want my mummy.”

“You have to stay in hospital so we can make you better,” the young nurse replied brightly.

I must have gone on like this for hours, for eventually she said, perhaps in despair, “If you’re a good wee girl and go to sleep maybe you’ll go home in the morning.”

I must have settled down after that, but I soon found out that she had made a false promise. I was devastated to find out that I wasn’t going to go home tomorrow, nor the next day, nor even the following week.

As we were all infectious nobody except the hospital staff was allowed in the ward, but there was a sort of viewing area, where parents could look through a window and wave at their offspring. My parents didn’t come. They told me later that they thought a visit under such circumstances would upset me. In due course I received toys from them, but these had to be left behind in the toy room of the hospital so that I would not carry the germs back to the outside world.

Every morning each child received a cup of hot strong tea handed round by the children who were recovering from the illness and would soon be returning home. Generally the ward was a cheerful place once we got over the acute symptoms of the fever and our home sickness. I dare say some of the children were very ill. Some may even have died, but I don’t remember anything like that happening. I do remember snatches of the songs we used to sing lustily, something like, “I caught the scarlet fever, they put me in my bed, they wrapped me up in blankets and took me off to Ruchill…” Quite recently, thanks to the wonder of the internet, Morag in Canada sent me the words to the song which has lingered in my memory for such a long time. It goes something like this,

When I had scarlet fever it nearly drove me mad,
They wrapped me up in blankets and put me in the cab,
When I got to Ruchill I was really glad, they only took my temperature,
and said I wasn’t bad.
I go home on Friday morning,
I go home at half past nine,
Say goodbye to the dear old doctor,
Tell him I can stay no longer,
Goodbye doctor, goodbye nurse,
Goodbye all you sulky patients,
Ho ho ho, home I go,
Friday morning home I go!!!

What a pity I don’t remember the tune!  We seemed to remain in bed for a long time. No thoughts of deep vein thrombosis in those days! The first day I was allowed out of bed left me feeling weak and light-headed. I could barely stand. Once I regained my strength I was allowed to go to the toy room and play with some of the other children. I made some protest at having to leave my newly-acquired toys there when it was time to go home.

Ruchill Hospital, now derelict and abandoned – quite unlike the pristine building I remember.

Eventually the day for leaving hospital arrived. I remember going home in the ambulance with a few other children. It was a sunny day. The grounds of the hospital were large and well cultivated. I felt strange and sad at home with my parents, hardly able to tell my mother that I needed to go to the bathroom because I felt so shy. I missed all the cheerful friends I had made in the big ward, the sing-songs and the camaraderie. My mother was horrified to discover that there were nits in my thick brown hair, possibly introduced by the nurse who combed each child’s hair with a communal comb and brush.

My grandma was still a lively handsome woman who enjoyed going out to the pictures and the variety theatres. She had lots of friends and when I look at the photographs of her as a young woman I see that I resembled her more than I ever resembled my small blue-eyed mother, who took after her father, my grandpa, Alec Kyle. He was a gentle kind man with faded blue eyes and a balding head. When he was in his late sixties he died of a heart attack on the tram on the way home after watching a football match. Somehow all this drama was kept from me, although my grandparents were living with us at the time. I can’t remember being told that he had died and I certainly was not allowed to attend his funeral, although I had loved him very much.

After his death my grandmother decided to go to live with a close friend in Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula of Argyle .After my grandmother moved to Dunoon, my parents decided it was time to leave the UK for warmer climes where food was not in short supply and I could regain my strength after my illness. My father was offered a contract with ISCOR (Iron and Steel Corporation) in Vanderbijlpark, on the Highveld of Transvaal, South Africa. The town centred on ISCOR and was dubbed “the planned industrial city” in the booklet they sent to my parents to help persuade them to settle there.

We went to Southampton and boarded  the Arundel Castle to South Africa. The ship had been used for military purposes during the war and was still fitted out as a troop ship, and still under the supervision of the British government rather than the Union Castle Line. It was only handed back to the Union Castle after a refit in 1949.  Women and children slept in cramped 4-berth cabins, while the men slept in the troop’s communal quarters. I may have been mistaken, but I’m sure I remember hammocks in the men’s quarters. My mother and I shared a cabin with another mother and daughter. The little girl was called Priscilla and was about the same age as me.  Priscilla and her parents were headed for a country to the north of South Africa – possibly Southern or Northern Rhodesia. It was so hot in the tropics that at night many passengers slept up on deck in deck chairs rather than in the stuffy cabins below deck.

Arundel Castle on which we sailed to Cape Town in 1948

On board the Arundel Castle with my friend, Priscilla. (1948)

We berthed in Cape Town and faced the long train journey of two days and a night to Johannesburg. How we reached Vanderbijlpark I do not remember. Perhaps ISCOR sent a bus to collect all the immigrants from the station. At the time they were employing skilled engineering staff from the UK when the country was still under the rule of the United Party, with General Smuts as the prime minister.

But shortly after we arrived an election was held and Smuts’ United Party government was unexpectedly defeated, to be replaced by the Nationalist Party with Doctor D.F. Malan as prime minister. The Nats were a predominantly Afrikaans party with no love for the British. Nearly fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war of 1898-1902 many Afrikaners still harboured bitter resentment against the British. The Afrikaners particularly deplored Britain’s “scorched earth” policy where Boer (farmer) women and children had been taken to concentration camps and had their farms burnt to the ground. These people had lived in isolation on large farms and were susceptible to all the infectious illnesses of the time. They were herded together in these camps, and many died as they had no resistance to these infections.  A significant number of Afrikaners had not wished to take part in World War 2 on the side of the Allies, but had far stronger leanings towards Hitler.

The Nat Government of 1948 opposed the idea of British workers immigrating to South Africa, fearing that they would vote for the predominantly United Party of Jan Smuts rather than the Nationalist Party, and would soon put the UP back in power once again. With this change of policy ISCOR began employing workers from Germany rather than from Britain. Most of the British and German employees at ISCOR had been soldiers in opposing armies only a few years earlier, so one might have imagined that they would not get along together. I don’t think this was the case. On the whole they got on very well on an individual level. It was only when the German émigrés were in a large group of fellow-countrymen and the beer was flowing freely that their wounded national pride rose to the surface and they often sang the Horst Wessel song, the anthem of the Nazi party from 1930 to 1945.

Most of our friends in Vanderbijl were fellow British immigrants. My father had gone to introduce himself to our Afrikaner neighbour in Hallwach Street. The gent had grown a long beard to mark the hundred and tenth anniversary of the Great Trek, and was cock-a-hoop that the Nationalist Party under Dr Malan had come to power at last. He told my father grimly, “Ek praat geen Engels nie,” (I don’t speak English) pouring cold water on my father’s friendly greeting.

Me and my little friend and his father.

Mary and me.

Although I had been at school in Scotland, I was not allowed to go to a government school until I turned six in 1949. My parents enrolled me in Grade 1 at the Holy Rosary Convent in Vanderbijlpark. I have dim memories of this small school, but I do remember the maroon uniform I wore and the very strict nun who marched round our classroom with a ruler in her hand while we recited our tables over and over again. The child who stumbled on an answer was rapped briskly over the knuckles with her ruler. We soon learnt our tables by this austere method and I still remember them  to this day, thanks to that formidable nun. Apparently the Holy Rosary sisters lived in a double-storey house in Faraday Boulevard but moved on to Vereeniging in the fifties. They were replaced by Irish Dominican sisters who built the present convent in Vanderbijl.

Living in Vanderbijlpark was rather like living in a mining community with everyone housed according to their importance in the company. The obsolete verse in “All things bright and beautiful” certainly applied to Vanderbijlpark in the early fifties and probably beyond: “The rich man in his palace, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.”

The blue collar workers lived in the town proper in streets like Hallwach Street, Parsons Street, Curie and Faraday Boulevards. The big yins lived to the south of the town near to the Vaal River, down the river or Nobhill, soon to be nicknamed Snobhill by those in the town. Most of the black workers lived in hostels or small houses in the black equivalent of Welwyn Garden City, Bophelong, Apparently Bophelong means ‘clean place’.

The following year my grandmother was taken ill, so my mother and I returned to Scotland, this time on board the Winchester Castle.

Return to Southampton on board the Winchester Castle

We lived in furnished rooms in Dunoon to be near to my granny. I attended yet another school, the Dunoon Grammar School. My grandmother taught me to knit, Scottish style with one knitting needle under my arm, and I remember picking out God Save the King by ear on the piano after hearing that King George VI was very ill. When my father returned to Scotland some months later, we moved to Blairbeth Road, Burnside, Rutherglen, south of Glasgow and I was sent to Burnside Junior School. It was here that I began my first piano lessons with a Miss Wright and where I had my first taste of ice cream – Walls Ice cream – quite delicious. I read Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories when it came out every week, and played with an older girl called Joan Dickson, one of the neighbour’s children. Her family had a heavy log cabin in their back garden with a heavy thick wooden door. I have a very distinct memory of my so-called friend banging my fingers in this door as she slammed it shut. My nails were black and blue for weeks afterwards.

Perhaps my father had to complete his three-year contract with ISCOR for we returned to Vanderbijlpark in 1951, this time on board the Llanstephan Castle.

 

Returning to South Africa on board the Llanstephan Castle (1951)

This ship did not stop at Madeira as the others had done, but took an intermediate route, stopping at Las Palmas in Teneriffe, St Helena and Ascension Island. We settled at 21 Parsons Street and I was sent to yet another school, a parallel medium school called the Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School not far from our house. I was put into Mrs McFadjean’s Standard One class and faced yet another group of unknown class mates.

Hendrik Vanderbijl Primary School in the 1940s.

 

Jean Collen

Updated 3 December 2015.

FACEBOOK MANNERS

I wrote the bulk of this note some years ago on Facebook. I think it applies just as much today as it did two years ago. I will add a few more observations about Facebook here. Comments are welcome and if I have offended you by this post, feel free to unfriend me on Facebook!

I have made about 150 friends on Facebook. Some I actually know; others I have not met before, but we seem to have the same interests, and there is a certain amount of communication between us, even if it amounts to nothing more than liking each other’s posts, wishing each other a happy birthday and passing the occasional comment on something that might interest us.

I have always expressed my sympathy to Facebook friends who are going through some kind of disaster in their lives, such as bereavement, loss of a job, or a relationship breaking down. Recently we had some bad luck of our own when my son-in-law lost his job because of his company being placed under provisional liquidation. He and 7000 other workers were left without a penny – no payment for the time they had worked in July, no retrenchment money, and still no sign of the eight years of pension money.

To compound the problem is the fact that there is a huge number of unemployed in South Africa and the strict Black Empowerment policy which means that white males are at the bottom of the list as far as finding new employment is concerned. My husband and I have managed to help them financially at the end of July, but we are both semi-retired, so I’m not sure how long we will be able to go on doing this. Some of my Facebook friends were kind and supportive. One kind friend even offered to send some money, which we would never dream of accepting, but we did appreciate her kind offer!

It is very true that you find out who your friends are when you have a setback like that. I’m afraid I unfriended one of our relatives who blithely continued posting junk on her wall without as much as a “sorry”!

Other “friends” ignore me –  perhaps for reasons of their own –  but why did they befriend me in the first place? Just to add to my name to the hundreds of other Facebook friends on their list?  Surely they have the strength to click the “like” button if I wish them happy birthday, or even make a very occasional comment so that I know they are still there? In this category I include some “friends” I have known personally for years. Do they look at my posts with a superior sneer and conclude that I am silly for posting them on Facebook?

March 2011 was a bad month for birthday greetings and March 2013 has not been any better. Very few of the March birthday boys and girls liked or thanked me for wishing them happy birthday. How rude is that? They obviously don’t think my well-meant birthday greetings are worth the bother of a collective “thank you” or even a “like”. The occasional “like” or “thank you” would not go amiss. At least I would not have the feeling that I’m communicating with the ether.

I share recordings, news and blog posts about my former teachers and life-long friends, Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler. I also have pages for them on Facebook and I run the <a>Booth-Ziegler Yahoo Group</a> (with only 34 members!) Anne and Webster meant a great deal to me and my intention was to keep their names alive, but this is a losing battle. I realise that their recordings are not to everyone’s taste as one of my Facebook friends told me recently – at least he was honest!  Other friends who knew them very well – two are even related to them – ignore these posts.  Just as I could always sense whether an audience was enjoying my stage performance or thinking it  pretty awful, I have the same sense on Facebook, apart from a few obvious exceptions – I would have given up a long time ago without them! My one consolation is that my recordings of Webster and Anne’s solo and duet recordings on <a>YouTube</a> are warmly received, often by people who had never heard of them before.

On the plus side, I have made some interesting new friends, followed some fascinating pages, and rediscovered some old friends who do keep in touch with me on Facebook. I hope you are in this last category!

Jean Campbell Collen – original post written in 2011/updated 7 August 2013.

 

MORNING STAR on Radio Today 1485 and other PODCASTS

Since writing this post I have added several more podcasts and they may all be heard at the same place. The series: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth tells of their lives and careers and my association with them from 1960 to 2003, the year of Anne’s death.

Photo taken in the early 1960s.

Webster Booth and Jean Collen. Photo taken in the early 1960s.

I am also doing a separate series about the more serious work of Webster Booth. These podcasts ar called On Wings of Song – Webster Booth as Soloist. Both series of podcasts may be heard at the following link, where there is one featured podcast, with links to the other podcasts to the right of the page:

MY PODCASTS

I have also created a new blog called ZIEGLER-BOOTH RADIO where my own podcasts, the Morning Star podcast originally broadcast on Radio Today on 28 April 2013, and some of my YOU TUBE videos are embedded. My Soundcloud recordings are also included there.

Please let me know what you think of everything if you listen to them.

1940 AW

I have added a podcast at the following link:  A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth – Episode 1

This is the first in a series of podcasts about the lives and careers of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth and my association with them.

The link to the Morning Star podcast on Radio Today 1485 on 28 April 2013 is: Morning Star presented by Clare Marshall with guest, Jean Collen

On Thursday 25 April 2013 I went to the beautiful studios of Radio Today 1485

Radio Today 1485 studios, Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg.

Radio Today 1485 studios, Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg. Photo: Gaynor Paynter.

The beautiful studios are situated in the middle of a plant nursery in Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North, Johannesburg. Clare Marshall, who presents the lovely programme Morning Star on Sunday morning had read my book, Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth asked me into the studios to talk to her about my close relationship with Anne and Webster. I began studying singing with them when I left school at the end of 1960 in their studios on the eighth floor of Polliack’s Corner, Johannesburg.

School of Singing and Stagecraft, Eighth Floor, 69 Pritchard Street, Johannesburg

School of Singing and Stagecraft, Eighth Floor, 69 Pritchard Street, Johannesburg – the building with balconies to the right.

Later I acted as Webster’s studio accompanist when Anne had other engagements. I remained friends with them until their deaths. Webster died in June 1984 and Anne died in October 2003.

I retired as Musical Director at St Andrew’s Church, Kensington at the end of 2005 after thirteen years, and stopped teaching classical singing and piano at the end of 2007, so I thought that talking to Clare on air might be rather daunting, but she was quite charming and soon put me at my ease. What I imagined might be an ordeal proved to be a really enjoyable experience. Clare’s Morning Star programme is on at 8.30 am (South African time) on Sunday mornings. I have listened to it for many years and can recommend it to anyone who enjoys hearing a variety of beautiful music presented by someone with a pristine radio voice.

One of the songs which will be featured on the programme on Sunday morning: http://youtu.be/if-EZpO-e9s

Anne and Webster

Anne and Webster

The programme was aired yesterday (28 April 2013)  on Radio Today Johannesburg 1485 – RADIO THAT DELIVERS One of the songs played was:

THE MERRY WIDOW WALTZ: Franz Léhar

  Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, is available online at my book store on Lulu

Sweethearts of Song: A Personal Memoir of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth.

A Personal Memoir

 

I have had some copies of this book printed locally in wire binding and it is  available to South African readers only at the very reasonable price of R140 (including postage). If you would like a copy of this book, please contact me at: duettists@gmail.com and I’ll give you further details about it.

Jeannie C 29 April 2013.

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Book Reviews

Autobiography of B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam)

Autobiography of B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam)

“Flotsam’s Follies” by B.C. Hilliam

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was published in 1948 and B.C. Hilliam (Flotsam) has an idiosyncratic way of writing, often interspersing the prose of his autobiography with numerous verses, many of which were used in various performances with his long-time partner, Malcolm McEachern (Jetsam), and for “Flotsam’s Follies” which followed after McEachern’s untimely death.

The book is filled with fascinating information about his own colourful life and tales of his theatrical contemporaries, including mention of Garda Hall, Bettie Bucknelle and Paddy Prior, all of particular interest to me. He and McEachern were devoted members of the Savage Club and made many informal appearances there. Hilliam included many of his amusing pencil sketches in his book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and although it is long out of print, it can still be bought second hand online.

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Murder Among FriendsMurder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a rather unusual mystery story. One knows right away who is suspected of the murder. She eventually stands trial, is found guilty and is sentenced to death. Only after this does someone question her guilt although it seems irrefutable. She speaks to others who were present at the time and finds out their views of the woman convicted of murder. They all agree that she is incapable of committing murder, but what about the proof?

The book was written in 1946 and is set during the war, so it is rather slow-moving for modern tastes, although it is as well-written as other Elizabeth Ferrars’ mystery novels. It took me rather a long time to read, but I am glad I managed to finish it. I can recommend the book as an unusual mystery novel, quite different from others of the same genre.

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Faint Harmony (Malcolm Craig Trilogy #2)Faint Harmony by Jean Collen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second part of the Malcolm Craig Trilogy and covers his life and career from the beginning of World War II until 1956. Malcolm Craig is a great British tenor who has a very successful career but his private life is not as plain-sailing as his singing engagements.

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Joyce Grenfell Requests The PleasureJoyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure by Joyce Grenfell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been re-reading several Joyce Grenfell books recently and certainly found this book most enjoyable, in contrast to “Darling Ma” which was made up of a series of letters to her mother, expressing some distasteful (to me) opinions not meant for publication.

“Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure” is the first part of her autobiography which she wrote in later life, and was intended for publication. It tells of her early life, her work as a radio critic and learning the discipline of performing on stage as a professional, rather than as a talented, privileged amateur who knew many of the right people. She writes in a lively and amusing style and gives some interesting insights into the period.

I always find people’s rise to fame more interesting than when they have “made it” and their story becomes a long list of successful appearances and meetings with other famous people, so this book is my favourite of all the Joyce Grenfell books I have re-read recently.

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Greasepaint and Cordite: How ENSA Entertained the Troops During World War IIGreasepaint and Cordite: How ENSA Entertained the Troops During World War II by Andy Merriman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book interesting, well-written and well-researched.

My criticism is that it would have been better if the book had been written twenty or thirty years earlier when more ordinary ENSA entertainers were alive and could have shared their memories of working for the organisation. Instead, a great deal of information had been found in books by – or about – famous performers like Vera Lynn and Joyce Grenfell. I had already read many of the books in the author’s bibliography, so I did not discover much new information in this book as the experiences of forgotten performers were rather thin on the ground.

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Darling MaDarling Ma by Joyce Grenfell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book when it was first published and have reread it recently to find out more about her experience working with ENSA, as one of the characters in my forthcoming novel joins ENSA at the beginning of World War 2.

I found the book interesting and I enjoyed Joyce’s idiosyncratic style of writing, but Joyce did not have to endure the hardships of ordinary performers for she could always afford to stay in comfortable hotels at her own expense, or else she was invited to stay with influential and titled friends. Because of the special privileges she was granted, the book did not really serve the purpose of giving me insight into the experiences of an ordinary ENSA performer.

I admired Joyce Grenfell’s work, but I’m afraid this book exposed her as extremely snobbish with strong prejudice against Jewish people (except for the pianist, Myra Hess, whose musical gifts she admired), Roman Catholics and variety artistes like the Two Leslies who went on an ENSA tour with her. To be fair, perhaps she was a product of her upper class upbringing at that particular time.

As someone else has mentioned, she would have written more frankly to her mother than she did in her autobiography. The book was published nearly twenty years after her death so she would not have expected her private letters to have been published for public consumption.

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The Battle For ChristabelThe Battle For Christabel by Margaret Forster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a sad and frustrating story about what happens to a little girl when her single mother is killed in an accident at the early age of 36. There is a battle between social workers, the child’s grandmother and aunt, and the mother’s life-long friend who is the narrator of the book. I’m afraid there is no happy ending for anyone in “The Battle for Christabel”.

Margaret Forster is an excellent writer and she certainly held my attention throughout the book, which read more like a sociological document than a novel. I’m afraid there are so many real cases like this today that I felt depressed by the time I had finished reading it. Life is difficult enough – I would prefer to read something more uplifting in future.

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Lavender Road (London at War)Lavender Road by Helen Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of three novels by Helen Carey tracing the lives of certain residents living in Lavender Road, Clapham and is set in the early years of the war. It paints a fascinating and accurate picture of what it must have been like to have lived in those difficult days. The only inaccuracy in the book has to do with the date of a song. Jen aspires to be a professional actress and singer and sings “The White Cliffs of Dover” (published 1941) at an impromptu concert. As the concert took place in 1940 this was a serious mistake on the part of the writer who was so meticulous with her war time-line. It was almost as bad as the novelist Mary Wesley assigning a conductor to a string quartet! I’m afraid I didn’t read any more of Mary Wesley’s books after that, but I find Helen Carey’s novels gripping and well-written, so I shall certainly carry on reading her next novel set in Lavender Road. The title comes from some words in Vera Lynn’s hit song of World War 2, “We’ll Meet Again”. The book is entitled “Some Sunny Day”.

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Some Sunny DaySome Sunny Day by Helen Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have just finished reading this book and found it most satisfying. I have read all three books in the Lavender Road series now (having read the third book first)and have grown to love the distinctive and well-drawn characters living in Lavender Road during the early days of the Second World War.

Helen Carey is a brilliant story teller and although the neighbours suffer distressing hardships of war, these books are full of hope for better days to come. Once again I am extremely impressed with the way Helen Carey depicts life on the home front and events which occur in the various theatres of war.

I have been fairly set in my ways as far as favourite writers are concerned, but I have added Helen Carey to my list of favourites and look forward to reading her other books soon.

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On a Wing and a Prayer (London at War)On a Wing and a Prayer by Helen Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came across this book by accident as I was browsing through books in a sale in the local shopping mall. I had never heard of Helen Carey before but I liked the World War 2 setting in London, so I bought it at a bargain price. This book is the third one in a trilogy set in Lavender Road, Clapham, so I have read the third novel last.

I was very impressed with the way Helen Carey managed to create an authentic atmosphere of London in war time, not only dealing with events on the home front, but also the course of the war abroad. The characters in her book are from diverse social classes and each character is vivid and well defined. The stories of her characters intertwine and reach a fitting climax towards the end of the novel.

After reading this excellent novel, Helen Carey has been added to a select list of my favourite writers. I went back to the book sale and bought the two earlier novels, “Lavender Road” and “Some Sunny Day”. I look forward to reading them and I am sure they will be just as satisfying as “On a Wing and a Prayer”.

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'N Stringetjie Blou Krale‘N Stringetjie Blou Krale by E.K.M. Dido
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read an Afrikaans book for years and probably I would not have read this one had it not been that I had the task of typing it out. I was surprised that I had a better grip of the language than I imagined, and found the book extremely enjoyable. Apparently the author, E.K.M Dado is the first black woman to have a book published in Afrikaans and her books are very popular in the Netherlands.

The book tells the story of Nomsa, who was born into a Xhosa family in the Transkei, but is eventually adopted by a Coloured family, has her name changed to Nancy, and is raised as a Coloured. For a time she is obliged to deny her origins and Xhosa family.

The book gives insight into Xhosa traditions, and the obsession with racial identity prevalent in South Africa. She marries a Coloured who hates Blacks. After twenty years of marriage, he discovers her origins and turns against her without pity. The novel tells how this conflict is eventually resolved for Nancy, if not for her ghastly husband.

I thought the story was interesting, although it is light on character development. Bennie, the Coloured husband, is completely unlikeable, while Nancy and her Coloured parents are too good to be true. I once read that villains should have some goodness in them otherwise they are not credible. Surely Nancy should have realised that Bennie was a particularly nasty specimen during her marriage and not just when he rejects her because of her true origins?

I had not heard of this writer before, but after reading (and typing) this book, I would certainly like to read more of her work.

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Heartbreak HotelHeartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always enjoy a novel by Deborah Moggach, and her latest book is no exception. The story was light, amusing, and fast-moving and the motley collection of characters – both young and elderly – were well drawn and rounded.

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A Market for Murder (Drew Slocombe Mystery #4)A Market for Murder by Rebecca Tope

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first time I have read a book by Rebecca Tope. I found this particular book pleasant and entertaining and it certainly gave me some insight into organic farming and people who are deeply – perhaps almost fanatically – concerned with how the land is managed and how food is grown and produced.

It was meant to be a murder mystery, as one murder and an attempted murder take place during the course of the book. One finds out who the murderer is in the end, but where this book falls short (in comparison to an Agatha Christie, for instance) is that although there is an eventual explanation for the crimes, there seemed to be very little development in the plot as far as the murder is concerned.

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"Sticking Around" by Bernard Spong.

“Sticking Around” by Bernard Spong.

Sticking around by Bernard Spong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful and enlightening book by the Reverend Bernard Spong. His interesting, and sometimes painful experiences as a minister and an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, are very different from my own and were an eye-opener to me. I can thoroughly recommend this captivating book and I am very grateful that Bernard was kind enough to send me a copy of his book. I shall treasure it.

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A Week in WinterA Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last book Maeve Binchy wrote before her death. I own all her books and am very sorry that I will no longer receive a new Maeve Binchy for Christmas. This book is about the various guests who spend a “Week in Winter” at Chicky’s newly-established hotel situated in a remote area on the West coast of Ireland. All the guests arrive with a variety of problems to solve, and most of them benefit from their stay at the Stone House, where the only leisure activities are walking and bird watching.

Maeve Binchy’s writing is as warm and gentle as ever, and she succeeds in creating each character in her book so that one’s interest is held in their history. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a satisfying yet undemanding book during the holiday season and beyond.

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The Time of Our LivesThe Time of Our Lives by Imogen Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had nearly finished this book before I realised that many of the characters from the Palace Hotel of Kingshaven were every day versions of prominent members of the Royal Family! I won’t tell you anything more about this, but it should increase your interest in the book if you work out who these characters represent as you read.

What put me off the scent was because I thought Michael Quinn, his wife and young lover were the central characters of the story although they have no connections with Royalty at all!

Imogen Parker’s book commences at the time of the Coronation in 1953 and the first volume ends at the time of the moon-landing in 1969. Each chapter tells of events in a particular year, so there is not much close cohesion in the plot of the novel.

Imogen Parker writes fluently and the novel certainly held my interest throughout this long novel (543 pages). This is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the next two novels in the series.

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The Other FamilyThe Other Family by Joanna Trollope

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always amazed at how well Joanna Trollope creates her varied settings in her novels – in this case, the North East of England,from where the recently dead musician Richie originated. Richie lived and worked in the North East with his first wife and son, then left them abruptly to go off to London with a younger woman, with whom he had three daughters. The northern and southern families are devastated by his sudden death and each one finds it difficult to move on with life without the presence (or absence) of likeable, but thoughtless Richie.

The book deals with the different ways in which members of both families handle the forced and unforced changes to their lives as a result of Richie’s death. As usual, the book is extremely well written and held my interest from beginning to end.

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Choral SocietyChoral Society by Prue Leith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book is entitled “Choral Society”. This book is formulaic. Three women meet in a choral group. At the beginning of the book each woman has a short-coming. By the end of the book they have resolved their problems in one way or another.

As a musician who has conducted several choirs in my career I thought this book would be of interest to me. Admittedly the three main characters meet because they join a choral group, but the book deals with their separate lives and we hardly hear much about the choral society at all, except that the scratch group starts off singing Gospel songs and later is rehearsing for a performance of “Messiah”.

I have the impression that the three women are extensions of Prue Leith herself. One is a food-writer and, as in previous novels, there is far too much about cooking methods and ingredients, and descriptions of the meals the various characters eat. There are also too many details about the clothes they wear and the names of contemporary dress designers. There is even a very detailed description about a medical procedure to remove excess fluid from one of the character’s knees!

Prue Leith might have had a different editor for this book than for her earlier novels. How could the editor have overlooked so much slang, clichés, and a whopper about “the laird in the manse” which upset my Scottish sensibilities. Doesn’t everybody know that a minister inhabits a manse? What was a laird doing there?

Admittedly there was a performance of “Messiah” towards the end of the book, but it appeared to be done by chorus only without any mention of soloists. Her nebulous description of this performance reminded me of a description of a performance by a string quartet in one of Mary Wesley’s books. When she mentioned a conductor of the said quartet, I refused to go on reading it.

After the disappointment of this book I doubt whether I’ll be buying any more of Prue Leith fiction, although my cooking might benefit from reading one of her cookery books!

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The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent novel by Joanna Trollope. In this novel she examines the difficulties faced by soldiers returning from a dangerous tour of duty in Afghanistan. One would imagine that reunions with wives and families at home would be joyous for everyone concerned, but in this novel, this is not the case.

Joanna Trollope explores the difficulties faced by soldiers and the families who have waited to welcome them at home. In this day and age it is not enough for many soldiers’ wives to be home-makers, living for the day their husbands return safely. Some are highly educated and feel frustrated that the successful careers they enjoyed before marrying into the military cannot be fulfilled.

As in most of her other novels, Joanna Trollope manages to examine these problems with sympathy for all concerned. I need not add that she writes beautifully and creates well-rounded and distinctive characters in a few paragraphs. This is a very satisfying novel and I recommend it.

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Daughters-in-LawDaughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed most of Joanna Trollope’s novels and this one is no exception. She has an excellent writing style and is always entertaining. She is at her best describing the dynamics of family relationships and excels in defining each character clearly and laying bear the niggling tensions between family members.

In this novel the parents of three sons, each married to a very different woman, try to play too large a role in their sons’ lives, as well as in the lives of their families. The plot shows how the sons eventually manage to cut their parents’ apron strings and take their place in the adult world. After reading this book I am not struck by the dramatic significance of each twist and turn of the plot, but by the subtle nuances of it.

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Relish - My Life on a PlateRelish – My Life on a Plate by Prue Leith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have just finished reading Prue Leith’s lively autobiography and I enjoyed it very much. I am not particularly interested in cookery, but I have fond memories of seeing Prue Leith’s mother, the brilliant South African actress, Margaret Inglis in “Separate Tables” when my family and I were on holiday in Durban in 1957.

Prue Leith is four years older than me and grew up in South Africa so we shared similar childhood experiences. I found the account of her early years in South Africa, and later years in France and the UK fascinating. With most autobiographies and biographies, the years of struggle are usually far more interesting than the years of success, as the successful years often amount to no more than a brag-list of achievements and awards.

Although Prue Leith discussed her many achievements, her story held my interest to the end of the book, as her personality and humanity shine through in her writing. Despite success, fame and riches, Prue suffered her fair share of setbacks and she does not skim over the setbacks as others embarking on writing the story of their lives might have done.

Not only did Prue succeed as a cook and caterer, but she has published a number of novels in the later part of her life. I have only read one of them but intend to read the others in due course.

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Girl from the SouthGirl from the South by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book quite as much as I enjoyed many other Joanna Trollope novels I have read. Perhaps it was because it was partly set in Charleston in South Carolina, and all the other novels have typically English settings with restrained English characters. I thought the author handled the American characters very well and created the atmosphere of the South very well, but, perhaps because I am set in my ways and thought I knew what to expect from Joanna Trollope, I would have preferred another Aga-Saga!

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Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought that P.D. James captured the style and mood of Jane Austen’s writing in this book. She assumes that one has a thorough knowledge and understanding of “Pride and Prejudice” as she makes many references to Jane Austen’s book and even introduces characters from “Emma” towards the end of the book. The plot of “Death Comes to Pemberley” was slow-moving as one might have expected in a Jane Austen novel which concerned the minutae of the every-day life of the gentry; nearly three quarter’s of this book is taken up with the happenings of several days, seen from the points of view of the characters concerned in the murder. This necessitated a great deal of repetition of the events.

Jane Austen would probably never have concerned herself with something as distasteful as a murder, while P.D. James had to limit herself to a rather unremarkable murder mystery, quite different from the complicated modern mysteries she has written previously. After the mystery was solved I found the epilogue redundant to the plot. Why did Darcy and Elizabeth have to spend considerable time explaining to each other exactly why they acted as they did in “Pride and Prejudice”?

I enjoyed the book and admired P.D James ability to write in the style of Jane Austen, but I hope she continues to write classic murder mysteries and doesn’t repeat the Jane Austen experiment.

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Passenger to FrankfurtPassenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book by Agatha Christie was different from the murder mysteries. It was written in 1970 and reminded me of Buchan’s “Thirty-nine Steps”, in that it was an adventure story where the aims of the people involved were unclear to me, and therefore fairly meaningless. The best part of the book was the quotation by Jan Smuts preceding the story: “Leadership, besides being a great creative force, can be diabolical…” I thought that this quotation could be applied to quite a few diabolical leaders, past and present.

I waded through this book, hoping that I would eventually be gripped by this tortuous tale, but I’m afraid I gave it up when I was half way through. I am too old to waste time reading books which are uncongenial and meaningless to me. I am glad that Agatha Christie did not continue writing novels like this but returned to writing tales of the detective exploits of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple in the few remaining years of her life.

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Love and War in London: A Woman's Diary 1939-42Love and War in London: A Woman’s Diary 1939-42 by Olivia Cockett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book focuses on the wartime diary of Olivia Cockett, which she wrote for Mass Observation. It is edited by Robert Malcolmson. Olivia was 26 when war broke out and is a singular young woman in that she had been working in a clerical position since she was 17 and having an affair since that age with a married man in his thirties, whom she met at work.

Olivia is a very intelligent young woman who read widely. She was not afraid to tackle authors such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Bertrand Russell and preferred serious music to the light music she heard on the radio. Her liberal outlook on life is the opposite to the conventional outlook of her Man. Because they were unable to marry – even their attempt for him to obtain a divorce goes wrong – she has had two illegal abortions before the war.

She describes routine and unusual events of her life during the war concisely and without emotion or self-pity. Once I became used to her style of writing I found the book a fascinating insight into the life of an ordinary, yet, in many ways extraordinary, young Londoner during the war. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in civilian life at that time.

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Tulip FeverTulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read nearly all Deborah Moggach’s novels and enjoyed them very much, but I put off reading “Tulip Fever” as it seemed very different from her modern novels. Apparently the book was inspired by various Dutch paintings which are shown in the book and is set in 17th century Amsterdam.

The plot is rather far-fetched, bordering on fantasy, quite unlike her other well-crafted modern novels. One has to suspend belief at the twists and turns of the plot and none of the characters are well-rounded. Perhaps she meant them to be as one-dimensional as the subjects featured in the paintings. Although there were references to streets in Amsterdam, Dutch phrases, Dutch names and characters whose main diet was herring, I did not get a rich sense of time or place in this novel.

I’m glad I read the book, but I do not think it is Deborah Moggach’s best novel and it might disappoint her admirers.

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Letters and Diaries of Kathleen FerrierLetters and Diaries of Kathleen Ferrier by Christopher Fifield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1949 to 1951 Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth lived at Frognal Cottage, Hampstead, opposite 2 Frognal Mansions, where Kathleen Ferrier lived. The Booths became friends with Kathleen when they met her walking on Hampstead Heath as they were out walking their Cairn terrier, Smoky. Webster had been booked to sing a Messiah with her in 1951, but they were both very disappointed when she had to cancel this performance because of her illness. I was singing much the same repertoire as Kathleen when I began studying with the Booths in 1961 and they often lent me her recordings from their own record collection. Thus, although Kathleen had died tragically young when I was a child, I always felt a close affinity with this wonderful woman with the unique contralto voice of the twentieth century.

I was rather disappointed to find that Kathleen Ferrier’s diaries were little more than concert dates, occasionally with brief remarks about how a particular engagement went. On reflection, she was working hard so would have had little time to write substantial diary entries at the end of a busy day.

The letters more than compensated for the brevity of the diaries. She wrote many business letters to keep her very busy career in order. While many singers might have longed for more engagements, Kathleen Ferrier was overwhelmed with offers, to the extent that she often had to turn engagements down and beg for a few days respite from her agent, Emmie Tillet. She could certainly never have undertaken such a demanding career had she been married with children. Her letters show that her extensive American tours in the late 1940s involved exhausting travel arrangements. She had to pay for her own advertising, travel, accompanist and accommodation on these tours, so she hardly made a fortune at £50 a concert.

Her affectionate, informal letters to her sister, Winifred, her father and other friends were always bright, self-deprecating and humorous. Her letters of thanks to acquaintances were always appreciative and polite. Even when she turned down songs which had been sent to her, or engagements she could not undertake, she did so in a kindly way.

Once again, it was sad to see her grave illness taking hold so that she eventually lacked health and strength to write her own letters and relied on her help-meet, Bernie to write on her behalf.

There is a good bibliography,an extensive index of works in Kathleen’s repertoire, another of places, venues and festivals, as well as a general index.

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DaphneDaphne by Justine Picardie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting and unusual novel covering several strands: the narrator’s research into Daphne du Maurier’s work; Daphne du Maurier researching the Brontes in order to write a biography of Branwell Bronte; and Symington, the disgraced Bronte expert. I found it interesting how the author interwove fictional fact with the narrator’s own story, showing similarities between all the characters of her novel. It has encouraged me to reread my collection of du Maurier novels, and to look at Branwell Bronte in a new light. I would recommend this book as a well-written, gripping and unusual novel.

The L-Shaped RoomThe L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books, which I read a few years after it was first published in 1960. It will be difficult for young readers to credit that fifty years ago it was considered a disgrace for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock and that her parents might disown her for doing so. The heroine of “The L-Shaped Room” even intends to keep her baby, which would have been unthinkable for most girls in 1960, when they were sent to homes for unmarried mothers and had their babies taken away from them at birth to be put up for adoption.

SistersSisters by Prue Leith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book a year or two ago and had initially given up reading it after a few pages. I decided to try it again recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it very much. Perhaps some of my enjoyment stemmed from growing up in South Africa at much the same time as Prue Leith did herself and remembering her illustrious mother, the late Margaret Inglis, who was one of South Africa’s greatest actresses of her generation.

Prue Leith had many cookery books published in the earlier part of her life. In the comparatively new genre of novel-writing she is very competent and the book held my interest. Perhaps she might have considered giving the sisters in questions more distinctive names – Carrie and Poppy can easily be mixed up. Carrie is not entirely likeable for most of the book, but (as in the advice given in most writing courses)she changes for the better as the book progresses.

My only criticism is that Prue Leith spent too much time discussing the food the characters were eating – or cooking! I suppose this is understandable as she made a great name for herself as a cook and restaurant owner.

“Sisters” is not great literature but it is a very enjoyable novel. Now that I have read it I look forward to reading more novels by Prue Leith.

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The Middle GroundThe Middle Ground by Margaret Drabble

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am finding the book quite absorbing, although, since it was written in 1980, the feminist and political views expressed by the characters seem rather dated, in the light of hindsight. I expect they were considered quite unusual at the time. Later: I am afraid that as the book progressed I began to lose interest in the main character’s increasingly peculiar life, friends and acquaintances. I finished the book with difficulty and was very disappointed in it as Margaret Drabble has written some excellent novels and is usually one of my favourite authors. I fear this book is not in the same class as others she has written – or perhaps I lacked the intellect to enjoy it.

I have just read the fascinating story of three lively young South African girls who went to Europe in the 1960s to spend a year travelling from place to place without spending too much money on their travels. They made use of youth hostels and managed to go from one place to another by hitching rides. Admittedly they had strict rules about hitching so they never came to any harm. Somehow I don’t think it would be possible to do the same trip today as everything is so much more expensive and the South African Rand has diminished in value. The book is well-written and extensively illustrated. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about the girls’ fascinating European adventure all those years ago. The book is available in print and Kindle editions. Since writing this review, Elraé Combrink (née Cousins) died  at a comparatively early age. May she rest in peace.

MEMORIES OF KENSINGTON by Carol Billings (Guest Blogger)

I was very glad to receive this interesting article from Carol Billings. She too had grown up in Kensington and shares her memories of  life in the suburb in this article. Jean Collen

30 January 2014

Carol has kindly sent photographs of the Mayor and Mayoress of Johannesburg in 1941. These photos should be of interest to Geoffery Nkoana, who asked about a solid 9ct fully engraved gold key which was presented to the mayor when the Regent Bioscope in Langerman Drive, Kensington was opened in 1941. Geoffery’s mother was working for Mayor T.P. Gray at the time of the presentation.

Johannesburg mayor (1941)

Johannesburg mayor (1941)

Mayoress of Johannesburg (1941)

Mayoress of Johannesburg (1941)

MEMORIES OF KENSINGTON by CAROL BILLINGS

Taken in Benoni in 1998.

Taken in Benoni in 1998.

Alison Birch and Carol Billings with their mother (1998)My sister Alison Birch forwarded the link on ‟Kensington‶ to me, to read and to reminisce about, which both my husband and I did. I also passed it on to other people who have lived there, or in the surrounding suburbs, as we knew they would also enjoy reading your article. Growing up in Kensington in the 1950s and 1960s was certainly very special.

Our father’s parents lived in Apollonia Street in Fairview, and later moved to 80 Langermann Drive, which we see on Google Earth now houses a veterinary practice.

Our mother’s parents were originally from Rochdale in Lancashire and went to South Africa where they married in St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town on the 9th December, 1908. Our uncle was born in Bloemfontein, and when granny was expecting our mother, she returned to the UK where she gave birth to her in Blackpool. They then returned to South Africa.

Grandfather had been working for British Railways, and worked for the South African Railways when they settled in South Africa. When they moved to Kensington, they lived at 33 Orwell Street.

Our mother did voluntary work for St. John’s Ambulance, and this is where she met our father. When World War Two was declared, our mother volunteered for the South African Military Nurses, and because she was still very young, our grandparents had to give their consent for her to do so. She started off nursing at Entabeni Hospital in Natal, and was then drafted to work in the desert at Quassein in Egypt. This work played a very important part in her life, and  until her death in 1999 she was the secretary of the South African Military Nurses’ Association in Johannesburg. She returned to Egypt for the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of  El Alamein Celebrations, and also went with the Association to Delville Wood in France for a Memorial Service.

Our parents married at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg on the 24th January, 1948. Alison was born in April, 1949, and I was born in July, 1950, at the Marymount Maternity Home. This hospital is now a place for people suffering with Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar Disease. Sadly our father passed away in February, 1951, when I was only 7 months old. He had Rheumatic Fever when he was young, and this had weakened his heart. He was an Aeronautical Engineer, and lectured at the Johannesburg Technical College in Eloff Street.

Alison and I both attended Jeppe Preparatory School, and then went onto Jeppe Girls’ High.When our father passed away our grandparents sold their home in Orwell Street, and moved into our house at 152 Roberts Avenue. They looked after us during the day whilst mother went to work at Colgate Palmolive, where she remained for 39 Years.

School badges

Badges

I recall vividly that Alison and I caught the tram to Jeppe Prep each morning, and returned on another one after school each day. As we got a bit older, we asked our grandparents for permission to join our friends in buying slap chips from the fish and chip shop in Fairview called Little Beaver, and we would walk home down Roberts Avenue together with our friends eating our chips.

Our blazer badges for Jeppe Prep had the letters JHSPD embroidered on them, and all the children in Kensington used to say, ‟Jolly Hot Sausages, Penny a Dozen!” Jeppe Prep was a wonderful school and the students all knew each other and supported each other. We participated in a lot of sports and other activities while we were there.Jeppe Preparatory School

Various scenes of Jeppe Prep.

Various scenes of Jeppe Prep.

Jeppe Prep1 Jeppe Prep2Photos of Jeppe Prep (Carol Billings)

I left Jeppe Prep at the end of 1962, and sadly at this point, the girls went onto Jeppe Girls’ High, and the Boys to Jeppe Boys’ High. However we always supported our old school friends whenever there was a rugby match, or swimming gala. The girls would also go to the dances at the Jeppe Boys’ School, and vice versa. The Jeppe Boys High School had boarders and one of the houses for the boarders was called Tsessebe House. It was intended that the girls’ school would also have boarding facilities, but this plan never materialised.

At Jeppe Girls’ High, we wore a fancier blazer than at Jeppe Prep, and we were teased by many as it was black with white stripes and, as a result, we were often called the Zebras. Mother always used to complain as these blazers were very expensive because of the stripes, and we got them from McCullough and Bothwell. One of the ladies who made the Jeppe Girls’ dresses comes to mind: June Harris. June was also very involved at St. Andrew’s Church. At both schools the girls wore white panama hats in summer, and black felt hats in winter. The Jeppe Schools were incredibly proud of their uniforms, and I recall having very strict dress inspections on a regular basis. Your dress had to be so many inches above your knee, and heaven help you if it was too short!. We would always take off our belts, so that our dresses appeared slightly longer. Your hair had to be tidy, off your face, and tied back at all times.

I attended Jeppe Girls High from Standard 6 in 1963 until Standard 8 in 1965, and I then left and went on to the Johannesburg Commercial College in Johannesburg. There we wore a black and white small checked pleated skirt, with a black blazer, and a straw basher. When I left Jeppe 4 other girls joined me at the College, where we did a Commercial Matric.

When one speaks of Kensington, so many places and things come to mind.Rhodes Park, Kensington

Rhodes Park was a really beautiful nature garden, and we used to go to the swimming pool often, as in those days most people did not have pools at home. Even the Jeppe girls used to go to do their swimming practice at that pool although I’m not quite sure why they did not use their own pool to practise for galas. When we were at Jeppe Prep we would go to Jeppe Boys High to swim, as the Prep did not have their own swimming pool at that time. At the weekend there were always lots of people visiting the park. There was equipment for children to play on, and one was able to walk around the beautiful gardens. They had horticulturists working permanently in the gardens of Rhodes Park. There was a bandstand, and on Sunday there were different bands playing there. Crowds sat on the lawns listening to the beautiful music.

We often watched the baseball games there. There was a physically disabled man, whom everyone called Coach, and there were two families of boys from Kensington who did exceptionally well in baseball: the Tew brothers, and the Coulson brothers. There were also a lot of sand banks in the part, and children loved to bring cardboard boxes to the part, and slide down these embankments.

There was a bowling green, and our grandfather was a member of the club. We always attended the club’s Christmas parties which were fantastic. I had a friend who was a member of the Rhodes Park Tennis club so I would often play on those courts with her, and in turn she would come to the tennis club in Juno Street where my sister and I were members. I had another friend whose parents were members at the Fotheringham Park Club in Malvern, and again I would go with them, and she would come with me to my club.

Every Christmas a Carol Concert would be held in Rhodes Park. One year the Reverend Risdon from St Andrew’s was so busy directing the music and getting everyone to sing that he nearly fell into the fish pond! I fondly recall all the candle lights, and the stunning sound of all the Christmas Carols, echoing throughout Rhodes Park.

The tearoom in Rhodes Park was another firm favourite with us, and their cream scones and tea were a real treat. At one stage the Arnold Family ran the tearoom. The tearoom was also a very popular venue for wedding receptions. There were always brides having their photos taken in the park, particularly around the fish pond. My late mother-in-law was a dressmaker, and wedding-dress specialist. They lived in Ocean Street and she made many dresses for Kensington brides.

We used to visit the Library at Rhodes Park a lot too.  Not only did we take out books to read, but we spent many hours there doing projects for school. One always found a friend there also busy working on a project.

We attended St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. The church had a very high steeple, and the children always loved climbing up the stairs to the very top. The church bells were rung regularly. On Friday afternoon there was a Youth Club at St. Andrews, and many children from Kensington attended the club even if they were not members the church.

The cross on St Andrew's Church, Ocean Street, Kensington.

The cross on St Andrew’s Church, Ocean Street, Kensington.

In those days the Mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Atwell and his family, lived in Ocean Street. On Shrove Tuesday, we would also go up to a church in Malvern, and we would have ‟Pancake Races‶ in the street.

Kensington also had numerous Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts packs at different venues. My sister and I were Guides with the 26th Johannesburg Pack, and we used to have our weekly meetings in the church grounds in Onyx Street.

Nels Rust was the dairy situated in Bez Valley, and they did deliveries to all the houses with horse-drawn carts. Milk and orange juice were still delivered in glass bottles. Fotheringham’s Bakery at the top of Marathon Street did home-deliveries of bread. Some men rode around the suburb on oxwagon, selling fruit and, while others rode bicycles selling green mielies, and shouting ‟Green Mielies‶ as they rode along.

The Kensington Castle was well-known in Kensington and was a private residence. The Kensington Hall was another historical building. At one stage the Foster Gang hid in the koppies in Kensington near there.

At the bottom of Protea Street, a block of residential flats, called Astra House, were erected for war veterans as homes for when they returned from the war to civilian life. We moved to these flats after our grandparents passed away. We were able to rent a flat in this complex because mother had nursed with the S.A.Military Nurses during the war. Shortly after we moved there, construction work was started on the Strathyre Girls Home for the Salvation Army next door to Astra House. The Jukskei River was also situated at the bottom of Protea Street, creating a border between Kensington and Cyrildene.

There were numerous well-known businesses in and around Kensington in those days – Marie Distiller’s hairdresser in Fairview, Dave and Johan’s for hair in Bez-Valley, Dolly’s Hats in Bez Valley, to name but a few.  My sister remembered a few businesses at the Lancaster Shopping Centre, opposite Jeppe Girls’ High.The butchery was originally owned by three brothers, but later only by one brother – Brian Gungarine and his wife Dawn. My husband’s late brother René and his friend Dudley actually worked in this butchery.

Dr. Yudelman was a very well-known dentist, who practised in Kensington for many years. When we last heard he was still working and his son had joined the practice.

After leaving Johannesburg Commercial College, I started working for the Schlesinger Organisation in Braamfontein.  They were situated in the very modern glass, coffin-shaped building at the top of Rissik Street, overlooking Johannesburg Station. My office was on the 20th floor of this Building, and I had stunning views of Johannesburg from my window. Mr I.W. Schlesinger had begun the Schlesinger Organisation in Johannesburg, and his son John, and his two cousins Sylvan and Julian, and another two directors Aubrey Harmel and Manfred Moross took over the running of the Organisation in later years. Schlesinger Organisation owned a lot of the cinemas and theatres in Johannesburg.

The Academy Theatre was at the top of Rissik Street and we used to love going to watch live shows there, starring wonderful actors like Rex Garner. Talented musical artists visited South Africa in the 1960s, such as the Everley Brothers, Demis Roussos, B.J. Thomas, Francoise Hardy, The Kinks, The Seekers, Johnny Mathis and Max Bygraves. South Africa also had very good local artists, and we enjoyed watching their shows too. Des and Dawn Linberg, 4 Jacks and a Jill, The Bats, The Staccatos, and the Dealians come to mind. When we were young we went to restaurants where we could dance, such as The 252 Tavern, Ciros where the Bats often played, Archies in Hillbrow and the Criterion in Benoni, to name but a few.

On a Sunday we often went to a resort at Van Wyks Rust to watch the talent show there. Well-known South African musicians, such as Dennis ‟The Cat”, Dennis McLean, Gene Rockwell, and Jody Wayne often appeared there.

We were married at St. Andrew’s Church in November, 1969, and both our children, Byrone and Lauren, were christened in St. Andrew’s Church.

Photograph taken at a friend's wedding in 1969.

Photograph taken at a friend’s wedding in 1969.

My husband Peter and his family lived on the corner of Protea Street, and Cumberland Road. He attended Kensington South School, and then went onto Queens High School, which was still situated on Langermann Drive. In later years that school became part of  the Military and the new Queens High was built at the bottom of Queens Street towardsCyrildene.  When Peter left Queens High he studied at the Witwatersrand Technical College in Smit Street, Braamfontein, where he qualified as a Master Butcher and Polony Maker.

We live in Cape Town now, but still have family on the Billings’ side who live in Derby Road, next to Leicester Road School, and when we visit Johannesburg, which is sadly not that often, we pop in to say hello, and we find that Kensington is still a very sought-after and beautiful suburb of Johannesburg.

Carol Billings (Guest Blogger)

A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler – compiled and edited by Jean Collen

         

By Jean Collen View this Author’s Spotlight

I published  A Scattered Garland: Gleanings from the Lives of Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler in one volume in 2006. Because I found out so much more additional information I have updated the book which now extends to four volumes. These books are available as paperbacks and ebooks:

Volume 1: Early days (1920s – 1939)  early days small
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Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Volume 2: Years at the top in the UK (1940 – 1956)

1940 TO 1956 FRONT COVER SMALL

At the Top

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Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.Volume 3 South Africa (1956 – 1977)Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

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South Africa small

The Booths in South Africa

Volume 4: Back in the UK (1978 – 2003) and additional information

Back in the UK small

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Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

These volumes include articles, criticisms, cuttings, and extracts from the online archives of The Times, The Scotsman and The Stage, and other newspapers. In Volume 3 I have included material from New Zealand and Australian newspapers and in Volume 4 there is material from South African newspapers. Occasionally I have supplemented this material with my own notes. All my own writing is italicised.

 Author of

Author of “A Scattered Garland”.

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Good Reads Book Reviews

The Moon And SixpenceThe Moon And Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently Strickland was based on the artist Paul Gauguin, but if this was the case, there is a very loose connection between the two for this in not a novel a clef. The book held my interest while the narrator had personal contact with Strickland and his wife. Almost from the beginning of the novel, before Charles Strickland had appeared, I thought him a thoroughly reprehensible character.

Admittedly his wife was not an imaginative woman and used her established position in society to cultivate the society of writers and artists although she appeared to be devoid of any artistic talent herself. She obviously regarded her "dull" husband as nothing more than a meal-ticket and she had never encouraged his artistic inclinations. It is only after he leaves her to her own devices that she manages to pull herself together, fend for herself and look after her children without being dependent on a man any longer.

The portrait of a completely self-centred, inarticulate Strickland, who does not care about the opinion of others was well-drawn but after the narrator is no longer in personal contact with Strickland and the rest of the story of Strickland's life is related to him by a third person the story is less satisfactory. I have to admit that I did not finish the last fifty pages of the book. Although I like Maugham's work, this was not my favourite Maugham novel.

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