:: August 12th - September
3rd:- Spain, France & return to the UK
August 12 Arrived
at Santander at 6 p.m. and drove through Cantabria, then EUSKADI
- the Basque country - by-passing Bilbao and San Sebastian,
crossing the French border and stopping for the night at the
elegant Les Jardins de Bakea, at Biriatou; we enjoyed a superb
dinner (cold lobster bisque, duck, poached pears....accompanied
by a delicate local white wine) on the terrace , sitting under
a London Plane tree ( reminding me of similar evenings under
Pat Griffith's sycamore (as the tree is called in USA) at
Carpinteria, California. After dinner we walked downhill to
the river and back, a good half-hour walk in the moonlight.
13th - 19th
August 13 - 15
An easy drive, by passing Biarritz and Bayonne, then heading
south, stopping for a salad lunch at La Bastide. We called in
at Mirepoix, for a walk through the medieval centre, and to
collect supplies, then the last 10 kms to John's house in Lafage.
I had expected a simple country cottage, but John - and his
French architect - have done a magical transformation of an
old stone house, all the floors, furniture and fittings are
first-class - up to Appelsdrift standards, I thought. On three
floors, the house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and plenty
of living space, most comfortable.
Both drives offered pleasing
scenery, including patches of primary woodland, I was constantly
engaged in watching buildings, fields and people, with John
providing an insightful commentary. John took me to the dramatically
sited C12 rock church - Eglise Rupestie Carolingienne
- at Vals, a short drive.
I have been troubled by a nagging
cough and sore throat, so John sensibly suggested that I take
it easy for a day or two, and I can think of few places where
it is so comforting and delightful to "take it easy".
As well as John, I have the company of the two friendly cats,
Tobermory and Shimbleshanks (so named by John's
daughter Lucy, after T.S.Eliot's Cats.)
I hope that my next despatch will be more interesting than an
account of convalescence in La France Profunde. I have
been reading about the C13 & C14 heretics, the Cathars,
for this was their stamping ground. According to Voltaire -
and I heartily endorse his judgment - " it is the summit
of brutal and absurd barbarity to maintain, through informers
and torturers, the religion of a God who died at the hands of
I have also been re-reading John's book, Students and Workers,
about the French student revolts of 1968. I had read this when
John sent me a copy in 1969, but I had forgotten much.
After dinner, it being light until well after 9 p.m. we took
a walk through the village (hamlet? about 25 households),with
John providing succinct and incisive commentaries on the inhabitants,
reminding me of Aubrey's "Brief Lives". There
are a few other "incomers", including one
very English family, who had built an English bungalow, put
up an English name plate ("BOOTH") and cultivated
an English garden, complete with wire fence. However, the Booths
had, unlike some of their compatriots, learnt a little French.
I was feeling much better, John offered me a difficult choice
for our day's excursion - the medieval town of Carcaconnes,
or driving around the Pyrénées.
I opted for the Pyrénées, and we had a great day,
driving mainly on narrow "blue roads" (from
William Least Heat Moon's classic book, Blue Highways),
passing large fields of bright sunflowers, deep gorges, woodlands
(with many eager hunters searching for deer or wild pig), families
relaxing at lakes (it was a Sunday) and castles : we saw (too
steep for me to climb up) Chateau de Montsegur and
visited Chateau de Puivert, both dramatically situated
on hilltops. We had lunch at Roquefixait, a quintessential French
village, with a simple but superb cafe, where the proprietors
served us the most delicious lunch, salad, duck, peas in a tasty
sauce, apple tart: I had Vin du Pays, blanc, John,
as he was driving, stuck to water. We shared our table with
friendly (French) tourists.
Relaxing at home that evening,
I saw about 25 sturdy young men, many of them of colour, run
briskly past: the French Foreign Legion has a post nearby. .
Market Day at Mirepoix, 10kms away. We arrived early, to secure
parking, and wandered around enjoying the lively scene. John
knew several of the sellers, one of whom, a black Frenchman,
ran the bookshop with his white wife. He was very knowledgeable,
helping me to select the best book on the Cathars. There were
a few genuine craftsmen, but also much manufactured kitsch.
However, we did see - and bought - excellent local cheeses,
meat, fruit and vegetables. With its well preserved medieval
centre, Mirepoix is a popular tourist location and many Brits
have holiday homes in the vicinity. .
One of this area's famous
dishes is Cassoulet; remembering that Bernard had made this
dish, I expressed a hope that we would find a really outstanding
cassoulet - John drove us, about half an hour, that evening
, to the hamlet of La Bastide d'Anjou, where Le Hospitalier
L'Atienne served - according to John's French friends -
a truly authentic dish. It was a memorable evening, sitting
out in the twilight in the garden, and savouring this great
dish - our earthenware pot had enough food for six people. The
attractive young - and very professional - waitress recommended
a Corbieres (Charles Cros 2005), which went down very well.
Once again, I noticed how well behaved were the children.
August 18. This has
been a good visit, John and I were glad of the opportunity to
get to know each other again. I told John that he differed from
me in at least two respects: although he is sociable and engages
easily with people, he does not mind his solitary life, he is
more self-contained than I am. I depend on my friends, they
are my oxygen. Second, John is much more of an intellectual,
always asking good hard questions, pondering all the "Whys",
whereas by now I ponder little, and tend to enjoy whatever each
John drove me to Castelnaudary,
to catch the direct 10:32 train to Paris Austerlitz, a comfortable
seven hour journey. Mary Dyson was at the station to meet me,
together with her other guest, Annette Currie-Wood, whose mother-in-law
had been a friend of my mother in Durban in the 1940s.
I first met Mary in Nairobi in 1980, when she was with the World
Bank, and we worked together on a resettlement project. She
now lives in Paris; Jean, her French husband was unfortunately
away that day. Mary's daughter Sara, her two children and Alex
her husband called in to greet me; I had last seen them all
at the end of 2007, when they visited me Fish Hoek. After dinner,
we set out, at 10 p.m. for a stroll, which turned out to be
a brisk two hour walk, stopping for an upscale ice-cream at
a cafe by the Seine, near Notre Dame. It was such a pleasure
to see so many folk, mostly young, talking, laughing and dining
at outside cafes. When we crossed the Pont des Artes, scores
of parties were going on, umpteen bottles of wine in evidence,
but no drunkenness, no lager louts. I also appreciated the safety
of the streets, although Mary (who gave Annette and me a bright
historical/sociological commentary along our route) did say
that she had avoided some dicey areas.
Aug 19 - Sept 3
August 19. By metro
to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar (2 & 1/4 hours) to London,
glad to be "home" again.
August 20. 133 bus to the huge Liverpool Street
station, then train (one hour) to Colchester in Essex to meet
Gilian and Michael Vernon, whom I had met only once before,
in 1992, with Bernard. Gilian is the niece and executor of her
uncle, Peter Greensmith, who was our good friend in Nairobi.
We learnt that Peter was one of the two great tropical horticulturalists,
the other being Roberto Burley Marx of Brazil. Peter was well
known for his imaginative and daring experiments with bougainvillea.
Gilian was mainly responsible for ensuring that Wasaa,
Peter's magnificent legacy, his 60 acres of gardens and fields,
at Langata, near the Nairobi National Park, survived: it was
taken over by IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation
of Nature) as their regional headquarters. Bernard and I often
enjoyed a weekend at luxurious Wasaa, as "R & R"
from our more spartan fieldwork conditions. We had a good lunch
and lively conversation.
Another day outing, a 1 & 3/4 hour train journey to Bournemouth,
to see David Brodie and his sister Ravena Berlowitz, whom we
had met in Bulawayo in 1956. David had flown in from San Luis
Obispo, California, while Ravena lives in Bournemouth. Again,
an excellent lunch and plenty of catching up on each other's
lives, not having seen each other for three years.
Bus (59 & 38 ) to Hackney to see Anne-Marie Shawe and her
father, who was visiting from York. A-M had been administrator
for the University of California Education Abroad Programme
in London, when I was director, 1984/86. We saw War Horse,
a brilliant production, set in World War 1, with participation
of the Handspring Puppet Company: this is run by two imaginative
men who live in Kalk Bay, one mile away from Fish Hoek.
That evening I invited my great-nephew Philip (niece Deirdre's
eldest son), his wife Inez and their 14 year old daughter Zoe
to dinner at my neighbourhood restaurant, Amici. Philip.
who lives in Dundee, was in London to participate in a strange
project, dreamt up by the sculptor Andrew Gormsley (The
Angel of the North, at Newcastle). The new project started
in early July, involves 2,400 men and women who each spend an
hour on top of a platform in Trafalgar Square, where they can
do pretty much what they like. It seemed weird to me, but it
did give me a chance to see Philip and his family, whom I had
not seen for many years. Bernard and I had invited Philip and
his younger brother Steven (then aged 15 and 13) to Kenya in
1974, when we were doing fieldwork, a memorable time for all
of us. As usual at Amici, everything was excellent,
but the portions are so large that we ended up with doggy bags.
Sunday, August 23.
Richard Dyson and his life companion David Budworth collected
me at 1 p.m., to take me to their home for lunch. Mary Dyson
(see August 18) had asked us to meet Richard in 1984, when he
was at Sherborne school, and we were living in Sherborne. R
& D, are both financial journalists, both in their 30s.
On the way to their home we walked past the Oval cricket ground,
where the final test of England vs Australia was playing to
a 20,000 crowd, with another 10,000 watching the game on large
scale TV in Regent's Park (later that day, England beat Australia,
to "win the Ashes", to great celebrations).
It was a day of unusual heat, we sat in the garden, enjoying
Fish Hoek Chenin Blanc, and I was glad to find a shady spot
under a big fuchsia bush. Great tits and green finches came,
continuously, to the bird feeder; one wall was covered with
tomato and chille plants. Richard proudly showed me his beehive
(40,000 bees, he said, were resident). He had to take special
precautions, partly closing the entrance, to get rid of the
David had made Dorowat,
a spicy, delicious Ethiopian dish - new to me. They had got
the recipe from Sara, their cousin (see August 18) who is half
Ethiopian). Boschendal Sauv. Blanc accompanied this very nicely.
Richard, confessing to a love of jelly, produced a fine plum
jelly, reminding me of my boyhood when jellies were one of my
favourite dishes. .
R & D kindly walked me
back so I could show them my borrowed flat. When they left,
they thanked me "for finding the time to see us".
But I wanted to thank them: with their lively talk, and loving
relationship, they reminded me, perhaps, of Bernard and me,
fifty years ago. Goodness, I thought, I am 50 years older than
R & D, but it does not seem to matter. I remembered, by
contrast, how important minor age gaps were when I was young.
At 13, my eldest brother Guy would have been 18 (that was the
last time I saw Guy) and he and his pals lived in a different
world from mine . .
I am still troubled by a persistent cough, so I reluctantly
cancelled my proposed visit to Brighton, to see Brian Taylor
(Rhodes University 1946) and his wife Doreen. Instead, I went
to a walk-in clinic and was seen by Dr Kakad, a kindly, very
professional British Asian, who examined me thoroughly and prescribed
antibiotics. When I told him that I would be on the road for
a further two months, he gave me a double supply, "just
in case"; being over 60 years of age, they were free, as
was the consultation. At Anne Marie's suggestion, I did buy
"Replete", which ensures that the intestinal flora
are not lost.
August 25. This is my usual daily routine.
First thing is a quick cup of Rooibos tea; I bring
my own supply, having found that some of the "Red Bush"
tea sold overseas is a far cry from the genuine product. .
Instead of my walk on Fish
Hoek beach, I walked down Black Prince Road to the Thames, then
followed the riverside walkway, glancing at the Houses of Parliament
and Big Ben across the River, to Westminster Bridge, where I
turn around. Even at 7 a.m, this walkway is busy with walkers
and many cyclists, whose number has grown, I think, even from
last year. On my way back I collect The Guardian from
the friendly Indian couple who run the neighbourhood shop, and
who remembered me from previous visits. The whole walk takes
an hour, the same time as my beach walk. Time for the simple
back exercises which Karyn, my helpful physio-therapist, prescribed,
a shower and breakfast.
This day was my last
"in-and-out of London day trips", this time to Hastings
to see Gail Povey, whe widow of John Povey, whom we first met
more than forty years ago. John was in the Department of English
at UCLA, he also edited the quarterly journal African Arts,
and was at one time head of the African Studies Program at UCLA.
Above all John was a great companion, with a superb wit and
wide ranging interests. Bernard and I spent many happy hours
at the Malibu hillside home of John and Gail.
Gail was visiting (from Wisconsin,
where she now lives) a friend, Betty Taylor, who drove us -
it was a beautiful clear and warm day - through the beguiling
East Sussex countryside, to Berwick, where we sat in the extensive
and colourful garden of The Cricketers' Arms (established
1790), relishing a pub lunch, for me, mackerel pate, salad,
and a pint of Harvey's Sussex best bitter - in a proper mug,
with a handle -nogal. (Afrikaans, indeed). .
After lunch to see the point
of our excursion, the murals, painted by Duncan Grant and Vanessa
Bell, in 1943 in the C13 church of St.Michael and All Angels,
at Berwick. The small church is an architectural gem, and the
murals are well preserved, very much worth our visit - biblical
scenes, with characters in modern dress.
Had a cup of tea in Betty's
stunning (both for location and contents) home, a train to Waterloo
East and I was home by 7.30 p.m. No TV, not that I miss it at
my borrowed flat - so I listened on Radio 3 to part of the Proms,
and finished reading a gripping novel, Cynthia Ozich's The
Bear Boy, from which I copied down this Arab proverb:
a wise man speaks of ideas,
a middling man of action
a fool of persons.
(this reminded me of what I wrote above about one of the
differences between John Gretton and me).
August 26 /27. My
niece Judy, who visiting her son and daughter, and their families,
spent these two days with me. To celebrate our meeting, I took
Judy to "5th View", a smart cafe on the fifth
floor of Waterstone's bookshop, in Jermyn Street, near Piccadilly.
David Budworth (see August 23) had introduced me to this pleasant
place last year. We ordered a bottle of sparkling wine, but
through a misunderstanding we were served real champagne - at
no extra cost (thanks to Judy’s firmness), a good beginning
for our reunion. That evening we had a good dinner (a special
for £6,95, between 6 & 8 p.m.) at Thai Ming, in Windmill
Street, just around the corner from my borrowed flat. The following
morning Judy and I had a long walk, along the Thames as far
as Waterloo Bridge. .
On August 27,
we went to a moving celebration of the life of Mike Warren,
who had died in a tragic BASE jump accident in Norway, two weeks
previously. Mike was Judy's great-nephew; his grandmother, Avanel,
(known as Puck) was sister to Jil, Judy's mother. I had not
met Mike, but I knew Jil and Puck well. Mike, aged 33, had joined
the British army after a troubled boyhood in South Africa, and
three years ago had been top of his class at Sandhurst when
he was commissioned. Mike was obviously a daredevil, having
made over 500 sky-dives from aircraft, and also 8 BASE jumps,
which involve jumping from a height, with special "wings",
opening the parachute during descent. On his final jump, as
reported by his uncle, John Grimes, in commenting on a video
of Base jumps, .
"The road towards the end of the clip that the guys 'fly'
over is where Mike was killed. He tried to do that road but
apparently didn't have enough speed or height. It appears that
he hit the terrain just on the other side of the road. Great
pity because I gather he almost made it. Just a little more
height would have taken him over the cliff the road is built
BASE is an acronym for "Buildings, Antennae, Signage,
Earth", I know no more about these jumps. .
The celebration was held at
a larney (SA slang - "posh") hotel, the Montague
Gardens, near Russell Square, at midday. It was informal with
one most moving speech, by Andy, a bluff Yorkshireman, who had
served in Iraq in Mike's unit.
Andy described Mike as "the
most chilled-out officer, because he had come through the ranks,and
he understood privates..he was the most unflappable, the friendliest..
the lads loved him.And," Andy remarked, "Mike
I spoke to Mike's brothers
Ray and David, also to John Grimes, who is the pilot for the
royal family in Dubai, and Gigi, his wife, a medical consultant
in emergency medicine, in Hampshire. A bonus for me was again
meeting Richard Brady (a cousin of Mike), who's grandfather,
Jock Barnes, was the brother of Jil and Puck. I had met Richard
two years previously at his parents' home at Cape St.Francis
in the Eastern Region of South Africa. Richard, aged 26, "came
out" as a gay man two years ago, is now living and
thriving as an IT consultant in London. I much enjoyed Richard's
vitality, exuberance and joy of life. By the time I left, I
knew quite a lot about Mike, after speaking to those who knew
and loved him, and having seen photographs and a video.
Judy and I returned to the
flat for a rest, then Tan, Judy's daughter joined us, having
left her two boys, Tai and JJ (8 and 6) in the care of her husband,
David. We three went to the Victoria Palace Theatre to see Billy
Elliot, the Musical, which I had seen with Gail
Povey (see August 25) in 2006, but it caused no pain to see
it again, a lively and "feel good" production.
By train from Euston to Stockport, to be met by Paul Baxter
(see August 23) to spend the long Bank Holiday weekend with
him and Pat, a most welcome break for me. I am loving their
restful home, sitting looking out over the green lawn, with
the plum tree full of fruit, which I have been enjoying both
fresh and stewed. Nuthatches come to the feeder, and in the
evening they have a regular visitor, a fox. Pat puts much energy,
knowledge and time into her garden, I will be content to sit
and do very little for a few days. I realise that I have probably
been doing too much chasing around, here I can regain my strength
and psychic energy.
August 28/31. Relaxing at "101 Moss Lane,
Bramhall", the comfortable and most hospitable home of
Paul and Pat Baxter. I was glad to do little. Grandsons Mark
and Paul Edward came, separately, for meals, with their respective
wives Sara and Sarah, the former with their bright 2 & 1/2
year old daughter, Felicity. They (apart from Felicity, of course)
are all in their early 30s, and coming to say "hello
to David" (it used to be "to say hello to
Bernard and David") is a regular, and a pleasant routine.
Among the delicious dishes that Pat prepared was a new (to me)
herb, samphire, which Paul told me, is mentioned in King Lear.
Pat navigated, Paul driving, along attractive
blue roads, many passing under leafy tunnels to a most unusual
restaurant, "The Coffee Tavern". Built in
1887 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, it was converted
to a cafe, then restaurant, after WW1. On entering, I thought
I had strayed to a 1950s movie set of rural England, both clientele
and decor reinforcing my impression. We had roast beef and Yorkshire
pudding (excellent), accompanied by an adequate Californian
Merlot. Later that day, Pat gave me a tour of her exquisite
garden, explaining how she tries to keep the garden pests -
worms, moth, caterpillars, birds - at bay. I admired the laden
plum and apple (Bramley and Newton) trees, a brilliant display
of dahlias, and the runner beans that we had eaten.
During my stay we watched some
TV, were disappointed in two shows: Wuthering Heights
was muddled, and Heathcliff was hopelessly miscast. The Number
1 Ladies Detective Agency seemed to us very un-African.
September 1/3. Back by fast (two hours) Virgin
train to London Euston, to lunch with Kevin Leeman and Graham
Hayter at their home in North London; Kevin had even found a
bottle of Two Roads, the Flagstone superior Sauvignon
Blanc. Although there had been showers earlier, it obligingly
cleared so that we had our lunch in the garden, always a treat
in Britain - or anywhere.
Not much else to report - tidying
up my borrowed and much appreciated Kennington flat, then spending
the last night at the Camberwell home of Jean la Fontaine, ready
for an early start on Sept 3 for my British Airways flight to
Sept 3. Stayed for last evening, with Jean,
who had invited Suzi Hall, architect/sociologist, and her photographer
husband for drinks. Suzi's parents, coincidentally, live near
me in Fish Hoek, in that big Tuscany style house on the catwalk.
Suzi, an architect/sociologist, is completing a Ph.D. dissertation
at LSE, a study of street traders on Walworth Road, Camberwell,
a very mixed area. I will be seeing Suzi and John and their
little boy, Sam, at Christmas time in Fish Hoek. Enjoyed a good
roast leg of lamb (which I had requested) also a bottle of Flagstone
Dragon Tree wine, which Jean had found on sale at Majestic Wines.
Jean called me early
a 6 a.m. to see "her" fox, a vixen which
has been visiting Jean's garden for over a year, since she was
a cub. The fox was eagerly eating fish scraps just outside the
kitchen door, paying no attention to us. A big bonus for me.
Then we had time for a 40 minute walk in Burgess Park, before
Rudi (a jolly Jamaican driver, recommended by Suzi) called to
drive me to the airport.
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