*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: OK so my nickname in certain circles was "Banjo". Perhaps it still is, although the circle is a little smaller today than it was a year ago. Biff, the signatory of the first message in the right hand frame, slipped away yesterday in 2022. How JP, the creator of the first card, is still with us is a miracle, may he continue scrambling forever. S. Norman Esq. is still an inscrutable enigma. It was a special time in journalism in the 20th century. Friends were made, not to be forgotten.
Journo mates back in the 70s and 80s actually wrote to each other. This blog is predominantly a letter written by me to my chums from those newsroom days after having moved to the UK in April 1987. JP's cartoon above was somewhat prescient in its depiction of yours truly already exhibiting signs of wear and tear.
Garnet "Groper" Currie was another consistent correspondent and Rory Lynsky dropped in from time to time. We nursed old-fashioned values back then and my letter in reply to these great friends is apologetic in tone, being slightly less personal in that they all got the same one. I hope they have forgiven me by now for not replying to each one individually.
A video was also created from this end and nestles somewhere in the back of a cupboard in all it's plastic encased VHS glory - every now and then I nurture a whim to convert it to MP4 or whatever. As each day goes by, the number of photo shops providing such a service is probably dwindling ...
Our 1987 newsletter in full
Opinions reflect those that were predominant 36 years ago.
And so, here it is, verbatim. That late-1987 newsletter:
"We are now ensconced in our mid-terrace, Victorian townhouse on the edge of Faringdon, overlooking the Thames Valley. The nights are drawing in and we are seated side by side before our borrowed word-processor to compile a structured bunch of waffle, which we hope will give some idea to our good friends in South Africa of how we are getting on in the UK. The fact is that some of you may've heard some of this before but we are sure that those of you will treat the boring bits with forbearance.
"Okay, so we are seated in our house with black and white cows staring at us through our lounge windows and are contemplating the five minute walk to the local hostelry where we will indulge in warm beer and those of us who find this repulsive, white wine. Interspersed between glasses of the aforementioned beverages, are such items of pub grub as are deemed appropriate by the landlord of the establishment and afford us the opportunity to eat rather well for a reasonable consideration. Crispy, barbecued pork strips with chips and salad are our current favourite and very filling at just £2.50 (think of a pound as being R2 for comparison purposes as that is the real exchange rate based on our relative spending power).
Above (l to r): we finally get the keys to our new home and are reunited with our dogs; we also embark on recording our new life on some ancient technology.
"If we decide against braving this mild (still not cold enough to snuggle completely comfortably under the down duvet bought at John Orrs' prior to departure) November evening to go down a pub, the option is an action packed evening filled by the BBC (1 and 2) or ITV (Central and Channel 4). Unfortunately, there is no Afrikaans television here so we are faced with the problem of having to choose between four programmes at any one time. This choice will probably be preferable to Bilbo and Baggins as they would almost definitely not be included in the trip to the pub although it is not unknown for dogs to spend the evening in The Crown (an Elizabethan edifice), but Bilbo is too partial to the crispy strips of pork to behave properly.
"However, the doggy pair have had their entertainment for the day pursuing rabbits, pheasants, cows and sheep on the towpath of the Isis (Thames) which is close at hand and provides many a diversion for them and for us on a weekend such as this one. This towpath meanders along the edge of the Thames which is rather full at the moment and is a peaceful setting for the many coarse fishermen who choose to while away their Sundays catching perch and then throwing them back in again. The paraphernalia for a coarse fisherman requires something akin to a Range Rover to deliver it to the water's edge. Apart from a collection of amazingly long poles which they use to actually catch the fish, they also require their purpose-built shelters, camp stools and a huge net which they leave in the water to store their catch for the day (just so they can show other coarse fishermen how much they have caught) before letting it go again. Anyway, enough of coarse fishermen, at either end of the towpath are situated pubs with the unlikely names of The Swan and The Trout which sometimes provide nourishment for the wandering Harrisons and their occasional friends. One such occasion occurred last Sunday with the Lynskys, Rory and Brenda, and the Duffs, Phil and Ali, at which more warm beer was quaffed to wash down a meal of bread, cheese and ploughman's pickle. The canoeists of you might have shown a similar interest to that of Rory at the safety course given by the local Council's extramural activities section. A bunch of English men and women in their canoes ducking each other in the freezing Thames.
"The Lynskys had been staying with us for a week during which time they explored the surrounding countryside and discovered places of interest which we didn't even know existed including a pub known as the Woodman that serves such poisonous brews as Old Peculier (sic!) and Bishop's Tipple. These particular ales are brewed for maximum alcohol content and three halves had Harrison and Lynsky reeling back to Faringdon.
Above (l to r): I suspect Rory might've had biltong in that silver foil - if you look carefully at the bottom of the pic the dogs are looking far more interested than they would be at the bottle of Tassie's that Phil is waving about; The obligatory Thames footpath walk with Rory, Brenda, Shan, Ali and moi; At the Clanfield Tavern with Adele.
"Were it Saturday and not Sunday that this newsletter was being compiled, we could have made the same five minute journey as we are contemplating to The Crown to the town square to go about our business of banking, procuring victuals, visiting the hardware shop or the bargain centre. If none of these establishments were able to provide for some of those specific needs that from time to time occur, we might have made the 20 minute journey to Oxford where we enjoy a wider range of shopping opportunities. Oxford is also one of three train stations which are more or less equidistant from Faringdon and which provide a one hour service to London Paddington, a journey which is made fairly often by the male Harrison in the course of his employment by the multinational organisation, Unisys.
Work begins in earnest
"However tomorrow will find him at the wheel of his company Rover (only a little one) on the way to consultation with a client in Birmingham. This is a journey fairly often made as well as journeys to Milton Keynes and Bristol. All of these journeys take between an hour and an hour and a half from Faringdon so you can see that we are fairly conveniently placed for all of these major centres although not very conveniently placed for any single one of them.
"Tomorrow morning will also find the female of the species at the wheel of the Homecare (Oxfordshire) Ltd., Escort panel van on her way to Horspath near Oxford where she runs the local Kirby vacuum cleaner service organisation on behalf of Philip Duff.
"Both of us have been most fortunate to find employment quickly and in positions that we enjoy. The social life of the community that we find ourselves in is very much rural in flavour and subject to the dictates of a day's work of a farmer. Friends spend most of Summer working in the fields until 10.00/11.00 at night and, while the more adventurous of those are still game for some revelry thereafter, they do most of their socialising in Winter when they do very little work. Hunting takes place on Wednesdays and Fridays so as not to interrupt the serious carousing that occurs at the weekends. So you can see that a full social calendar is expected over the ensuing months including participation in February and March in the Old Berks (contrary to what you may think, Berks is the shortened version of Berkshire and the Old Berks are the members of the Berkshire hunt) and Beagle Balls. These latter entertainments have necessitated the contemplation of the purchase of a ballgown for Shelley-ann, although this step is being deferred until the post-Christmas sales!
Above (l to r): Our social life in those heady early days was a veritable whirl - here hosting Jack Beasant (and his wife Debbie) in our new abode for his birthday; Shan did eventually get her ball gown, see here exchanging notes with Deborah Read
"This mention of a packed Winter calendar does not mean that Summer went without its social highlights. Barbecues (pronounced braais) were the order of the day and were held on many an evening when any self-respecting Durbanite would have been seated cosily in Legends. Those evenings where the company was good but the weather was too bad even for a British braai, have been spent in several local farmhouses ranging from 17th century to Edwardian, sipping port and eating Stilton. Some of you might have envisioned mass consumption of the ubiquitous bangers and mash but we happy to report that New British Cooking is in the ascendancy and makes judicious use of delicious and sometimes obscure locally-grown vegetables.
Above: early "County" clobber chosen to fit in with our new surroundings - here at the Windsor horse trials.
"A further benefit of being accepted into this bonafide farming community is that one is able to wear the latest "Sloane" styles with the approbation of said farmers. For those who don't know, many of the privileged spend half their lives pacing trendy and very urban Sloane Square trying to look like farmers and getting in and out of their Land Rover 110s parked for the purpose of being seen got in and out of. This has become more fashionable than Punk was in the early 80s and has raised the ire of genuine farmers who now find they have to pay fashion prices for their cords, waxed cotton, thorn-proof jackets, green wellies and motor vehicles (the genuine upper class drive Land Rovers, the wealthy middle class Range Rovers, the yuppies Suzukis and for those who don't quite understand, but have enough money anyway, E-reg Lada Nivas).
A break in the Med
Five months of sponging off the ever-generous Duffs and the availability of cheap trips to far-flung sunspots meant a trip to Skiathos in August for two weeks during which time sun, swimming in the idyllic Aegean, wine and giros were the order of the day. Long walks on this most attractive island did some good for the waistline for those who needed it.
Above: Carousing in Skiathos in 1987
If we weren't entertaining locals, there was a string of friends
"Having thought that we were taking a step into oblivion, we have been most pleased and surprised to have been able to entertain a positive stream of good Seff Effrican friends.
"The Lynksys have already had their mention in this tome but most enjoyable days have also been spent with the likes of the du Plessis, Gorge and Lynne, the former having been not once but twice, and having been dragged around the Cotswolds and to the Cricketers Arms somewhere on the outskirts of London, where scandal was caught up upon and still more warm beer drunk. In addition 22 Church Street, Faringdon has enjoyed visits from Harold Roffey (now a fellow Durbanite-in-exile) and Adele Ganswyk who spent several happy evenings relating her travels through Europe and her experiences as a London au pair before returning to Paul in Cape Town.
"Another person lucky enough to have made two 1987 trips to this shore was Ingrid van der Walt, a former Durban Burroughs colleague, and her company was enjoyed during a weekend in July with the ubiquitous tour of the Cotswolds.
"The list does not end there as a January visit by Catherine, Andrew, Carmen and William Wijnberg is looked forward to with anticipation as is a May visit by Woody and Shirley, a ? visit by Judy and Bill and a ? visit by S. Norman esq.
"This already extensive list has already been further extended by the prodigious letter writing of those dear friends who have not yet been able to make the journey but who have nevertheless made their presence felt in this most welcome manner. It is hoped that all of these kind people realise the strain that has been placed on the letter-writing resources on those in England and will accept this newsletter without too many "nudge nudge wink wink you see what the Harrisons are reduced to"s during chance meetings in Musgrave Centre.
"This evening's trip to The Crown has been called off owing to the time that has been spent compiling this sheet and the attraction that now exists in building a fire in the Faringdon house's ornate cast iron fireplace and sitting beside it with a glass of the Grouse and uno bano bino blanco secco, dogs at feet and Bach on stereo.
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