*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Handy chronological index at the bottom of this blog ...
Shan said: "Why did you do that? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Trouble was I'd already done it. "Done what," you may ask.
Weebly provides a facility whereby one can change dates on one's blogs. In my mind, it appeared to provide the perfect facility for archive retrieval in my dotage (or for anyone else who was perverse enough to check up on my dodgy past. Posthumously, maybe.)
I did a test on one of them and everything seemed kushti so I tried a few more.
Suddenly I could access them no longer ... not from Weebly's editor, anyway.
Those who still had the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) links could. Shan tested. Unfortunately, we send info back and forth on WhatsApp so frequently, it may have become a life's work digging them out. But it seems I sent all the missing URLs (and more besides) to my Cuz, Stuart. Thank Cuz
I may yet be able to retrieve the situation but this is a bit of a precaution. Besides, if there's anyone who wishes to start reading the early blogs chronologically (I should be so lucky!), there's an added benefit there, too. Otherwise one has to view them in Weebly's reverse order.
What have I learned from this, then? Listen to my wife.
Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: In the very early '90s the original poster arrived at our house in a tube with a label, "RAOUL DUFY, Intérieur à la fenêtre ouverte,123 x 100 cm, EDITIONS HAZAN - PARIS"; after more than 30 years of being bleached by the sun, the poster is ready to be laid to rest.
Some time more than thirty years ago my dear wife, Shelley-ann (a.k.a. Shan), embarked with some apprehension on her first adult-only break after the birth of our daughter, Kate. She and my two sisters, Sue and Cath, headed off to Paris for wine and intellectual stimulation. Art appreciation was high on the list and Shan returned from her long weekend bubbling with enthusiasm ... and a poster.
Before I embark on how this enthusiasm has manifested itself in 2023, some filling in needs to take place.
Initially there was not much time for art beyond ensuring that our successive houses were tastefully hung with pictures, including that poster once it had been mounted. Two others shared the tube that returned from Paris, both by Van Gogh. One was of irises and was also framed and hung, while the other has remained in the tube to this day.
That poster is the 123 x 100 cm piece of reproduced gorgeousness depicted above and originally created by Raoul Dufy. It seems the original, painted in 1928 is substantially bigger at 220 x 165 cm. It's anyone's guess what it's worth now but appears to have been sold at some stage for around £3M.
The title of the original masterpiece leaves an interesting conundrum: which fenêtre ouverte does it refer to, the one on the right opening on to the city of Nice or the one on the left that has a view of the sea and a coastal village in the background. Perhaps we'll never know. In any event, this story is more about how Shan travelled from her initial purchase to her own slightly larger interpretation that now graces the only wall big enough in our humble abode to accommodate it.
Above: the main picture is of the poster in pride of place in our previous house in 2002; the two smaller photos, taken 6 years later, are displaying some sun damage.
Between the early 90s and approximately 4 years ago, Shan brought up a wonderful daughter, re-entered formal education, graduated as a counsellor and bolstered the lives of countless people facing challenges that were too much to bear on their own.
On the 21st of March 2019 my dear wife retired from counselling. The process had had to be orchestrated with her clients over a period of around 6 months and had now come to fruition.
Kate's wedding in May was imminent and a June trip to Hermanus in South Africa for her mother Judy's 90th birthday was approaching rapidly. So what did we do? Buggered off to Scotland in our motorhome "Campy" for a month. The wedding organisation was all but complete and we needed to fill the dead space in April.
By July it felt as if we'd been living in a whirlwind. I stayed in South Africa for a short while to visit friends in Hopefield in the Cape and then in Johannesburg. Shan returned home to a quiet house pondering what to do with the next episode in her life.
She recalled a coffee shop in Hermanus where she had seen the work of a local artist done only in white on brown paper. Never one to hang about, she sped off to Hobbycraft and bought a roll of brown paper, a black Sharpie, some white acrylic paint and some paint brushes. The result, prior to a little refinement, is depicted on the left.
That was never going to be enough and so she continued armed with an iPhone and Google: how do I do this? how do I do that? What techniques have noted artists used to do this that and the next thing?
Many iterations of this and her attention turned to Fauvism. She was beguiled by the colours and the abstract forms and set about rendering some of our photographic collection in this style. The bright coloured interpretations drew her in like a moth to a flame.
Shan's Fauvist escapades were prolific as she devoured suitable pictures from our travels. And yet her passion led her to press the pause button on this genre while she explored different techniques and methods.
Above: (top row) a couple of Shelley-ann Fauvist examples, Riquewihr in Alsace on the left and Richard Kershaw's vines in Grabouw in the Western Cape; (bottom row) progressing from painting people on an easel to parking the easel and looking for new ideas on the right ... some tapestries from another era in evidence.
Shan was prolific, experimenting with all kinds of things ... always on the lookout for subjects. Those interested in the chronological progression can catch up with how it has unfolded so far and can check out her Instagram personage. Or dig around in the controlled mayhem that is "our" front room. She just can't throw any thing away.
It seemed though that there was always something nagging at her creative bent. That sad looking Dufy depicted at the beginning of this take. She's always loved it since she clapped eyes on it in that Parisian poster place all those years ago. Shan was gripped by it but it had to be bigger and better than that 123 x 100 cm piece of paper that she brought proudly home from her trip.
Intérieur à la fenêtre ouverte d'après Shan
Clearly the picture brought out the wildebeest in my wife as she embraced her freehand copy of Dufy's work with a few interpretations of her own. Fauvism had to be at its heart and the colour needed be wild ... how else could one elevate the mouldy poster.
And it had to be big, bigger than the poster. And it had to have pride of place in our sitting space so could almost reach the size of Raoul's original masterpiece.
So off she went to her beloved Hobbycraft for canvas and gesso. Cut to size and laid on the largest flat surface in our house, the primer was applied liberally to the fabric and before long the first conundrum emerged: where would the canvas reside for the duration of the painting phase? Shan's original idea was to stick it to the wall in what was to become the gallery. But it was a heavy old thing and masking tape wasn't up to the beastliness that was going to be required of it. After a couple of attempts, only duck tape would do. Bugger it, if we had to re-plaster the wall we'd re-plaster the wall.
And then the whirling dervish entered her cavern. When she puts her heart into something, there aren't many as single-minded as my Shan. Progress was literally mercurial. Spurts of rapid progress intermingled with going back to change things that hadn't quite satisfied her expectations. Paintings over, bits added in where Raoul had contented himself with short cuts. The occasional friend and relative able to sneak into the den was spellbound.
And then it was finished to her satisfaction. Now it needed to be framed. I suggested a plain oak surround, which, mercifully, was adopted with alacrity. And then it was off to the framers in another town (Wantage, 10 miles away). That wasn't too difficult when the master piece was rolled up and the canvas was enthusiastically examined by the art shop owners while laid out on the floor of their premises. We all agreed quickly on the simple wooden frame and then it was sit and wait while the experts did their job.
Only it wasn't an entirely relaxed wait given that the finished article was never going to return from Wantage in our compact car and longterm rescuer of the Harrisons, Mike Durham, kindly agreed to fetch it in his 4x4. It only just fitted.
Above: Shan getting into her stride.
But goodness, was it worth it just to see the faces of friends and family who have pitched up to take a gander. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the odd tear, some of them my own.
I wish Raoul could see the resurrection that has occurred in our living space.
Above: I think she looks pleased with the result - deservedly so in my book.
The Lynskys have just arrived from South Africa bearing gifts. It was late 1987 and Rory's holding the prize offering. If the shape and the X-Ray cheating foil wrapping are not a giveaway, look no further than the expressions on the faces of the dogs below.
Rory was a (sometimes) quiet legend to those who knew him well. My task in this account is to bring out the many facets of Mr Lynsky over the half century that I knew him. Often serious and often hilarious, his refusal to give in to adversity at the beginning and end of his life belie his steel core.
I will hand the baton to former mutual colleague, Erica Platter, to introduce our man. We both met him at much the same time and had similar experiences:
"When I joined The Daily News I was allocated a desk adjoining and facing Rory’s. I was terrified of his experience and ability for about an hour, but then simply grateful. He was funny and kind and encouraging and helpful; I would never have survived as a news reporter without him. Thank you Rory."
I think I was a little scared of him, too. Probably would have been even more so had I known that he was 6 years older than I was ... a lifetime for a greenhorn cub reporter in the early 70s.
Erica's thoughts are echoed by Sandi Krige, "Rory was a fabulous, kind and helpful colleague and he and Bill Krige were like mountain goats in the berg. Such happy, carefree days shared on the Daily News, Durban." And by Wanda Hennig, "Wonderful Rory — both at the Daily News and beyond. And very special Brenda. So missed, both of them from Durban. Brenda always so supportive, from early days."
I am pleased that Wanda introduced Brenda because, to us, they were completely complementary and complimentary. They were always Rory and Brenda. Personally, I became a little less nervous around my mentor after having met his wife with her big smile that continues to light up her face.
Early adventures with the Lynskys
While all of us in the Daily News newsroom were pretty tight-knit, it was only when we hit Fleet Street together in 1975 that the Lynskys and Harrisons became close friends. The powder blue "bakkie" helped, especially, arriving as it did, at the onset of the Spring of that year.
Above (clockwise from top left): the Lynsky machine ... many an hour spent in the back while Rory navigated from one English attraction to another; a spring BBQ at the Venter's exclusive mobile home pad near Staines on the river ... Rory, Brenda, Bob Kirwin's back, Lester and Susie Venter; standing atop Box Hill (I think); Rory strikes a pose at Chartwell.
Adamant that Carmela and I should see as much of England as possible during the remaining part of the year before we had to return to Durban, Rory and Brenda set about introducing us to everything South of an imaginary line between and including Oxford and Cambridge. Sometimes he would get bored of a journey to the extremities of this "patch" and he would need to let off steam. That's when his sense of mischief manifested itself most.
I'll never forget the occasion when he'd made the long drive to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace with the Harrisons plus Liz Butcher rolling around in the back on the then narrow roads between London and Oxford and beyond. No sooner had we arrived in the palace's park-like estate (yes, one could just dive right in in those days) to find a tourist bus parked where it obscured part of the main building.
In a voice intended to be loud enough for the tour party to hear and eyeing the camera hanging from my neck as I emerged from the rear of the bakkie, Mr Lynsky demanded:
"Hey Mark, get a picture of the bus."
Sensing my discomfort and that of the coach party he set about harnessing the pent up energy from the long drive from London. The evidence is in the last three of the 4 pictures below.
rAbove (clockwise from top left): Rob and Gem Melville joined us on a balmy afternoon for a gentler afternoon's blackberry picking, Brenda is on the extreme left; Rory's pent up energy is expended in various activities in front of Blenheim Palace - in the first of these he has a large brown lump in his hand as he chases Liz across the lawn ... she didn't mind, she knew Rory would never knowingly have harmed a living thing.
Rory's posting was as a more senior journalist than mine had been and he and Brenda were initially there for three years. I think it was extended for another two while daughters Catherine and Joanna were born because I returned in 1977 to stay with them in Ham (near Richmond) shortly after Catherine was born and was bearing baby gifts from Rory's Mum. Brenda, although being very recently a new mother, organised a dinner party with home-made quiche (the "coronation" version now fit for a King) and invited some of my old friends, including Elaine Cornish, the wife of one of our stellar colleagues, Jean-Jacques, a bit of a legend.
Brenda and I managed to spend quality time during my short stay in Ham. Rory was commuting daily by train from Richmond to our office at 85 Fleet Street. He used to cycle a little more than 3 miles from Ham to Richmond to get the train. The journey involved Richmond Hill so it would have formed part of the daily exercise regime. One day Rory suggested that I meet his train home and he would arrange for us to join Dave Beresford at the Orange Tree pub. Dave was a mutual friend who would go on to be an acclaimed journo. He was already cracking company and we no doubt had that last pint that pushed us over the edge. As we were leaving Rory insisted that we buy a pie to soak up some of the alcohol. Dave wasn't that keen on the pie, which caused Mr Lynsky to switch into mischief mode. But first he had to grab his bicycle after suggesting that we initially walk towards Dave's house over Richmond Green. Dave and I set off, allowing Rory to catch up on his faster transport mode. By the time he caught up, he had eaten half the pie and was determined that Dave should have the rest. The fact that he didn't fall off his bike says buckets for his ability as a cyclist. Luckily for Dave, though, a person with his two feet on the ground could jinx more nimbly on the Green than a man on a bike, which saved him from his Rory's determined generosity and being force fed a steak and ale pie.
I won't go into the conundrum of how man with bike and man on foot would travel 3 miles home together save to say that the journey involved Richmond Hill in the pitch dark. Luckily there wasn't so much traffic around in those days.
The Lynskys return to South Africa
Above (l to r): There were a few weddings to attend (including Shan's and mine, although this wasn't that one); spot the Lynskys in 1987
The Lynskys remained in the UK until after their second daughter, Joanna, was born in 1979. They were immediately welcomed back into the old group of Durban journos and were part of the small group of guests that attended Shelley-ann's and my wedding at the end of 1980. We slipped back into mutual interests such as walking, canoeing and looking at wild animals.
As far as the latter interest was concerned, the experience was always richer having Brenda around. Apart from her gentle kindness and sense of fun she also had the eyes of a hawk. On a trip to Umfolozi Game Reserve in the Lynskymobile we would have been lucky to have even seen the occasional rhino had it not been for Brenda's eagle eyes. The four of us were out on an early morning drive around the reserve with Rory at the wheel when Brenda suddenly spoke:
"Ror, stop the car," she gesticulated towards some scrub and a tree beside the road. It took our eyes some time to focus and then there were 5 cheetah (maybe even 7, I can't quite remember), two sitting on a mound so close it almost felt if you could lean out and touch them, others camouflaged in the grass beside the road. We hovered for ages and the big cats were seemingly unperturbed.
Eventually moving on, Rory rounded a bend a little further down the road and almost drove into a herd of buffalo. They were crossing the road from a crop of thorn trees to another crop of thorn trees. Around about that time, African buffalo were rated the most dangerous of wild animals and we had the dominant male manoeuvring threateningly in front of the car. To say we were all terrified would be an understatement. They were gradually traipsing from left to right and they seemed to go on forever, the rear of the queue disappearing into the trees. Rory had engaged the clutch and his calf and foot were jumping nervously under the scrutiny of the big fella eying us though reddened eyes. What seemed like an eternity but probably only lasting a couple of minutes, the herd had all moved into the trees on our right.
After a moment's nervous hesitation, Rory exited the field of action as quickly as he could without creating a scene ... as soon as we were safely out of range our driver stopped the car and we all laughed hysterically. If you hadn't been there it would be hard to understand how scary the moment of confrontation had been.
UK visits in the opposite direction
Above (l to r): OK, ok, I know I used it as a banner for this article but I didn't introduce all the participants nor the customary transporting of gifts from various friends in South Africa to the grateful recipients in the UK - here Phil Duff and I are grasping bottles of Tassies and Shan has two bottles of Preen (from her mother), on the mantelpiece is a hand painted card from Andrew Newby - these are the things that parents and friends couriered across with hapless visitors - the dogs' radar is focussed, laser-like on the biltong Rory is holding and expanding about; a walk along the Thames always a must - Rory and Brenda being accompanied by Shan and Ali.
It wasn't long after we'd left South Africa in 1987 before the Lynskys came to visit. They stayed with Phil Duff in what was to become a happy procession over many years. And then it all stopped. It remains unclear to me whether a fall that Rory had on an escalator in London in the mid-2000s, I believe at Heathrow Airport, was the onset of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) that was to plague his remaining years but it was the last time I actually saw him face-to-face.
Some serious and difficult stuff
It was only in the past week or so that many of Rory's friends will have found out that he started life with a physical adversity; like many others of his generation he was held back by polio during his earlier years but guts and determination saw him overcome this early setback to become a runner and canoeist of staying power and repute.
In this and his work as a reporter he didn't muck about. Out of hours maybe ... but he didn't suffer fools and was widely respected for his day job and increasingly over the years as an historian with a formidable knowledge of travel in many parts of the world. Much of this latter intelligence was gained from being a prodigious reader and traveller sponging up details of his experiences to be called upon when conversation demanded it. More of this a little later in the concluding paragraphs of this piece but first we need to understand the determination that carried him through more than a decade of failing mobility.
Only Brenda can really understand what he, and consequently she, went through during this period. I'm trying unsuccessfully to recall ever hearing Rory complain about his own setbacks in life. I know that Brenda helped him through much of his failing bodily function caused by the MND but I corresponded with him up until days before he died and could never be sure how much assistance he needed. I don't really want to know, either. That was between the two of them and hopefully sustained them through just short of 50 years of marriage. All I can vouch for is his clear mind and some splendid photos taken weeks before the end.
In the meantime they disappeared off to Oz.
Australia (the Oracle continues from another space and time)
At first it seems our hero was pretty busy with continuing professional endeavours, undertaking long train journeys and writing them up for various publications around the globe. Personal communications were fairly sporadic. I'm sure he continued reading and, to some extent, gaining vicarious pleasure from what his mates were up to. In fact I know this to be true and will provide some examples to end off what is becoming quite a lengthy tribute. But first some penultimate pictures.
Above: Phil Duff and I came up with a plan - I was chair of the Farcycles (an Oxfordshire cycling community pronounced "farcicals") and Phil was going to Australia in 2015, so I supplied the jersey and Phil the postal service - we think the plan was a success; the bottom right frame is in response to a question from Rory in December last year after he'd read my most recent blog at the time, "Morning Mark. Very enjoyable ramble around the drinking holes in San Sebastián. At times it sounded like a Basque version of the Bekkersdal Marathon! How do [you] manage those eye catching photos with selected subjects in colour against a subdued background?".
I'd love to include a complete transcript of Rory's commentaries on my blogs. They weren't always as complimentary and both he and Andy Newby called me out for my sloppy research on early Durban history. I'm not saying I was 100% contrite but I always respected these special men and tried my best. Rory continued to read my blogs and commented on almost every one ... as I've said, not always in a completely commendatory manner. Here are a few favourites:
Having made his own extensive excursions into the Pyrenees and the East and West Coast of France and Spain, Rory took a great interest in the recent adventures in a camper van enjoyed by my wife, her sister, Kerry Tindall, and me in the same area.
Commenting on our adventures in Cotlliure/Collioure he wrote: "The British novelist Patrick O'Brian lived in the town from 1949 until his death in 2000, and his novel The Catalans describes Collioure life as it was in the past. He also wrote a biography of Picasso, who was an acquaintance. O'Brian and his wife Mary are also buried in the town cemetery.
"His stepson Nikolai Tolstoy wrote a very illuminating biography of this complex man. When the O’Brians moved to Collioure they were as poor as church mice and rented a a single room above a tavern. Their Catalan neighbours used to leave food on their doorstep to see them through the day. Almost all his books were written in Collioure including the Aubrey-Mataurin series reaching 6 million copies.
"Great moody pics Mark and having a soft spot for sardines, a very well organised plate."
His depth of travel reading spurred him on: "Thanks for your very kind words about my interest in journey writing. I think I shared my recently (re)kindled interest with you back in the 80’s when one of us read Eric Newby’s ’Love and War in the Apennines’. From then I’ve probably been hooked on this genre, especially writers who cross boundaries- both geographic and political. From riding a bike from Ireland to India (Dervla Murphy) to walking the Cornish coast (Raynor Winn The Salt Path). You may have read the latter. Very inspirational, A ‘never give up’ epic.
"So there you have it Harry, the complete arm chair traveller!
"... I will certainly read The Baguette and Bicycles 🚴 blog."
And a last advisory discourse after a blog about one of Rory's favourite subjects, walking in the Cotswolds: "Morning Harry. How about a screenshot of an Ordinance Map of your route?
"Why don’t you buy a couple of paper Ordinance Maps that cover the area around Faringdon and when you do a walk just make a fair copy with a few personalised arrows and margin notes. That avoids subscription and copyright issues.
"Gooday Mark. That’s an impressive OS library. That map view helps. The OS police would turn a Nelsonian blind eye to using map views in your blog."
I sent him the map.
The last big journey?
I cannot sign off before sharing a last couple of photos that Rory sent from perhaps his ultimate journey, road tripping with Brenda to visit old friends in late February, early March 2023. There must have been various photographers ...
Above (l to r): Wayne Brown, a mutual colleague from the 70s and 80s, who visited us in the UK with R&B in the late 80s, Brenda, Rory, Robbie Stewart, an epic canoeist in his day, Rory again, Frank Emmett, also a Durban friend and canoeist.
Nuff said! At almost 72 I'm still learning and paying homage to the great mentor in the sky. RIP to a lekker friend for half a century.
I lied about that being the last couple of photos
A few more pictures taken by Rory and sent to me in the past few months
Above: (Row 1, l to r) OK so Rory didn't actually take this one but I took it as a declaration of intent; Always the botanist, this must have appealed greatly; (Row 2, l to r) some elegantly composed architectural stuff; and again; (Row 3) he liked the moody stuff, some great cloud shots; (Row 4) Bren in contemplation.
"I am attempting to describe an incident. My listener is trying to focus her attention but with each hesitation I can see it waning. My brain stammers silently for the worms needed to portray the subject of my convultion. I say something but it is all wrong and not as insertive as I had originally impended. I give up in castration." Mrs Malaprop might have said this.
A sometimes humiliating, often frustrating and frequently overlooked aspect of Long Covid (LC) is its propensity to accelerate faculty degeneration. The humiliation quotient is all too often precipitated by well-meaning friends and acquaintances who, in their attempts to reassure, insist that the same happens to them as they grow older. Yes, advancing years do that, too. LC just adds an order of magnitude.
I struggle to string sentences together in most conversations. Words come and go, interspersed with blank pauses, leading to sentences being delivered in staccato. Kind interlocutors' interest or attention, despite best efforts, begin to fade.
Trouble is, the LC sufferer isn't always conscious that it is happening or has happened.
One of the aspects of this that leaves me mortified is a recent lapse into malapropisms (sometimes also known as acyrologia, or Dogberryisms).
Relating my embarrassment to Shan (my wife), I tell her that I had just told a mutual friend that a description he'd used was a "prerogative term" for a specific type of person. I'd meant to say "pejorative term" and it had been embarrassing, especially as I'd only realised after I had walked away from the friend.
"You do that quite often these days," she retorted.
I hadn't even realised and immediately started trying to recall all the previous occasions on which I had committed such Dogberryisms. Those who know me will probably testify that I can be a bit curmudgeonly on the subject of correctly spoken English. It's not that I'm especially grumpy just that beautifully constructed sentences are music to my ears.
Long Covid is not a thing
I've already referred to assertions by kindly people alluding to garbled speech being a normal progression, which occurs with advancing years.
I went from an encyclopaedic knowledge of local geography to complete shutdown in less than two years. The information is often still there but I cannot access it when I need it in conversation. Give me a bit of time and a keyboard and I can eventually get it out. Useful but also demoralising when the moment is lost after that "bit of time".
There is also the syndrome that causes the general populace to question the existence of life's vicissitudes that are not easy to understand.
First it was ME that became dismissed as "Yuppy Flu" and now people wonder if there really is such a thing as Long Covid. After all the government funders of the NHS initially promised generous sponsorship of facilities to help sufferers through their frustrations. I had an interview and some tests that were sympathetic enough but, when they didn't shed the expected light, malingering became not necessarily an accusation but you could tell the thought was there.
Just as it did for ME sufferers. Fatigue, lack of concentration, poor sleep, muscle and joint aches, irregular heart beat episodes; they come and they go. Just when you think it's safe to go back in the water ...
Anxiety or reduced confidence may or may not be attributable to Long Covid. All I know is that I was a pretty confident cyclist a couple of years ago and now I have to pluck up the courage to venture out. Could be self-inflicted, of course. Sitting around bathed in self-pity? Perhaps? A secondary affliction resulting from the first?
Perhaps, if the other symptoms resolve themselves sufficiently, anxiety will step away, too.
I do like my adventures.
On the positive side, I am now, at the end of February 2023, far more capable of walking than in the intervening 29 months since that fateful Covid episode in 2020. Progress on the walking front has been a series of peaks and troughs but each peak is higher and each trough shallower. Strange heart palpitations persist but less frequently. Muscle and joint episodes at night are definitely less frequent.
I have a smashing e-Bike that lets me sneak past the fit boys up hills (if I'm close enough to them at the bottom). Haven't got back on the Bianchi yet ... can't wait for the day when its 7Kg lithe frame is again between my legs and that feeling of freedom unleashes itself as I crest a steep climb unassisted ...
Or maybe my time is up ... run out of road after too many injuries, operations and pandemics?
I sincerely hope not!
A hint of mischief in the smile ... only some things were to be taken seriously (for "some things", read family, close friends and some of the more needy of this world).
It would be impossible to let Judy just slip away. She left a lasting impression of loyalty and affection without compromising her belief in speaking out if she thought something needed to be said. Frisson between propriety and mischief, between duty and fun, between tradition and people underpinned the way she conducted her long life.
Named Judith by her father who evidently hoped that she’d one day become a Lady, she was more comfortable in the rôle of Judy, fun-loving Mum to Patrick (Packet), Martin (Mart), Kerry (Kinks) and Shelley-ann (She-ann). From this position she gradually assumed the mantle of matriarch to an extended South African Eriksen family.
I can say this as a welcomed impostor along with Sue, Cathy, Tim, Angie, Claudia, Adi, Judy and Joe, who regularly turned up to Eriksen day in the garden she shared with Bill Bosch in Hermanus, accompanying the other pukka Eriksen descendants, Lyn’s Mike, Charles and James and Peter’s Leif and Vicky. I feel certain that Craig and Guy would also have rocked up with Ann and Robyn if their occasional visits to the Southern Hemisphere had coincided with one of the successive December 27 family picnics.
Judy's grandchildren, Lane, Andrew, Mike, Sean, Kate, Grace and Max often also put in an appearance. As a bit of an old geezer myself, I have relished getting to know this newer generation, together with celebrity appearances by (in no particular order) Jess, James, Carl, Jo, JC, Nina, Valentina, Chris and Simon … and, being a tad sentimental in my advancing years, I am hoping there might still be encounters with Thomas, Oscar, Olivia, Greg, Nikki, Jess, Didi, Camilla and Mark to look forward to. And then there are four great grandchildren ...
But I digress with lists (a la Nick Hornby) and must return to the rich and varied life that drew relatives and friends alike into Billy's and Judy’s garden at Sun Cottage, 57 Mitchell Street in Hermanus.
Born Judith Elaine Eriksen in Durban on June 27, 1929, our Judy was shipped off at a cruelly young age to boarding school at St Anne’s Diocesan College in what was then the rather rural village of Hilton.
As a child she made lifelong friends including Joy, Bar, Shim, Pam, Feety and Marge. Childhood morphed into later teens and she was despatched to Boschetto Agricultural School for Women, near Harrismith in the Free State. It is thought she was allowed her own horse there but she was certainly allowed to ride and was part of a parade for the British Royal Family who had a flying visit to Harrismith for tea during their Southern Africa Tour in 1947.
Before you think that I might be embarking on a full-length biography of my late mother-in-law, this preamble is actually just a brief attempt to lay down a framework for some unreliable memoirs, some my own and others from the urban mythology that has reached me via Shelley-ann. I hope Judy would have enjoyed reading it, herself.
Bookending the 1947 photo above are two strong women who died in 2022. Judy, looking pensive on the extreme left, is waiting for a signal to run to the Boschetto stables where she would mount her horse to form part of a guard of honour for the royal party. She and the similarly dressed young people were to salute them on their way from the Harrismith Station where they would continue their 3-month tour of Southern Africa.
Above: (left) having ridden a horse since childhood, horse riding was still very much a way of her life in the late 40s and this picture was part of a series taken by a Durban newspaper photographer that appeared in the New York Times; (right) friends for almost all of their lives (l-r) Joy, Bar and Judy. Joy Robertson survives the other two, Bar having died in late 2021.
Notes from Shan
Before heading off on the aforementioned randomly assembled personal memories and anecdotes from relatives' and friends' fond reminiscences, Shan's thoughts provide an insightful background into the person the Deale siblings' mother was:
"Mum taught us, among many things, how to love, have compassion and have a sense of fun. Like our nightly washing-up routine done while trying to harmonise to the likes of Walderee with rictus grins when she suggested we try to smile while singing. We’d inevitably collapse into helpless laughter. There was always music and singing and larking about. Like our skiffle band with Mum leading on the piano accordion, Packet on guitar, Marty on bongo drums, Kinks on triangle and or washboard. I think my role was to fill in vocally on the missing, in between notes. Our door was always open and our home in Tividale Road was a magnet for young people strolling in and out. All the neighbourhood children would congregate there and play cricket on our “cricket pitch”, rounders on our “big lawn”, slide down the “foofy slide”, ride our bikes or compete in soap box races down the adjacent road. Or just to play around in our rather large pool that we’d all helped to dig (in the collective enthusiasm on this project, the hole ended up too large and had to be partially filled in. It was still 20 feet by 40 feet and 8 feet in the deep end! Mum said she’d wanted us to be able to swim lengths.).
"We all adored Mum and vied for her attention even if we were a little scared of her at times (she could be very strict!). I remember once feeling aggrieved that my older siblings didn’t want me around while with their friends (why would teenagers want a child under 10 hanging around?!) and I ran sobbing to Mum. She immediately pulled me onto her lap and comforted me. I felt very loved and actually a bit smug. I asked her, thinking I knew the answer, which one of us she loved the best. Her reply? “Whoever is closest to me at the time.” Even as a child I appreciated the brilliance of this answer even if it wasn’t the one I wanted.
"Mum was meticulous about attending every sporting event any of us did and always dressed in the colour of our school house. Her glamorous and elegant presence, in our house colours, was a source of huge pride to us.
Above: The "DIY" pool; perhaps the surfer-dude lads weren't quite so excited to be chaperoned by their Mum on Durban's Addington Beach but the girls seem perfectly relaxed with the attention.
"She was a stickler for etiquette so we grew up eating off the best plates and drank our milk out of crystal wine glasses. Silver service including the whole array of cutlery. Clean hands and face, brushed hair, backs straight, elbows in - “no flying!” - no shovelling, mouths closed while chewing, no stretching for items on the table. Bread rolls could only be eaten by breaking off bite size pieces that could then be buttered and popped into one’s mouth. Toast for breakfast could only be torn in two, never cut, and one half buttered and eaten before the other half could be buttered and eaten. And heaven help you if you used your own bread knife when helping yourself to butter from the butter dish! A problem we had were the dinner plates: they had a wide, raised border where mustard or salt was supposed to sit. Let no food ever touch this border. Ever. This meant the area for the food was reduced to probably the area of a side plate. We could never, ever turn our forks over (while holding the knife) so the end of meals entailed painstakingly piercing each and every pea and trying to slide rice up the back of the fork with the knife without everything landing in one’s lap. When all else failed, we were allowed to rest our knives along the right side of the plate, turn the fork over and hold it in our right hands and sort of mash the rice on the back of the fork. We had to eat everything.
If there were any serial or serious digressions in the rules or if there been an infringement preceding the meal, the culprit had to eat alone at the ironing table in the kitchen.
We were also strongly encouraged to converse at the dinner table so Mum came up with the idea of “conversation starters”. Each of us had a night where we’d introduce a subject that everyone would then discuss. I seem to recall one of my subjects was ants.
"Mum was always such a healthy, active person and was rarely ill. And then she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her late forties. Rather than giving in to the awful pain that riddled her body, she was determined to “keep moving”. She took to running around Durban's Greyville racecourse in the early mornings armed with a screwdriver when we admonished her on the dangers. When that drew more cries of alarm from us, she walked (at a more sensible hour) and attended yoga classes. She did yoga into her 80s, sitting in a chair in her classes because of the pain in her knees and feet. Even with her pain, she always maintained a beautiful posture: she never slouched while sitting. Ever. And every single day up to when she was 90, she did leg ups and had a washboard stomach any teenage girl would have envied. This meant she could sit straight up from a lying position without aid right up until she died."
Above (clockwise from top left): Judy with Arthur Deale, father of all of her children; with a very young Shelley-ann (a.k.a. She-ann, Shan etc.); en famille in the mid-60s with a bare-chested Mart, floral-shirted Packet, bikini-clad Kinks and Shan in what must have been an early one-piece ... Shan has said her Mum was occasionally a frustrated hippy and the sunglasses and orange floral tent dress do nothing to contradict this; a few years later Judy decided the children needed a holiday and took them skiing - she is seen here getting accustomed to the nursery slopes; out for a walk in the Drakensberg looking très chic and armed with a stylish handbag; halter chic, we know not where or when but loved the pic.
Random accounts of a life well spent
I can't say I'm sure when I first met Judy but it would have been somewhere in the close vicinity of 1970 (yes more than 50 years ago), either in her kitchen where her children held soirées on Sunday evenings or perhaps at the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg - where I was accosted by her sister Lyn. I was wearing a suit and clutching a cub-reporter's notebook and pen, earnestly attempting to decipher the results of the show jumping ...
"Mark Harrison," Lyn summoned. She was tall and imposing and dressed for the Members' enclosure, "Join my sister and me for tea." Evidently I was deemed respectably enough dressed for the Royal Agricultural Society's tea garden.
"Mark Harrison is a friend of Charles (Phillips, Lyn's son)," she introduced me to her equally glamorous sister. I do remember Judy being gentler of tone and thoughtfully enquiring about my occupation.
Fast forward 8 or 9 years to when I "bumped" into Shelley-ann and was pretty much immediately smitten. After my first random meeting I asked her out for a date. She acceded provided that I joined her and her mother for sundowners that Friday. I duly pitched up to be met by Judy in an imposing red suit. I was invited into the sitting room where a small gathering was taking place. Turns out it was Shan's 19th birthday. I was invited to sit beside Judy and was interrogated in the nicest possible way.
I must have done something right because it wasn't long before I was promoted to son-in-law.
Before that happened, I'd done a bit of my own investigating. One of Shan's earliest suitors had been met on the driveway by her mother clad in Packet's wetsuit and holding a surfboard. I don't know if the fella was intimidated but if he was, thank-you Judy.
It turns out that Judy also kept a soft rein (maybe being a top class horsewoman had influenced this) by writing notes to her children when they were out. These notes were affectionate and full of fun, riddled with stick figure drawings and P, M, K and S used to look forward to getting home from wherever they'd been to read the latest note. Her love for her brood exhibited it in her pride in showing them off to her own contemporaries and we have a whole archive of photos of times spent intermingling with Judy's friends. Very often embracing food of some description ... she prepared many a great cross-generational feast. My parents, Shirley and Woody, were frequent benefactors.
WAbove: (top row, l-r) French dinner party; aftermath of French dinner party; Rasta Christmas; (bottom row, l-r) Mart's 50th; normal Christmas attire for Hermanus; Her Maj, on tour.
Shan and I hosted our first major dinner party. About 20 people around a long table sharing an authentic cassoulet and wearing appropriate clobber (see first two pics above). Judy was guest of honour but she really didn't appreciate my beard.
"Markus, why don't you shave one side of your face and we can judge which we prefer," she quipped. Actually, she was concerned I might have a receding chin and wanted an escape route should this prove to be true. The aftermath is in the second pic.
Years later the family was in Hermanus for Christmas and Judy bought the men Rastafarian headgear in the covered market. We had to wear them for dinner.
For Mart's 50th we headed off to Boston for a hippie knees up. Costume was essential as was what was probably another Judy contrived Christmas get up.
The last picture in the sequence above is of Judy having a bit of fun waving majestically from a ricksha. It disguises the arthritic pain that Shan has mentioned she endured for decades. There were times when her glamorous persona disguised the almost unendurable pain. In Shan's notes she describes how her mother came to suppress the pain but it never quite left her.
It didn't stop her larking about, though. She and Kerry pitched up in the UK for for Shan's 40th birthday. A wheelchair was procured and travelled with the three of them to Paris for a weekend. Many an anecdote emanated from that excursion but the most lasting one for me was the picture the two younger women painted of parking their mother at the foot of the Eiffel Tower while they legged it to the top to take in the view. They had just reached the top when it started to rain. Wracked with guilt, they legged it back down again, eschewing the view, only to find that the matronly parking place was sheltered from the rain.
I believe there was a dig from Maman about dodging the pigeon shit. I think one might even have perched on her head at some stage.
Perhaps it had been a harbinger of things to come when Judy's prowess at club tennis was curtailed by pain. Never one to stew in self pity she decided to take up bowls instead. She joined the local club and before long was dominating all the tournaments. She was asked to leave the club. The only plausible excuse: she was too young.
Before and after the onset of arthritis, Judy had to be doing something. She played league tennis, raced pigeons, took excellent photographs, did voluntary work for Tape Aids for the Aged (TAFTA), Lifeline and child welfare, played the piano accordion, held dinner parties ...
She was also a confidant, which severely pissed off my wife. I would confide in my mother-in-law and Shan couldn't wheedle out what I'd said to her for love nor money. This meant that lots of friends, including her children's friends, went to her to bare their breasts. As a journalist, and because some of the people who did this were "personalities", even I occasionally felt frustrated.
Of all these extramural activities, I believe it was her art that was the most enduring. Her gardens ran a close second.
Billy entered Judy's life not very long after Shan and I were married. A year or so?
They, themselves, were married in Oxfordshire in 1995. There had been a fair amount of talk about Shan organising for them to get spliced at Gretna Green but she managed to talk them into the far more pedestrian registry office in our neighbouring town of Wantage.
During those years, we saw quite a lot of the intrepid pair in our home in Faringdon. The chronology of it all is beyond me but there were definitely two extensive hippie adventures in Europe. In one of these they did the full Monty, buying a Kombi in Amsterdam and heading off to Italy and beyond for six months. For another they shipped their beloved "tin tent" to Europe for another escapade.
Judy was in her element and her delight delighted Billy. At some point, we suspect in Greece, she was delighted with all the little mountaintop Christian churches. After many, they came across a particularly quaint church surmounted by a cross that Billy claimed for years afterwards that Judy had exclaimed: "This one is so old, it must be BC."
Travel in the tin tent was in no way exclusive to overseas adventures. There were many safaris in Africa, Namibia and probably Botswana. The Deale offspring (and I suspect the Bosches, too) used to hold their collective breath when these adventures took place. The tin tent was a converted Toyota HiAce van, a vehicle that was also the favourite taxi in South Africa and had the status of hard currency with often violent car thieves.
At some point after that they moved to Sun Cottage in Hermanus in the Western Cape. This was a bit of a metamorphosis for both of them
Above: Judy's and Billy's wedding was a small but happy affair attended by two of Billy's longest standing friends from their immediately post-war lives at UCT, Hermine and John de Kock who completely coincidentally lived in the next village from us ... Kate was the bridesmaid; the tin tent in all its glory somewhere in Africa - you can tell it was later in its life by the Hermanus number plate ... earlier adventures had started out from Durban.
The Bosches hit Hermanus
Being the gregarious people they were, it wasn't long before they were fully assimilated and throwing uproarious dinner parties (and no doubt being invited back). Of course, they didn't have too far to go either, especially to visit John and Emma Hayter who lived just across the road.
A favourite pastime was taking a bottle of wine down to the beach (probably illegal but blind eyes were turned) ... this turned into a ritual when family members "discovered" the small but perfectly formed guest cottage in 57 Mitchell Street's capacious garden, especially those of us from the Northern Hemisphere. I've lost count of how many times we travelled out there but it was during that period that "Eriksen Day" evolved. I suspect that the prototype of these might have been created to entertain our friends and relatives for a get together in that dead period between Christmas and New Year.
Above (top to bottom, l-r): Judy and Billy never did their sundowners without a splash of panaché; surveying the scene for a few beach games before Christmas 2002; the games begin; the group shot; the "adults" plan the December 27 lunch; a few bottles of wine were consumed at that lunch; more family had arrived by 2017; Billy and Judy relaxing après déluge; another Christmas and Judy is as delighted as ever; and again with a splendid gilet; the gilet had arrived in an equally splendid bag; still modelling the latest hippie fashions in 2019.
Reciprocal travel did continue to the Northern Hemisphere but less often in the latter years.
Sadly Billy died pretty suddenly after a stroke in November 2011. He lingered in hospital briefly during which time he managed to summon a grin and pinch Judy's bottom. I'm pretty sure she responded with faux outrage, "Oh Billy, you silly arse."
A previous occasion on which Billy had attracted that response happened after the notorious local baboons had raided their fruit bowl, peeled all the bananas and chucked the skins on the floor of their patio.
Judy discovered them first and shouted to her husband: "Billy, you silly arse, why did you throw the skins on the floor?"
Billy, of course, delighted in repeating this story.
He also enjoyed her sense of mischief and encouraged her to do things that would have had her children diving for cover with embarrassment. A particular example of this occurred when I was working on a project in Cape Town and invited a colleague, Ross, to stay with my in-laws for the weekend. Billy was, as always, determined to to show off Hermanus and bundled Judy, Ross and me into their car for a guided tour. As we returned to the town limits Billy stopped the car just before the large plaque identifying "Hermanus". The sign was about 2 metres above the ground.
"Have you got your brolly, Jude?" he demanded. She nodded in the affirmative.
"Go on, do your trick," he grinned. So she exited the car and marched over to the sign and, with a degree of panache, swept the brolly in an arc until it obscured just the M in the sign.
I believe Judy and Billy were raised to hero status in Ross's mind immediately.
Judy only visited us once after Billy died. This had to be done prior to her 83rd birthday before insurance became all but prohibitive. We were able to put the spoils of my business-travel air-miles to good use to get her a bed in Business Class on her return journey. She enjoyed that.
Above (l to r): Judy and Kinks in Boston, Mass for Marts 50th birthday; in our town square in Faringdon having a drink with friends; always the avid gardener, visiting Badbury Clumps near Faringdon in spring with the bluebells.
Judy found it all but impossible to sit around feeling sorry herself. I have made a tangential reference to her art earlier on but this was one of her skills that intensified during the second decade of the 21st Century. She had taken lessons in technique at the Volmoed Trust retreat in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that included, inter alia an art studio and had a little studio of her own in Mitchell Street where she was seriously prolific. The last chapter to this story will illustrate how her art kept her interest going to the very end.
Another part of Judy that not everyone was privy to was her determination to keep up with current affairs and often specifically Northern Hemisphere current affairs. She read UK newspapers avidly, albeit a few days late after John Hayter had bought and read them and passed them on. A chain developed with other residents of Mitchell Street reading them downstream. I'm sure this happened to others of my generation, too, but whenever I rocked up at Sun Cottage she couldn't wait to have the conversation surrounding what she had read. As I was mostly there on holiday and usually sans TV, she was often ahead of me on the doings of the previous days. She made sure to read up on the latest advances in the digital world, too, so she could discuss these with her grandchildren. An example of this was to advise them to think about investing in bitcoins.
Judy nudges Ninety
With the 27th of June 2019 looming, it became clear that we should all be there to celebrate in style. The family was swarming and Shan went ahead to greet them and help with the preparations. Kate and I followed shortly afterwards. I had volunteered to stock and man the bar for a major garden party. Kate and I grabbed a hire car and stopped off for cases of wine from Blankbottle en route to Hermanus.
The party at 57 Mitchell Street was, by anyone's judgement, a festive affair with friends and relatives descending from far and wide. Notably, the three splendid ladies from the beginning of this story were still alive (with Joy and Bar there in spirit) and there were a lorra lorra Eriksens and their kith and kin. The photographs below demonstrate the solidarity of the occasion.
Above, it should be reasonably obvious which caption relates to which picture so, starting from the top: Joy, Judy and Bar is the most recent pic I could obtain of the three of them together - sadly Bar and Joy were unable to travel; Judy holding Luna Reeves the first of her great grandchildren; Two generations of actual Eriksens, Vicky and Judy, blow out the candles; Judy with her brood; Judy with many of her direct descendants and their spouses/spice; everyone who was still left standing, including Denise, who was representing Bar.
As I mentioned, the party was a happy affair and none of us would have known at the time what was looming around the corner. There was an "until we meet again" feeling as we all went our separate ways.
The final chapter
No one could have anticipated the pandemic that was lurking around the corner. It changed many lives and Judy's more than most. Covid Lockdown was particularly draconian in South Africa and Judy was left for most of the time in virtual solitary confinement. Kerry, Judy's only "child" remaining anywhere near Hermanus, stretched the boundaries wherever she could and spent time with her mother practically every day. But Judy, being the sociable person she was, was alone for most of the early part of the pandemic waves. She withered. She did continue her art from home but its mood had changed from optimism to a kind of abstract representation of what she was feeling. Difficult to interpret without being actually inside her brain.
In latter years, Judy, so caught up in life, became nervous, even frightened, of death. She asked Kerry if there was someone she could speak to to prepare herself for death. She had always been privately spriritual, never pushing religion, but quietly attended a local church. Kinks arranged for the local minister to visit and that seemed to allay some of her mother’s fears.
But Judy was actually meticulous in preparing for the inevitable, often disguising it with a layer of levity. To quote Kerry:
"One day Mum and I were in her kitchen at Sun Cottage making tea when she suddenly asked me, straight out, what would I do when she died....
"Well, I told her that I would first phone Packet, Marty and She-annies and tell them that she had died. She then asked, and what next...? I told her I would phone the Bosch children and tell them that you had died and that Sun Cottage was now theirs.
"Okay she says, let's practice! She then proceeded to slither (giggling) down the cupboards until she lay flat out prone on the floor. I pulled out my phone (as per script!) and frantically called my siblings saying Oh No! Mum has died, she's lying on the floor in the kitchen, I'm so sorry!! I then (pretended to) phone Roger and told him as well and to please tell Lance, Alison and Julia.
"While she was lying there playing possum, she asked me what she should wear to her funeral!! She then laughed and sat up saying it doesn't really matter, why should she care, she wouldn't be there. I even offered to take her into her wardrobe so we could choose an outfit for her! She refused.
"Mum had an extraordinary gift of seeing the funny and practical side of all aspects of life. That was one of the many things I loved most about her."
Judy also asked Packet, a lawyer, for help with ensuring her estate was in order and he discovered a wealth of notes, codicils and instructions about what should be done with her belongings. Kerry adds:
"Mum was always pragmatic about dying. When we were kids she would walk us round the house pointing out various paintings she thought could be valuable or the odd piece of furniture which she figured could be worth something."
A rebellious side, mostly buried, also came to the fore. Kinks shared an example:
"...she discovered her extended middle digit which she proceeded to use with gay abandon, whether across the myriad of people queuing in Clicks, or, her most famous was when bidding us farewell on leaving our house in her trusty Nissan steed, and instead of the usual royal wave, we were graced with The Digit wave."
After the initial lockdown things eased a bit but it became obvious that Judy would require full-time care. After a shortish period of trying to find a suitable person, Connie Spandiel arrived and the two women became inseparable. Connie was happy to live in the guest cottage until early in 2022 both Judy and Connie became ill, Judy with an amputation-threatening cyst on her foot and Connie with a heart attack. Both ended up in hospital and tragically, Connie died on that first night.
Even thoughshe did not eventually lose the foot it became self-evident that Judy would have to be moved into a full-time care home. Despite excellent care Judy longed to be back in her own home. This was never going to be feasible and in her last days she was most content with her art.
Kerry concluded that despite a diagnosis of early stage dementia, "she knew who I was right up till the end: Kinks/Kerry, and she kept the photo of us four children and her in front of her on her bed table and told everybody who came in that I was her daughter and those were her four children. She loved us so much and we will always miss her."
Above (clockwise from top left): before the pandemic, Judy kept up with her art classes; Clouds in what I suspect is a South African landscape; a small hamlet somewhere in Italy; Three generations and the last time Kate saw her grandmother ... always the hijinks.
Judy had made her epitaph plain to anybody who asked: "I'd rather die of exhaustion than boredom."
I suspect she pretty much got her wish during the night of December 29/30.
Above: possibly Judy's last painting, done while she was in the Onrus Manor care home. Still as neat as a pin and seated with a straight back.
We have just sold/relinquished our beloved "Campy" after 11 years of touring Europe unfettered by schedules. We followed our noses from Faringdon to Ferrara and freedom beyond. We climbed mountains and rattled helter-skelter into valleys. We lounged beside the sea and sipped wine alongside lakes. Now we're at the crossroads.
I won't say the decision was entirely predicated on Brexit but that episode of dumbfoolery certainly stripped the gilt from the gingerbread. Waving goodbye to our innocent pleasures on the road was quite an emotional journey in itself.
So this is an ode to the freedom of the road and freewheelin' in the EU. I thought to start with photos of Campy posing in mountainous beauty spots and beside lakes and rivers but in trawling through thousands of images, it seems insufficient credit was accorded to our benefactor. A bit like saying: "You got us here Campy, but don't expect to be in the pictures."
Actually there are quite a few but there are huge gaps, too, so that when embarking on this project Shan and I were quite nonplussed that, for example, we had nothing from my 60th birthday, tracts of central Italy and France, or withstanding gales in St Ives. There are pictures there in our archives but they just don't have Campy in them and therefore break the rules of this tribute to our home on wheels for substantial parts of more than a decade.
The power of pictures
This sad state of affairs took me back to an episode In Liverpool and the adventures of Flossie the blowup sheep ... *** irrelevant tangent alert ***. It all started with a programme I was managing in a major insurance company on the banks of the Mersey. There were some specialised talents involved that necessitated recruiting a few top notch IT chaps from Kiwiland. We appointed a team leader, Gavin, and he'd read all the text books on team leadership. During his first week he did the team leadery thing and took his team members out for a few pints in Liverpool. Looking for a bit of endorsement for the evening Gavin mentioned to me that he had a brilliant idea ... he would play a practical joke on his Scouse team members.
"Gavin," I cautioned him, "do not take on the wags of Liverpool!
"These guys are the mothers and fathers of practical jokes, especially if stirred up by a bit of provocation."
But he threw caution to the wind. To be honest, his wind up was that insignificant I can't remember what it was. What I do remember was the payback.
A couple of the team members planned an outing to a notorious Liverpool novelty shop.
"We're going foraging for a blow-up sheep," the ringleader announced to a select audience, that excluded Gavin, as they left the building. It didn't take them long and they were back, bearing a substantial package.
"We asked the guy behind the counter," the ringleader whispered, "do you have any blow up sheep?
"His face was expressionless as he responded with three words: 'black or white?'
"We chose the white," he concluded, removing the outer wrapping to reveal a box emblazoned with with the words Flossie the Blow Up Sheep - with genuine love passage.
How they managed to keep it secret from Gavin I don't know. The grand unveiling was to take place at the England vs New Zealand cricket test match at Old Trafford in 1994. A few stalwarts of Gavin's team had the Friday off to spectate. Gavin didn't. The whispers on the day before were that Flossie was to be bedecked in Kiwi colours, inflated with helium and flown from the England corner of the ground. The final touch was the phrase emblazoned on Flossie's flank: I ❤ Gavin W****2.
That evening, as a consolation for not having the day off to watch the cricket, I took Gavin to the pub. We returned to our separate abodes to catch the late test summary only to intercept a conversation that went something like this:
English commentator, I think it was Geoffrey Boycott but I stand to be corrected: "What do you think of the flying sheep then, Richard?"
Sir Richard Hadlee's response was somewhat irritated but went along the blustering lines of how many millions of sheep there were in New Zealand in a vain attempt to deflect the story.
(I think it was) Boycott who replied: "Yeah but not many of them named Gavin W****!"
Gavin and I both heard the story, as did half the IT division of our very large customer. Gavin had instant notoriety. I can't say it did him any harm especially as, being an all-round decent bloke, he took it on the chin.
Flossie went on to become a cause célèbre. A substantial number of colleagues asked if they could take Flossie on holiday with them as click bait. "Gavin's" sheep was loaned out on two conditions:
Back to the main story and its missing pics
So apologies if our picture story laid out below does not tell the whole saga - for that readers will need to explore other nooks and crannies of this site for additional detail.
To save repeating redundant instructions, all captions are situated below a set of photos and individual pieces of information refer to the individual pics from top to bottom and from left to right, so without further ado ...
Our first encounter with Campy, sitting outside his1 first owners house in 2011; a heat map of those places in which our motorhome did crack a photo.
Our first trip of any length was driven by Shan while I laboured East to West on my bicycle with Campy frequently in evidence; two views of our accommodation facing rearwards and frontwards respectively; having lunch with Kate alongside Chew Valley Lake after an ambitious cycle up from Wells (Campy arrived with Shan and Kate via Cheddar Gorge); Ponies in the New Forest; a sea view in Seatown with an appropriately named pub, The Anchor; the first of a fair number of barbecues; Campy in full regalia at Slindon.
Music festivals in luxury, this one was the Wilderness Festival at Cornbury in 2012; the sun wakes one up early in mid summer with promises of Wilco, Stornaway and Rodrigo y Gabriela ...
A sad and contentious fact about our motorhome travels was that Shan wasn't present for the first Channel crossing but here she gamely accompanies me on some vintage bike training in the South Downs National Park; loaded up with bikes for Richard and me, Campy looks back across the Channel from Calais; in the mountains having just crossed into Switzerland; in a queue on the Great St Bernard Pass headed towards Italy; in Italy looking North towards the Alps; arrived at our parking for the Eroica at Gaiole in Chianti where there was plenty of company for Campy while Richard and I went off to take part in the event; breaking my own content rules here a bit, but me in Radda in Chianti after a nasty fall on the circuitous gravel route, now getting attention from a German doctor in WW1 costume, aided and abetted by Italian nurses in costume of a similar vintage (if you look carefully, the nurse on the right has a fag in his mouth); having been put on a drip and then ferried back in the doc's van, I felt entitled to a few sips of beer back at the camper parking; having successfully completed the route, Richard is entitled to look a bit smug - I did get my local pecorino for finishing, though.
For a few years Campy was the mainstay refreshment stop for the 200-odd cyclists taking place in the Farcycles sportive with Shan dispensing refreshments and locally made cake, flapjacks etc.; Kate joins Shan in the penultimate frame of the set; Campy publicising the Farcycles Sportive at the 2014 British stages of le Tour de France in Ilkley.
At last Shan gets to mainland Europe and is able to rest alongside Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet; me too; according to TomTom we were parked in the middle of the Dordogne in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (at this point I'd just crushed the skylight under a bridge at the entrance to the campsite); Shan surveying the Seine at wine time; Campy looking longingly at the sea on the Northern coast of Normandy.
Campy is becoming a familiar customer of le Shuttle through le tunnel sous la manche, loaded down with home-cooked food now no longer an option following Brexit; Beside the Mosel surveying the vines upriver from Bernkastel-Kues; finally reached the Brienzersee at Brienz after a hair-raising drive into Giswil through the Entelbuch Biosphere; two frames looking out over the lake, the latter from Campy as the cold draws in; three views of the Dolomites, the middle one from the 2236 m summit of the Passo Giau, achieved via 29 major hairpins, and the third at an overnight stop on a disused airstrip near Cortina; vantage point from Cervarezza high in the Apennines; exiting Italy at Claviere.
Various trips to France: après déluge at Briare on the Loire; one of our favourite campsites at Chinon on the Vienne (a tributary of the Loire); One of the brilliant free camper stops in France, this one at Château-Gontier on the Mayenne; a stop on a Loire source-to-sea adventure at Digoin; Back to our fave campsite at Chinon, I suspect drinking an Alsace Riesling; over to the Bourgogne for Chardonnay Shan, this one a local 2014 brew from Mavilly-Mandelot where we camped at the winery; we parked for two days in Pommard in the courtyard of Virely-Rougeot; complete serenity at Camping la Faz near Orgelet; the astonishing Millau Viaduct - we went over it and then under it; in the Dordogne; alongside a quiet lake on the outskirts of Dieppe.
Back to the UK and a cosy glass of Chardonnay for Shan during a short break to Norfolk; Campy becomes our permanent home for a while, living on our driveway while renovations/extensions take place; it was quite cosy in the snow; don't ask - suffice to say it was my 67th birthday and we were camping just outside Tetbury; en route to a quick escape in Scotland before Kate's wedding, here in the Northern Pennines with some fresh snow evident on the range in the background.
Beside Loch Linnhe after an emotional trip to Glencoe; man doing fire dance at sunset on Mull with the Sound of Mull as a backdrop; me with broken mirror and fleecy dressing gown photographing the sunset; being welcomed on to the ferry to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula; the road down to Loch Sunart.
It had to be done ... the gin and the frozen granite; Slàinte mhath; and there's a full moon from Rosemarkie.
A last gasp down to the west of England during a gap from Covid: Campy in all her glory in a sylvan scene near Corfe Castle in Dorset; our new Cobb BBQ, the dog's ...; Shan does not like being called Shirley (my Mum's name and Starry's wind-up name); Campy resting in the cool of the evening; Shan occupying herself during a quiet moment; Campy in glamorous company above Lynmouth.
Campy's last day with us, the gentleman in the picture is about to drive him away for ever. Shan and I cannot truthfully claim that it was not a wee bit emotional.
Having selfishly imposed a personal constraint on our initial tribute to Solange, here's hoping forgiveness is in order as it was what it said on the box: a personal tribute. The exciting thing, though, is that endeavours to verify elements of the story resulted in a mine of additional information. Gaps now need to be filled.
What was it that made Solange so special? Perhaps some of this came out in Shelley-ann's and my tribute but there was so much more that emerged from the background work.
Durban's Doyenne of Wine
The key quality that elevated her from other front-of-house wine specialists to Durban's Doyenne of wine was her ability to relate to so many people. From wine-appies on the threshold of a life of appreciation to serious collectors. From newspaper editors to shop assistants. To anyone who shared her love of wine, in fact.
In recent conversations with her family, it emerged that Solange enjoyed dropping the names of the great and the good. This is said with affection, though, and Michelle Sutherland, her youngest daughter, was quick to agree that she treated everyone equally, irrespective of their social standing, particularly those who showed a keen common interest in life. This is rarer than one might think. The wine world is littered with "experts" who somehow breathe more rarified air than we lesser mortals.
How best to do this then? A straight bat with a short biography? A list of the tributes I received when the floodgates opened after initially disappointing responses to requests for background? Mix the two up a bit?
Let's start with a bit of biography and see where that goes. Perhaps appropriate quotes will drop easily into the narrative ...
Before wine was invented
When Durban wine-lovers were asked about Solange and her signature French accent, no-one was ever sure: "She's from France," one would say but, if you asked another the answer would be: "Definitely Mauritius."
I have no detail of how her ancestors came to be in Mauritius, but that is where she was born, on the 22nd of July, 1930. It was quite exciting for me to discover this tidbit because 21 years later, when she was coming of age, I was coming into the world.
That's enough of my personal nostalgia, the circumstances of Solange's 21st were perhaps a little less sanguine. Her father, Joseph Roger Bruneau, had terminal leukaemia and he and his wife Yvonne had travelled en famille to South Africa so he could get the treatment that was unavailable in Mauritius.
Tragically, Joseph's sojourn in South Africa did not last long, unlike Yvonne's. Solange's mère appeared, looking youthful on the cover of my previous blog, much to the delight of its readers. She was accompanying her daughters to a polo match in the late 1980s.
First pic above is of Solange in her late teens shortly before she left Mauritius. A career in wine wasn't really on the agenda until later. Farming in the KZN Midlands was, though. The other photo is of her first-born twins being administered a different kind of nectar by their proud parents in 1956.
It might have been a while before Mlle Bruneau appeared on the Durban wine scene but it wasn't long before she became Mrs Fitchet. In 1953 she married Cedara graduate, Geoff, and ended up farming at Montshonga Dairy Farm near Boston in the KZN Midlands. Then along came the twins, Marie-Claire and Marie-Anne in 1956, followed two years later by a son, Martin in1958.
At this point in the narrative, the trail goes quiet, which is often the case as families explore their nascent years. Pictures of Solange below are of an elegantly-dressed French mother, an elegance that accompanied her into her Durban Doyenne years a couple of decades later.
All immaculate with the twins in 1957 and again with Martin included in 1959. As with many families (I know this because mine was one) a laat lammetjie in the form of Michelle arrived in September, 1965.
Michelle found her given name all too formal and referred to herself as Mimi or Mym. Still does.
So the trail continues to be quiet, pretty much until 1977 when Solange and Geoff were divorced.
It may even be appropriate to describe the 70s as the "wilderness years" in Solange's life in wine. Much of the background I've been able to lay my hands on skips that epoch.
Here Solange is captured with her mother, Yvonne, in the early 70s. I had guessed they were visiting a rural agricultural show or event that demanded some decorum. I covered the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg around that time and had to wear a suit and tie for a week while circumnavigating cattle, horse jumping and other farming type stuff. The ladies of the day had to be elegantly dressed to visit the members' enclosure behind the grandstand for tea and perhaps a glass of something more substantial. Turns out I was wide of the mark and our two ladies were at a wedding anniversary in Boston, KZN and caught on camera by the late Greig Stewart. No wonder it's such a great pic.
Wine becomes a thing
It is not clear how long it took Solange to accumulate her awe-inspiring knowledge of the wines of the world but it regularly happens that women, faced with a new life, absorb knowledge at a prodigious rate. The celebrated South African botanical artist, Cythna Letty came into her own when in her late 60s but the interest was almost certainly kindled a lot earlier.
There's an urban myth that Solange's new husband, Jean Raffray, whom she married late in 1977, was influential in her thirst for expertise in fine wines. There are also links to Solange's own father, who may have "initiated her at a very early age to the wines of St Emilion and St Julien" although she had been a 15-year-old before she had been allowed an undiluted Sauternes. Also, it appears that Jean had recognised his new wife's acute tasting abilities. His father had evidently had "one of the best wine cellars in Mauritius" and maybe that was how he recognised her knowledge of French wines and also had the connections for finding her a position at Rebel.
What we know with verifiable provenance is that Solange joined the Durban wine scene, at the latest in 1979, with a prodigious knowledge. Two years later she is described in the trade press as having "a great knowledge of French wines and not forgetting of course her interest and knowledge of the South African wine market".
The first picture above is of Solange and Jean. The middle describes Solange as a wine personality and the last recalls a wine festival of the day and gives some idea of the prices in 1981.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that she nurtured "wine-appies on the threshold of a life of appreciation". I cannot vouch that Russell Cleaver was ever an "appie" or whether he continues to swig to this day but his wine comment suggests that he was one of the earliest to discover Solange's mentorship:
"About time for recognition. Solange was a breath of fresh air in a sometimes snobby wine community. I often stopped in at Rebel in the morning, when she was not busy, for a chat. I think I was the youngest she would invite to tastings."
I agree with the snobby bit, too, Russell. Solange managed to avoid that even though she revered the "great and the good".
Recognition of the Raffrays' wine prowess definitely appears to have emerged from the time Solange spent at Rebel and given that the central Durban shop was the KZN centrepiece of a huge chain with wine writer and educator, Tinus van Niekerk at the helm of its vinous activities, it would certainly have helped put her on the map.
During that period, Solange and Jean lived just around the corner in the Gables on the Esplanade overlooking Durban Bay. This would have been convenient for Rebel and it seems some lucky patrons were invited to their home for soirées:
"During the early 1980’s, my husband at the time and I were invited to a party by Solange and Jean when they were living in an apartment on the Esplanade. They introduced me to the music of Joe Dassin, which I’ve loved ever since!" says Nicole Le Grange.
"I was very fond of Solange and of her dear husband, (Jean). Solange was so willing to share her knowledge, and all we members of Wino’s became deeply fond of her. I still have a photograph of myself, (hugely pregnant with my daughter), sitting beside Solange, at an early meeting of Wino’s in a penthouse on the Esplanade. The Raffrays also introduced me to French music and French culture generally, which has perpetuated itself in my son’s marrying a beautiful French girl, and now living in France." Joy Savage replies.
"I fondly remember Solange. She conducted the Inaugural meeting and tasting of Winos in March 1983. We kept in contact for a long while after that. I must add that Winos still meets monthly after close on 38 years - now Covid permitting!" confirms Liz Cluver.
While all this was going on, the Esplanade apartment was providing a Durban home for Mym to live and entertain her friends in. I mention this because Solange was fundamentally a human being. Much like fellow members of the worldwide French diaspora there was a more liberal attitude to so-called underage drinking. Wine was often consumed by all the family with meals even if the younger diners' glasses had been watered down a bit. A couple of Mym's friends agreed:
"Solange was an amazing lady. She was my bestie, Mym's, dearest Mom. I was 13 when I first met her. Loved her amazing character and how she loved her family. She put up with all our nonsense behaviour even when she found us jumping on her bed singing Abba songs. Always laughing with us even if we were naughty. Like tasting her wine collection even when we were under age. A special lady who deserves a tribute. Cheers Solange," recalls Gail Hicks.
"I agree, Solange was a legend, my best friend Michelle Sutherland’s mom, a wonderful soul. Solange was so knowledgeable in wine and whisky. Such fond memories of our times together. This is an amazing flashback and tribute to dear Solange," adds Caroline Rouillard Leclezio.
Mym, herself, confirmed this in a recollection: "One could walk the streets safely. I recall mom, myself, another lady and her daughter (who remains a great friend) walking to the Catholic cathedral on Saturdays for evening mass without any worries. I used to get so bored in church - only enjoyed the part when we received the holy sacrament (small round host bread)."
Maybe a bit of communion wine, too, Mym and Caroline?
By the end of her time at Rebel, Madame Raffray was hobnobbing with the great and the good from Stellenbosch, had a few qualifications to her name and was assisting wine author Tinus van Niekerk to develop and run courses in Durban under the umbrella of the Natal Mercury Wine Festival. At that time Rebel was touting her as its "International Specialist".
If, indeed, Solange's wine development had started around 1977, she had certainly grasped her professional career with the spirit of the converted
By the time she was readying herself to move on from Rebel, we can see from the pictures below that our Mauritian consultant hadn't lost sight of the developing wine industry in South Africa's Western Province.
In the first frame above Solange is standing next to Danie de Wet, who would be familiar to rugby fans and aficionados of de Wetshof wine alike; the towering dude on the left resembles my uncle but isn't and I'd really like to know who he could have been, dominating the foreground like that. In the second frame she's with Dr Julius Lazlo who was cellar master at Die Bergkelder and credited as a visionary in the upgrading of South Africa's vineyards at that time.
After her meteoric rise in the early 80s, it is not completely clear how Solange came to up stakes and move to Montana Cellars in December, 1983. Peter Hoyer was around at the time and he spoke glowingly of his wine-buying partner's "special way of finding the right wine for the right price."
This resonated with Shelley-ann and me, who were starting a new chapter in our wine journey but needed to drink the best plonk most of the time so we could occasionally splash out on something BIG. Both Peter and I have long since discovered some of the nectar emanating from the Swartland and it seems sad that Solange was not around to experience this.
Peter and Solange had both made forays to the Cape Winelands in the 80s and often focused on what was new and exciting.
Interestingly, some of the those wines like Allesveloren Tinta Barocca were showcasing relatively little known varieties that drifted out of favour and are now making a comeback more than 30 years later. Allesveloren, of course, is bang in the middle of the Swartland.
Pinotage was one of those varieties, too, and there may have been no greater exponent than Middelvlei's StilJan Momberg (pictured on the left), one of the top dogs in the Cape wine scene on the late 80s.
Solange must have carried out a deft balancing act between her prominent role in the sometimes snobby Durban Wine Society, many of whose members turned up their noses at any mention of Pinotage and had/have done for decades, and flogging Middelvlei Pinotage to the Berea appies who were grateful for something refined and approachable to drink.
This balancing act is the skill that also enabled her to curate wine strategies for the relatively impecunious. This piece by Durban Journalist Anne Stevens highlights the breadth of what Solange had to offer. Of course one has to put oneself into that timezone to imagine La Tâche or Lafite at R80. That same bottle today would set you back something like R100,000 but, then, oligarchs and hedge-fund managers weren't quite so thrusting in their escalating search for status symbols. I wonder what Mme Raffray would've made of that?
Meerlust Rubicon was then South Africa's answer to Lafite at something like R4 a bottle. Today you're looking at around R460.
With the move to Montana Cellars, the Raffray family moved on to the Berea, the hill overlooking the Indian Ocean and another short journey to work. Many of their acquaintances will recall interests in matters other than wine. I believe there was a dimension beyond wine, a sort of philosophy, maybe typically French, that Solange expressed in more sociable company.
At that time, living close by, Michael Green, the then Editor of the Daily News, was either thinking about or already writing his own autobiography and was contemplating the meaning of life. He recalls in Around and about: Memoirs of a South Africa Newspaperman"
"I lost several friends who died too young ... I mentioned this in sorrowful tones to Solange Raffray, who comes from France (sic) and became a wine consultant in Durban. She replied with a phrase in French. 'What does it mean?' I asked. 'The beautiful flowers die young, the weeds go on forever.'"
Montana and Solange lasted for a little over 5 years while great wine boffins came and went. A few of these are captured below.
In the first frame Solange is with Jeff Grier, who was cellarmaster at Villiera and went on to become a Cape Wine Master in 1987. And then there is the ubiquitous Tinus van Niekerk, under whom she had worked at Rebel and may or may not have had a different role by the time he showed up for this photo opportunity at Montana Cellars in 1985. I particularly liked the the last frame of Solange with Spatz Sperling because they had shared somewhat parallel journeys.
Spatz was a year younger than Solange and they had arrived in South Africa in the same year, from Germany and Mauritius respectively. He ended up as patriarch of Delheim, a widely-respected influence on the Cape wine industry, dying relatively recently in 2017.
Solange and Jean found time to travel at this time and visited Europe several times in the 80s and 90s. I cannot vouch for its being fact but I sincerely hope she got the chance to sip the Lafite and La Tâche on their home turfs in the Medoc and in the Côte de Nuits.
Montana Hypercellars came under new ownership in mid-1988. I have no way of knowing whether this was a cue for Solange to move on or whether she was wooed away to the glamorous new Cellar in the old railway workshop in Pine Street. Michael Green wrote in the Daily News of June 27, 1989 that she was already installed in the new emporium but there are pictures from the 1990 Nederburg Auction with her sitting alongside the owners of of Liberty Liquors, suggesting it must've been an amicable transition.
After all, why wouldn't it be. Solange may not have suffered fools but she was passionate about wine. I last visited her in the Cellar in 1992 when she was genuinely moved that we'd taken time out of a holiday to visit her.
In the four pictures above, the first is repeated from a more personal tribute as Solange's last gig capped a rich career and even became somewhat of a tourist attraction. Next she is with chef, Franco Burlando, in a February 7, 1996 Daily News cutting, opening a Durban women's club. Then comes a shot with her wine mentor and husband, Jean, who died in 1999. The last frame is a post-retirement shot of Solange looking chic with Mym in 2000.
With all her offspring and their father in 2000. In the front row, L-R: Marie-Anne, Solange, Marie-Claire and back row, L-R: Mym, Geoff and Martin. Mym was married the following year and the family is seen with new husband Andrew Sutherland, who sadly died of a stroke in 2011.
In the penultimate frame, from December 2004, La Grand Mère with her youngest grandchild, Brenna Sutherland. In the Last frame, still with a twinkle in her eye and do we, perhaps, sense a hint of mischief while posing for this 2007 photo with Mym.?
Solange died a year later in September 2008.
A votre santé madame, c'était un honneur de vous avoir connu.
I had always wanted to write a personal tribute to Solange based on Shelley-ann's and my personal recollections. It is relatively simple to string together a few anecdotes and come up with a piece of whimsy. Our first foray seems to have been enjoyed by those who knew her but I was irked by the nagging feeling that a follow-up with some concessions to chronology and fact checking might also be appropriate.
Exploring this idea with Marie Claire, Marie-Anne, Martin and Mym I was convinced that it would be worth having a go. They concurred with Mym volunteering to curate their input. I suppose I have used about a third of this. If there is a demand to catalogue all of the material in a blog archive, I would be happy to host this on my website after some time to catch my breath. Actually, an expanded afterword is a strong possibility as a few more details emerge from the snowball effect, such as some additional European adventures ...
In the meantime I hope you enjoyed this slightly more formal biographic account and hope it answers a few questions those of you who knew her fleetingly may have had
Before I go, I would like to explode a fiction: in some of the underlying material Solange is described as "one of the top wine consultants in Durban".
Zut alors! There was only one Solange. She built that bridge between the rich and famous and the eager entrants with a thirst for knowledge. Mme Raffray was much revered in Durban because she had time for everyone. She had had no reason to focus her attention on two young lovers in shorts and slops who were sponges for the knowledge she had to share, but she did. She also procured wine for the connoisseurs if KZN.
Twenty years in wine at the top her game, unsurpassed in what she did.
*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes
A few years ago, while cycling in a roughly Northerly direction from Chagny into the Côte-d'Or, I conceded to myself that I was in pursuit of the Holy Grail. This was a journey that had commenced more than 40 years previously.
The starting point had been subtropical Durban on the East Coast of South Africa.
The sunlit perfection of the Burgundian afternoon, combined with birdsong and the traffic-free roads of Montrachet, gave pause for thought. The clarity of commitment to reaching this milestone began to dawn.
So I like wine, OK? And Shan and I occasionally allow ourselves the luxury of a very special bottle of it. Not too frequently, mind. My dearly beloved has often to content herself with Chardonnay d'Collapso from Tesco's Aussie cellar. Philosophically, we convince ourselves that an ascetic life for most of the time makes the pleasure of a truly scrumptious bottle all the greater once we have assembled enough in the piggy bank for a fine Meursault or Montrachet.
At this point I should pause to salute our friend Joanna who confessed recently that, as a young person on a French holiday with her parents, she had saved her entire per diem allowance for the whole duration so she could buy herself one bottle of Montrachet. You have to know Joanna.
This is leading somewhere. There was one person in particular who fired the starting pistol, sending a couple of naïve Durbanites on their journey. Her name was Solange Raffray and she mentored us through our early strategy of famine and feast. Ascètes for a month in order to become Sybarites for a day.
Actually, thanks to Solange we didn't suffer too much for our ascetic ways.
I'll explain after I get to Le Montrachet.
Such was the allure of this fabled piece of terroir, set by Solange more than 4 decades previously, I had to get there under my own steam in 2017 and return with a fuzzy photo for Shan to improve immeasurably with her Fauvist interpretation above. And, no, they are not lavender fields. Fauvism allows some latitude with colour choices. I feel Solange would have understood.
Returning to our narrative: Shan's and mine started with a courtship that involved a lot of wine. We were young and I doubt we misbehaved any more than most of our contemporaries. A year or so after we married we managed to buy a small house with a small verandah facing the general direction of the Indian Ocean.
Add some hand-me-down patio furniture, a bottle of wine and, depending on the mood, Telemann or Talking Heads on the turntable, and we would talk the night away.
I think Solange might have lived a stone's throw from us but we intersected one Saturday morning just down the hill from our respective homes where a superstore had been erected and dedicated to Bacchus.
Shan and I dropped in to investigate, as you do when you're new in the neighbourhood. Being a sunny Durban morning, I'm pretty sure we were scruffily attired in t-shirts, rugby shorts and slops. It would have been the Summer of 1983/4.
The store was vast with its shiny shelves and fluorescent lighting under which shoppers scurried about, loading their trolleys with trays of Castle Lager, bottles of cane spirit and cases of mixers. It took us a moment before we became aware of a cosy nook complete with more subdued lighting and ambience. There was a woman sitting quietly at a desk. We glanced in her direction and she smiled back.
We were drawn to this haven surrounded by wine that seemed to increase in quality and gravitas as we approached the desk. Before we got there its occupant had arisen and come to greet us. She was immaculate, our scruffiness a foil for her presence.
"May I help you?" her voice was inviting; husky with a beguiling trace of a French accent.
"Actually, we just came in for a look," I replied.
"We've recently moved in to our new house 3 minutes up the road," Shan added and turned to me suggesting, "maybe a bottle of wine for this evening?"
At no point did we feel under pressure or rushed. In fact out new acquaintance seemed to be enjoying the company of the two vagabonds in front of her. After quite a while we were starting to feel embarrassed, taking up so much of her time, but she reassured us. It became obvious that she had already understood a fair bit about our requirements without even a suggestion that we should buy this or that wine.
We did eventually leave with a bottle of white wine to consume that evening. Nothing special but it hit the right spot. By this stage Solange had introduced herself. It was clear she knew more about her subject than anyone I'd encountered previously.
"I'm Shelley-ann and this is Mark," Shan volunteered.
"Enchantée," Solange nodded, "Shelleée and Marque."
Sadly we have never had any of our own pictures of encounters such as these but Solange's family came to the rescue with this one and some others. More about that in Part 2 of this blog. We didn't go home with the Champagne that day, but ...
Hobo Harrisons foraging for their veranda and Solange was not phased one little bit ... a well-trodden path developed between Montana and Montpelier Rd.
Solange did more than sell us the odd bottle of wine, she adopted us.
Saturday mornings became our oasis, something to relish after a week of work and study. I was finally completing my education under my own steam; IT job by day, Varsity in the evenings. It was a lonely life for Shan a lot of the time. She worked during the day but was a study widow by night.
It got to the stage where we'd pop in to Montana in the late morning, peer into the nook and be greeted with "Shelleée, Marque ..." and stories of the latest deliveries. Whenever there was another customer, usually with a lot more to spend than we did, we'd be greeted with the refrain: "Don't go, I'll help this customer first but I was thinking about you this week and I have a wine ..."
We'd wait, happily basking, and before long we'd leave with the latest "find" that our budget could accommodate. Maybe a Rooiberg Grand Cru for R0.99 a bottle. Or we'd push the boat out for something like a Weltevrede Privé for R1.49 ... skande!. My dear wife being solely a white-wine drinker, it didn't often extend to a red but I was occasionally rewarded with something like a Backsberg Dry Red for about R1.55. We seldom bought in bulk. There was no point, it was part of our pleasurable social discourse.
Solange was patient with us and we were learning. We must have crossed the Rubicon (sadly not Meerlust, that was still to come) after a few months. Solange took Sheleée aside and suggested we might like to join Durban's great and good (in wine terms, anyway) for a relatively informal mid-week evening wine tasting at Montana. The perspicacity of the woman was that she'd worked out (maybe with Shan's help) that I wouldn't have to trudge up to Varsity on that particular evening.
Well, it also meant my first outing to a wine gig where I was actually dressed properly. We duly arrived with me wearing my favourite tie. We stood in the aisles of this megastore while our host introduced us to doctors, directors, accountants and lawyers with one thing in common: a love of wine and plenty of spondulix to spend on it ...
Most of those guys knew what they were doing so Solange was our wine-tasting coach for the evening.
So there I was, letting a sip roll around my tongue. It all seemed to make sense. I communicated this with a nod to our hostess.
"But Marque, now you must let it move to the front of your mouth and get some air through it," Solange instructed, "purse your lips and imagine you are whistling backwards."
I think my brain understood the concept but forgot to communicate this to my lips. A fine stream of Backsberg Cabernet Sauvignon squirted out of my mouth and cascaded neatly all the way down my silk tie.
Red-wined and red-faced, I wanted crawl behind the closest row of shelves.
Sheleée and Solange weren't helping, either, now doubled over with giggles.
But Solange was always the consummate professional, constantly solicitous of her clientele as depicted in this delightful photo from a Royal Hotel wine function:
Solange is determined not to spill a drop of what looks like bubbly while she dances across the floor to the table in the foreground. Seated from l to r are Mystery Guest, Megan de Beyer, Gavin Jack and Peter Hoyer. A gold star for the reader who can name the mystery guest.
Our new strategy
Evidently I didn't disgrace myself terminally with the wine-streaked-tie incident. In fact it may even have hastened our progress into the inner circle. The final glass of the evening was a soupçon of Meursault. Shelleée's eyes glazed over. It was the first step in her journey to becoming renowned in concentric circles as "Chardonnay Shan".
Clearly we weren't going to be able to drink the Côte-d'Or's finest every day. Solange nodded, understanding. "This is where I come in. I will help you with a strategy," she winked.
When starting out with FP&UTN it was intended to describe a journey in which the notes became a little more reliable as time wore on. Initially a bit of random awareness had rubbed off from parental consumption during my late teens and early 20s but it was only when Solange came into our lives that we were introduced to the art of appreciating wine.
Our verandah played host (with occasional guests) to a classic blend; fine-upstanding budget (mostly white) wines for 27 days with something special on the last Saturday of a four week cycle. Solange was always careful to suggest, with accurate descriptions, rather than choose the list. Every two or three months our Saturday tipple would be something totally splendid, more often than not Chardonnay from the sainted vines of the Grand Cru plots of Burgundy.
As I mentioned at the outset of this tribute to Durban's doyenne of wine, we have more or less maintained this strategy over the intervening years and the result has been that fabulous wine remains a treat with which to celebrate occasions and milestones.
The names of individual wines from that time have been blurred by the decades but I do remember Solange introducing us to a delicious Colombard and to Allesveloren Tinta Barocca at the budget end of the spectrum. These were grape varieties much vilified during the intervening period but have achieved a Phoenix-like trendiness in the last few years with the new wave of South African winemakers. Our guide had vision.
There were a few of the slightly more affordable monthly-treat wines that spring to mind, viz. Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon, Meerlust Rubicon, L'Ormarins Blanc Fumé and, of course, Backsberg that were particular favourites. A little bit of irony because my dearly beloved "hates" Sauvignon Blanc these days.
The strategy survives in 2017. Evening sunshine with a "lowly" Bourgogne near Beaune and an anniversary Meursault later in the year. Solange would probably not have approved of the glasses and the Meursault was not a Grand Cru but these are the realities of living in a motorhome, especially in one's driveway while renovations are taking place.
We left Durban for the UK in 1987. One the last things we did was to bid farewell to Solange. We had already stashed a case of Meerlust Rubicon in our container, along with a car and all our furniture.
Our mentor was a little subdued at our parting although she was full of enthusiasm for the opportunities it would afford us to visit her beloved France. We said all those things about staying in touch but we were young and I don't think she altogether believed us.
What with the loss of my brother in Cape Town in 1988 and the birth of our cherished daughter in 1989, it was Christmas 1992 before I managed to get back to Durban. The three of us were staying with my parents in Mooi River and Shan and I used the excuse to go foraging for some decent wine.
"Do you know if Solange Raffray is still at Montana?" I asked my Mum.
"I don't think so," she replied. "I believe she has a new place in the Workshop. It's the old railway building that's been done up and all rather swish."
"Sheleée, Marque," Solange cried out as we walked into the Cellar, I thought you were in England now and Woodee lives in Mooi River?"
Solange had found her niche. The Cellar was truly befitting the gracious doyenne of the Durban wine scene.
"What are you doing in Durban?" she continued
"We couldn't possibly have come back to Natal without visiting our wine guru!" we exclaimed.
"You came down from Mooi River to see me?" there was a catch in her husky voice.
"Of course," we nodded, at which point her eyes welled up.
That was the last time we saw Solange. We chose a dozen of the best wines the Cape had to offer before wending our way back up to the KZN Midlands.
"I'm sure Woodee will enjoy those," our mentor waved us goodbye.
Woody did, but not as much as some of the Christmas guests.
"We didn't know you had such good taste in wine," one of the guests exclaimed to my Dad.
Dad accepted the compliment and then glanced at me and added: "Mark went to Durban to get them from Solange Raffray."
The guest nodded, knowingly. "Of course, Solange, where else?"
She had become a KZN institution.
To be continued ...
If there had been one person, other than Shan, I would have wanted to share my successful WSET formal qualification with, it would have been Solange. My original intention was to say a bit more about that in rounding off but recent research has encouraged me to continue into more of a biographical sequel (see below).
Not too many grand credentials I'm afraid: just love the stuff and have done for all my adult life. I also love writing about enjoyable moments and will admit to lighting the odd touch-paper to foment a little controversy.
OK, I'm a bit of an amateur when it comes to wine tasting. Here are some reasons:
In mitigation, here are a few justifications for having an opinion:
So here are a few random thoughts from Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes (FB&UTN).
The purpose of wine tasting
A primary purpose of wine tasting for an individual would be to find out what that person likes and to set a course for future purchases or rejections, wouldn't it?
It would be extremely helpful if so-called "independent" tastings reflected that, so that our individuals would know, objectively, how to narrow down the choice for their own more focused attempts to single out a favourite.
If we introduce marketing into this equation it all becomes a bit subjective. Perhaps even an oxymoron? Especially if the tasting outcome is massaged for different audiences.
I recognise that it is almost impossible to achieve perfect disinterest but we can at least try. A simple lingo that avoids superlatives or irrelevant epithets wherever possible is probably about as close as we can get. A set of pre-defined, generally-accepted terms within a logical framework also works. WSET is not perfect put certainly the most appropriate I've come across for creating a level playing field.
Come to think of it, what is the point of a wine rating system that has scores from 0-100 when you only see 90-100. I've heard the argument that wine gurus just don't rate or mention those that deserve < 90. How many wines are there in the world, leaving us with an ocean-full of unmentionables and a helluva process to find out about them?
Then there are the badges (and potentially associated freebies). Why did I choose to buy these particular South African wines?
It certainly wasn't because of the gaudy labels. I probably consulted the Platter Wine Guide before hand, sure. I chose this DeMorgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2016 for this illustration because of its otherwise unimpeachable pedigree. The Platter sticker was irrelevant but less so than the "Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, Trophy". What does it even mean. And the "International Wine Challenge, Trophy Winner?" Goodness, what a pretentious title without a scintilla of provenance that I could identify.
The other two are wines that relied on nothing other than their own cognisances.
Choosing wine is a minefield. It can be a combination of consulting reputable guides, subscribing to respected publications and, certainly, one's personal tasting. At some point in this process, though, individuals are going to have to develop their own cornucopias of trusted individuals.
These can be knowledgable friends, acclaimed gurus or good old-fashioned tried-and-tested wine merchants. This household has one or two of the latter. As an example, I'll name one character who did more to start us on a devoted wine journey than any other.
At that time Shelley-ann and I lived in Durban in South Africa, hardly the nexus of the international wine world and looked down upon by the Cape wine "aristocracy".
Enter Solange Raffray. I'm not going to spill the beans here because I will soon be compiling a blog dedicated to this fine purveyor on wine. To her, her customers, however humble, were the complete focus. We learned to appreciate fine Meursault while supping humble Cape Colombard to save up for those occasional treats. As I said, more of this in a few weeks.
Varietal or variety?
Syrah and Sémillon are grape varieties. Wines claiming to be made exclusively from the Sémillon grape variety are just that. One would hope they also exhibit the varietal characteristics associated with the Sémillon grape. But these are hugely variable depending upon harvest options, choices of fermentation and maturation processes, age and, increasingly, the terroir.
It is therefore perfectly feasible for, for example, Riesling, or even Chenin Blanc, to exhibit the same varietal characteristics of Sémillon. As could Liquifruit Lemon and Apple flavour.
I'll just leave that thought out there ...
Is Orange (Natural) Wine an aperitif?
Don't get me wrong, I love most of it but it is often more akin to drinking a lovely dry (slightly lower alcohol) sherry. Now, there are some people who drink many white wines interchangeably with a crisp sherry. I could easily be converted.
One very fine example would be Fabien Jouves Orange Voilée from Cahors.
Sitting this Sunday morning listening to some Fleetwood Mac "1960-1970 Rare Live and Demo Sessions" ... Peter Green's death was announced yesterday and I wanted to marshal my thoughts of this extraordinary Man of the World. An iconic musician anecdotally described by his black contemporaries as the only white guitarist to GET the blues.
Paraphrasing Jimi and various other luminaries, blues guitar is less about the notes you play than about the gaps between the notes. In my opinion, it also needs to have that raw element that earns it the name "Blues". Yeah, yeah, I know purists may well argue but; do yourself a favour and catch some old live recordings. Try to imagine yourself in the audience and being transported by the emotional energy right there beside you.
I was lucky enough to see Peter Green in the New Theatre, Oxford 20 years ago. His Splinter Group was paired with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers for the evening.
This was obviously post breakdown and PG was very much amongst friends, on the stage and in the audience. He was obviously struggling to concentrate for more than a couple of minutes so he and another supremely proficient guitarist would share a number. PG would start playing lead and at some point into the song would drift away. His fellow guitarist would sense what was happening and pick up the riff. I could say it was seamless but I'd be lying. Not that there was a discernible pause. The second guitarist was too good for that. Perhaps even technically better than Greeny himself. But it was as if the song had suddenly lost something.
To me that was what defined Peter Green. The playing came from somewhere deep inside.
I first heard Fleetwood Mac as a relative latecomer. I remember where it was. In the middle of the Transkei in South Africa in 1969. I was driving with Gorgs and Marshall to Cape Town and the song was Oh Well. I bought the single (Part 1 and 2) and still have it. In those days it was way out man, way out.
Any blues fan will know that Fleetwood Mac went on to become one of the most successful money making machines in pop after Greeny departed the group he had initiated only three years earlier. Mick Fleetwood described his friend and their parting with some reverence in a BBC interview in 2017 (see below for the link). Commercial success seemed irrelevant to Greeny to the extent that many music lovers may be surprised in this day and age that he wrote Black Magic Woman. I didn't know that when I was first blown away by Santana's Abraxas in 1970. He also wrote a good many other great songs that stir one's memory.
Sadly, for obvious reasons, none of the accounts I have read over the past 24 hours has consulted Gary Moore (1952-2011).
Moore may have been Greeny's number one fan. One of the all time must-have Blues Albums is GM's Blues For Greeny, released in 1995. This was played on PG's '59 Les Paul. Initially Greeny had loaned the guitar to Moore, his teenage protégé. Later, when PG was seriously out of pocket, he persuaded Gary to buy it from him.
I could swear I heard an interview* with Gary Moore on the car radio back in the 80s/90s in which he related a car journey with Peter Green.
"I won't be needing that guitar any more," Greeny said.
"Oh no," replied Gary, "what'll you do with it?"
"I'd like you to have it. Would you buy it from me?"
"It must be worth thousands," Gary responded, "I could never afford it."
"How much can you afford?" Greeny came back.
Gary came back with an amount much close to a hundred than thousands of pounds.
Always an admirer of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, this elevated the man to godlike status for me.
BBC link https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-53540860?fbclid=IwAR1d8CznofiYi3XBmZHWiRvkzRTVi_j4dbsfr7dDf4vzmixOzbT9HVPbYoA
* I have a pretty good memory for things like that but I could gave heard incorrectly. Please comment if you violently disagree ...
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