It always happens that way. An epoch in one's existence accelerates towards its end. How do you fit everything in before life changes again? Actually you can't but major fun can be had trying.
Summer in England, especially one as benign as 1975's, brings everyone out into the open, often from far and wide. No more so than one sunny Sunday in London during which I kept bumping into South Africans I had no idea were in the UK. I can't remember who they all were now but I do remember randomly meeting 15 friends. OK, so not all that random as I was following an Anti-Apartheid march from Speakers corner to Trafalgar Square (South Africa House). But the 15 didn't include fellow journos, or at least ones who I knew were working in London. Didn't include certain safari-suited "gentlemen" either. It was a warm day but no self-respecting 70s marcher would wear mustard/khaki shorts with long socks and veldschoen.
Biggest surprise was bumping into Ron Braatvedt, a school friend, with his wife, Helen. JJ and Elaine Cornish were there but expected to be, Jean-Jacques being, I think, at that time the South African Press Association major domo on 85 Fleet Street.
All of which leads to what seemed like one long holiday with the European Grand Tour in the middle. Of course there was work but the long daylight made it seem less omnipresent. Adding to this, friends appeared for long saved-up-for oh-vahsiz holidays and wanted to do fun stuff in the evenings. After all, what could be better than finishing work for the day and then enjoying a pint with this lot on the way home.
I posted this in an earlier episode as a taster, but without names, so here goes: Left to Right: Garnet Currie, Errol Considine, Rob Melville and Gem Melville. We were in a pub just off the Strand. A notable aspect of this photo was Mr Currie, who achieved the tightrope act of being one of the very view people in London able to appear cool with a mullet. He, Errol and Rob, all Daily News staffers, were in London on holiday, Garnet soon to return to London to work at 85 Fleet Street.
More of Gem and Rob later.
There were two other factors that freed Carmela and me to enjoy the summer. We had a new subterranean pad in Wimbledon and Carmela managed to get a job in Central London. The new accommodation saved us a lot of money while, at the same time, being more in the thick of things. With Carmela working near Fleet Street, it meant we could do things on the way home like meet up with Garnet. It also meant she could make friends of her own, which she was good at.
Garnet visiting us at our "new" bijou basement in Wimbledon.
I've probably mentioned this before but an important factor in choosing evening entertainment for visiting South Africans was doing stuff that was forbidden in the Vaderland. And so it was that Carmela, Garnet and I went to an early evening performance of Emmanuelle in Leicester Square. I don't know how the seating worked out like that but Carmela ended up sitting next to a middle-aged man in a grey raincoat with a brown paper bag of grapes on his lap. We swapped places pretty quickly to form a de-militarised zone for the innocent.
Garnet's sister, Lorna, and her husband, George Thomopoulos, also fetched up in London at around the same time, also with their own Kombi, although theirs was a bit more surfer-oriented than Lester and Susi's. Being a surf-wagon, I have memories of rattling around in the back on the way to gigs in London without any idea of where we were going. Another friend, Brianne Burke, joined us for some of these excursions.
Hanging around in London with George had an unexpected bonus: when we eventually came to head off home via Athens, he arranged for us to meet his mother and cousin. More of that, including pics, in the next episode.
Adventures in the Lynskymobile
Somewhat of a constant in our adventures in the back of a van was another import from South Africa, Rory and Brenda's Ford Cortina "bakkie".
The stealth mobile. The pic was taken by Rory at dawn after a stint on the late shift. He occasionally used to drive to work and park on "the bomb site on Ludgate Circus which was a rough and ready car park". An interesting reminder that 1975 was a lot closer to the end of World War 2 than the mid-seventies is to 2021 as I write this blog.
Rory and Brenda thoughtfully included us in many of their bakkie trips. I seem to remember there was a foam mattress in the rear that could accommodate 4 people cosily but often it was just the two of us with Rory driving and Brenda navigating.
This would have been a relief because Brenda is one of the most observant people I've ever met and a trump card to have with you in a game reserve. We didn't get to too many game reserves in England but we were delivered faultlessly to destinations as far and wide as Cambridge, Oxford, Box Hill and Chartwell, which had been the family home of Winston Churchill.
The first frame below was taken at Chartwell before the days of selfie crowds. In those days one could drive right up, leap out and wander around. The second frame is the same crew surveying the view from Box Hill, perhaps wondering where Emma Woodhouse and Frank Churchill had "flirted together excessively" or maybe wondering where to set up the deckchairs for the 2012 Olympic Cycling Road Race?
The third picture above is a random street in Cambridge. We did walk along the Cam where Brenda informed us that the Cambridge punters punted from the wrong end of the punt. Something she would have had to whisper while we were there but that would have earned her accolades had she repeated this assertion on a later trip to Oxford. The churchy photos are a bit random. The first one to illustrate a particularly dorky look I affected at that stage, irritating the older members of the staff at 85 Fleet Street. The last two because I finally got stained glass windows after seeing these exquisite examples. They'd always left me a bit stone cold before that.
No bucolic exploration of the Home Counties would be complete without lacerating oneself in the attempt to fill a Sainsbury's bag from the bounty offered by the brambles that intermingled with the hawthorn of the hedgerows. Quite often staining some perfectly good clothing, in the process.
The weather remained sublimely balmy when we ventured forth, South of London, one Sunday. We were joined by Rob and Gem Melville on that occasion ... Note to reader: Weebly gives you very few options to compose picture layouts so you'll have to tap the right hand picture below to see Brenda's lovely face.
So, once you've filled a bag with fruit that will stain anything within 100 feet, WTF do you do with them? Not to be defeated, we decided to make a blackberry pie. So far so good. One of the many benefits of our new flat was that it had a halfway useful cooker with a proper hob. First job, stew down the berries in a saucepan while Carmela expertly constructed a shortcrust party case. We' had to dash down to Sainsbury's for a new bag and the all the bits needed. Threw a whole Brie in the bag for good measure, together with a magnum of Côtes-du-Rhône.
The stewed berries were juicy and firm after we'd strained all the superfluous juice into jug. Miraculously the flesh from a bag-full had reduced so much it filled the pastry case perfectly. All in all our first attempt at a pie, sitting there gleaming at us with its golden crust, was a hard act to follow ... something that I recalled ruefully decades later while battling with Raymond Blanc's tarte tatin recipe.
A few days later, fully Brie'd, Rhône'd, pie'd and cricketed out (there was an Ashes series in full swing in England), I remembered the blackberry juice was still standing in a jug in the kitchenette. I lifted the sheet of paper that had served as a rudimentary cover to check for spiders and/or insects and the surface of the liquid had remained clear. How to dispose of it? I wondered. It looked so lush, I couldn't bring myself to pour it down the plug hole. The magnum bottle was standing staring at me from the draining board, the cork alongside. Why not pour the juice into the bottle and keep a hold of it. It must come in useful some time soon, surely? Duly bottled and stoppered, the juice remained in the same place, only looking a bit more elegant, performing, as it was, Rhône wine impressions.
It was only a few days later we were sitting watching telly when a loud explosion reverberated from the kitchen. Carmela got there first.
"OMG," she exclaimed staring upwards.
At first I didn't see what had happened. Everything, including magnum bottle remained in tact ... then I noticed the stopper was missing and my eyes followed Carmela's upwards. Most of the blackberry juice was now spread across the ceiling. Procrastination, eh. It should have just gone down the plug.
Try cleaning a purple stain from a white ceiling. Just not possible. We must've repainted it but my memory has selectively erased that bit.
Not everyone knows this but Mr Lynsky has an impish streak. Trouble is, Rory's arrives when one least expects it and it can act as a safety valve after a stressful day.
And so it came to pass that we were on another trip to the Home Counties, on this occasion to Oxford. This time we had a long-standing friend with us, Liz Butcher. I had known Liz from schooldays and then she'd suddenly reappeared in the Daily News' Durban newsroom. Now she was on this Oxford trip at the invitation of the Lynskys.
We spent some time doing cerebral stuff, including looking at stained-glass windows in Oxford when someone suggested we went to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock a little more than 7 miles NW of where we were in St Giles. I'm not sure Rory was keen but Brenda wanted us all to see it.
In 1975 one could drive a bakkie through the unattended main gate at Blenheim and park alongside the palace. This we did. The place was popular enough, being, inter alia, Winston Churchill's childhood playground. And what a playground it turned out to be. A lake with an island and vast tracts of estate and forest to charge around in. For those of my generation, brought up on Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons it was the perfect playground for adventurous children. That spirit is never lost even as one approaches 70. It certainly wasn't lost on Rory. He flipped from curmudgeonly to divil in an instant. I clambered out of the back of the Cortina bakkie armed with my camera as Rory spied the tourist bus disgorging newly-arrived visitors in front of Blenheim's splendid edifice.
"Hey Mark," he taunted me, bedecked with camera, "take a picture of the bus."
Then my normally decorous friend and journo mentor made it his business to embarrass his four companions. It says something about the relaxed mid-70s, despite all the bombs going off around the UK, that no-one batted an eyelid.
He started seeking out photographic opportunities for me. Initially spikes and balls seemed to make for promising photographic subjects.
I responded dutifully with "Rory having a ball" (first below) and "Hoist by his own spike". Please note that the ball pic pic also incorporates tourists inside the railings taking a picture of my taking of a picture. The picture of the bus seems to have disappeared into the mists of time.
The ultimate picture below, still remains though, in which Rory became fed up with posing for static shots, spied a cow pat on the grass, scooped it up and set up in pursuit of Liz with divilish glee. The picture serves a number of purposes, one of them being that the expression on Liz's face suggests that Rory wasn't quite having the terrifying effect he had intended. The other would be to portray Winston's adventure playground with lake and island. I wonder who assumed the parts of the pirates in his boyhood japes?
Arrest that man, surely. Ed.
A couple of snippets before we go
There is one memory so hazy as to be verging on ephemeral, but this beer-swilling snippet involves a man who was a big influence in my surviving the early days of being a reporter. Without that I wouldn't have been in London at the time Roy Barnard put the word around that he would buy a pint in the Spaniards Inn for any Durban newsperson who showed up on this particular evening. The venue, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, was quite spooky at night, especially with its associations with Dick Turpin, and made a perfect rendezvous point for the ace crime reporter. As his 2012 obituary tells, he was a “larger than life character, a true newsman and global news hound who pursued every lead and stayed abreast of happenings around the world".
This will have accounted for his being in London at that time although I cannot be sure we ever found the full details. I can only remember sitting in leather armchairs with Phil Duff and Roy and bathing in his presence.
Earls Court Motor Show
As a petrol-head with ambition to be the Motoring Editor of the Daily News, I was looking forward to covering the 1975 Earls Court Motor Show in October, just before heading home. Actually, it was a bit of a disappointment. A little tawdry, even.
The show had been a hugely glamorous event for me in the 60s when I was an envious teenage purist. It seemed to me, anyway, that the focus had shifted away from the cars into the surrounding tinsel. If you needed a stark naked model to sell your TVRs, what did it say about TVRs, if you get my drift?
Nonetheless the very early '70s shows kind of got away with it because the approach was new and, to many, a bit shocking.
By 1975 the whole thing was a bit passé, not to mention exploitative. Also, many of the cars were pretty ugly, a lot of plastic.
There were a few topless models around but they had been shifted into the corners to sell accessories. To me they had begun to attract pity rather than punters. Did this kind of exploitation ever have a day? If so that day had passed.
There was some cool machinery there, though. Being quite a subjective subject, a few of the cars I preferred are pictured below; See if you recognise them. Some would cost you a lot more today than they did when they were brand new then. Others would not.
Last minute music gigs
What with being a little more flush in the last months of our secondment, together with "discovering" the Hammersmith Odeon, we had a rush of world class gigs just before we left London to return to South Africa. I'm not going to presume to describe the concerts, something that is better left to the likes of my friends Garnet (the very same Currie as above) and Graham Boynton. In fact, Garnet gave us the tickets to our last gig at the Odeon, a stonking performance by Leo Sayer.
Before that we'd gone to a Santana concert in early September where Carlos had stopped everyone from breathing by pausing, for what seemed an eternity, after the penultimate note in the opening sequence to Samba Pa Ti. Never before and never since have I heard such a spontaneous simultaneous exhalation by an entire audience when he resumed on the 7th note. Santana's supporting act was Earth, Wind and Fire.
When leaving the theatre that evening the ticket office was still open and selling tickets for Wings a week later. Did we buy some? Did we just. First half was Wings and second half was Paul, a stool and an acoustic guitar playing his signature Beatles songs. We were in the front ten rows.
Coming soon: Mini visit to Europe on the way home, Durban's wine doyenne kindles a lifelong interest
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